Small And Moody: Our Review Of ‘Hollow In The Land’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical, VOD/iTunes/DigitalDownload by - January 26, 2018
Small And Moody: Our Review Of ‘Hollow In The Land’

Director Scooter Corkle’s feature debut, Hollow in the Land, is a rustic-noir thriller that takes place in a small Canadian town. The atmospheric murder mystery doesn’t waste any time hurtling the audience into its gritty and violent world. Viewers who enjoy pulpy whodunit stories should feel right at home but those with mixed feelings about the genre may want to sit this one out.

We meet our heroine Alison (Dianna Agron), while she’s working a shift at the local industrial plant. Although we can barely make her out beneath her coveralls, hardhat, and goggles, it’s easy to see that she’s out of her element. Alison looks more like a prom queen than a blue-collar worker and the film’s first mystery is what is this young lady doing punching a clock in such an unglamorous line of work?

We find out Alison’s father Keith is a top-notch asshole, and he’s locked away in prison for running down a kid. It’s left up to Alison to take care of her wayward younger brother Brandon (Jared Abrahamson), and so she grinds away at the local factory to keep the family afloat. Seventeen-year-old Brandon is a resentful brat with abandonment issues, and does what troubled kids are won’t to do, namely run afoul with local police. It’s no surprise then when the cops show up at Alison’s door looking for her baby bro. But this time, things are different. After his girlfriend’s dad is found murdered, Brandon is the prime suspect. With Brandon on the run and the police in pursuit, Alison sets out to clear her brother’s name by uncovering who set him up.

There is a large swath of people living in middle-America and rural Canada whose stories go untold. Our blockbuster films, TV dramas, and sit-coms focus on people living in places like New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto. In the past several years, there’s been a movement to share stories from underrepresented populations. And while diverse and inclusive casting in films like Star Wars: The Last Jedi make headlines, more filmmakers and TV showrunners are telling stories that aren’t based on city slickers. Recent TV series Ozark, Banshee, and Outsiders as well as the films Winter’s Bone, and Wind River tell stories that take place off the beaten path. Hollywood is finally shining its spotlight on the lives of underrepresented Americans and Canadians. And although Hollow in the Land is eager to join this movement, it’s attempt feels too…hollow.

Hollow in the Land reminds me of Chloé Zhao’s recent movie The Rider because both films utilize locals/untrained actors to create a sense of authenticity. In each film, amateur actors offer stiff and wooden performances, but the trade-off is that they come across onscreen like real people I’ve encountered in my travels through small Canadian towns. This naturalistic approach doesn’t quite work but not for the obvious reason.

The script’s version of authentic dialogue boils down to the locals delivering f-bomb after f-bomb which feels pretty one-note. Making matters worse, Hollow in the Land is a talky detective story, with plenty of scenes where characters stand around explaining what happened and why. The unimaginative dialogue, not the intentionally amateur performances, makes these talk-heavy scenes a tough sit.

I’m more of a character guy than a plot guy. I’m fine watching flawed movies that feature compelling characters. If the characters don’t hook me then the plot must grab my attention and never let it go. Hollow in the Land left me wanting in both areas. It falls upon the film’s star, Dianna Agron to carry the movie, and you can see her working hard to transform Alison into a believable character. Despite her best efforts, the performance is simply fine. Agron sticks out amongst the blue-collar folks like a Barbie doll in a toybox full of Garbage Pale Kids. Even as Agron knocks back cans of beer and takes drags off cheap cigarettes, she doesn’t feel as authentic as the rest of the cast — no matter how much her hair needs to be combed. Agron never melts into the role the way that Julia Garner does as the beguiling Ruth Langmore on Ozark.

Detective stories tend to have complicated plots filled with twists and turns and Hollow in the Land is no different. The movie strives to unspool a murder mystery that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats but by the end, I found it hard to keep track of what was going on. Alleycats cough up fur balls that are easier to untangle than Hollow in the Land’s messy plot.

So is this film worth seeing? I found the who, the what, and the why less interesting than the where. That’s because Hollow in the Land creates a remarkable sense of place. The doleful small-town atmosphere is intriguing enough to keep the film afloat even as its weighed down by the clunky plot elements. Corkle counterbalances the weak script with his keen cinematic instincts and much like Twin Peaks (and I’m not comparing this movie to Twin Peaks), the town and the atmosphere meld into the film’s star attraction. Corkle combines the film’s score, cinematography, and naturalistic performances to craft a moody thriller that is better than the sum of its parts.

This post was written by
Victor Stiff is a Toronto-based freelance writer and pop culture curator. Victor currently contributes insights, criticisms, and reviews to several online publications where he has extended coverage to the Toronto International Film Festival, Hot Docs, Toronto After Dark, Toronto ComiCon, and Fan Expo Canada. Victor has a soft spot in his heart for Tim Burton movies and his two poorly behaved beagles (but not in that order).