Watchlist Review: Hollow
Hollow follows a grieving mother as she considers taking revenge against the man who killed her child. This dark, revenge thriller explores the moral and religious intricacies surrounding the concept of revenge and redemption.
With the film festival debut of Paul Holbrook’s dark revenge thriller, we may be looking at one of the hottest streaks of outstanding short films from a filmmaker that we have ever seen. From 2016’s A Girl and Her Gun, through Sunday Worship, Cell, Shiney and Hungry Joe, we have been treated to both consistency of quality and the evolving voice of a filmmaker who has become adept at applying his lived experience to a multitude of themes and genres.
Reuniting once again with the formidable Laura Bayston, Holbrook brings us a meditation on grief, challenged faith and the true meaning of justice. This is all wrapped up in a darkly atmospheric and powerfully performed story with raw anger and racially charged conflict feeding into a slow building and inevitably explosive pressure cooker.
Just as she masterfully accomplished in Hungry Joe, Laura Bayston expertly carries the emotional load of the film, bringing focus to its themes and plot with a performance that is in turns chilling and heartbreaking. Her single-minded focus on avenging her daughter following the early release of her killer serves as a catalyst for some intriguing insights into the virtues (and indeed necessity) of forgiveness. Karl Collins’ Father Hill is a perfect foil for this debate, trying to awaken the good in Laura, while being tempted toward violence himself.
Collins and Bayston make a formidable pairing, with each embodying characters carrying unique burdens, one that cannot be escaped and another that its carrier refuses to relinquish. Their performances both complement each other while providing the primary roadblock to both of their respective journeys. Collins’ quiet conflict plays amazingly against Bayston’s intensely agonising and barely contained rage. This makes for a fascinating character dynamic that adds a compelling dimension to an already layered story.
Credit also has to be given to Kris Hitchen as Niall Lavin, the film’s antagonist and target of grieving mother Laura’s retribution. Given his relatively low amount of screen time, he certainly uses that time to make the biggest possible impact, adding complexity to what could have been a straightforward villain. He is able to bring a level of threat and tension to the film, while also managing to tap into the empathy of the audience. Hitchen's intensity ramps up the tension, while acting as a veneer that only serves to highlight how ambiguous the moral journey of the characters will be.
The narrative and thematic accomplishments of this film are matched by the truly stunning imagery that underscores both plot and character. James Oldham’s cinematography elevates this film to an all-encompassing visual experience that seems to wrap the audience in a darkness punctuated by an almost unearthly light that feels almost like a surreal dream. Every visual element leaves you in no illusion that you are watching a short film. This is a story that could easily allow for Holbrook to dig deeper and mine the material that could turn this into a full-length feature. Indeed, at times it feels like that is precisely what you are watching.
One of the biggest accomplishments of the film is that it is able to explore the various aspects of the presence of God in the world without having overtly pro (or anti) religious messaging. The question of faith, particularly in the face of horrendous loss or pain caused by another person, cannot be neatly wrapped up in one narrative and to the film’s credit it does not attempt to do so. It commits itself to being a cautionary tale about the nature of revenge but also seems to ask if certain situations leave you with no choice. Like A Girl and Her Gun before it, this film challenges the desires of the audience, forcing us to ask ourselves which path we want the characters to take and why. Also, like Paul Holbrook’s previous films, it leaves no easy answers for the characters or the audience.
Once again Paul Holbrook has delivered the kind of short film that pulls you all the way into its world and stays with you long after the credits roll.