Welcome to Knockout Horror and our very first horror movie review. I suppose I should have attempted to kick things off with a bang. Perhaps I should have reviewed a modern classic such as “Hereditary” or “Get Out”? Maybe I should have taken a look at a recent cinema release such as “Us” or “Pet Sematary”. I could even have jumped into the virtual Delorean to review an all time hit like “The Shining” or “Alien”. Doesn’t that seem a little too easy, though? Sure, these movies will all get their respective chance but for Knockout Horror’s first review I wanted something a little more humble; something a little more Amazon Prime; something a little more “Survive the Hollow Shoals”.
Survive the Hollow Shoals is one of three Isolation themed horror movies that we will be looking at this week. The others are the interesting found footage film Leaving D.C and the very quirky The Interior. I highly suggest you check out both of those reviews as they are both great movies in their own ways. Is Survive the Hollow Shoals the best of the three? That remains to be seen.
Isolation is, in my opinion, a somewhat under explored theme in the horror genre. After-all, there are few things more terrifying than being trapped in the middle of nowhere with only your own thoughts and increasing paranoia to keep you company. A sideways glance at a few episodes of the excellent History Channel series “Alone” is enough to confirm this. Isolation affords tremendous scope and opportunity for scares and the location can be the true star of the show. This is, perhaps, where Survive the Hollow Shoals first begins to come undone but more on that later.
Survive the Hollow Shoals is a somewhat intimate portrayal of our protagonist Zach Weiland and his foray into the world of outdoor survival. Zach is attempting to live in the middle of nature for 60 days surviving with nothing but his trusty knife, a steel water vessel, and a very nice hat that he sometimes places over his eyes to help him sleep during the day.
Naturally, this wouldn’t be a horror movie if Zach wrapped up his 60 days out in the woods by submitting his application to Survivor. Things take a turn for the worse almost immediately. Zach begins to notice unnatural sounds in the woods and around his camp that, obviously, cause him substantial alarm. Determined to find the source of the noise, Zach sets up a camera trap and explores his surroundings. As time goes on, the events become more frequent and more intense. Zach begins seeing things he can’t explain and finds items in the vicinity of his shelter that hint at something terrifying.
Obviously Zach is the star of the show here and he is ably performed by Brent McGhee who, if IMDB is to be believed, has only one acting credit to his name. He is a likable character with a hearty beard and a fairly natural rapport with the camera. With the exception of some relatively muted reactions to the events occurring around him, Brent McGhee does a pretty nice job. I certainly wouldn’t be disappointed to see his name pop up on horror movies in the future.
In a theme that most of us will be familiar with thanks to the boom of Youtube and Vlogging, Zach spends a considerable amount of time documenting his trip out into the wild using a video camera. This fits the narrative quite nicely and keeps the budget down but forces Survive the Hollow Shoals to slip into the much maligned “Found Footage” genre of horror. I actually enjoy Found Footage Horror so no complaints here.
Survive the Hollow Shoals does an adequate job of avoiding the dreaded shaky cam with the exception of a few scenes and some of the cinematography is fairly nice. Night time scenes are well lit and any use of night vision cameras is well placed and clear so you won’t be left squinting to see what’s going on.
There are a fair number of jump cuts and tight camera angles that give the whole movie a bit of an amateur feel. Obviously this fits the style of the film but some of the cuts don’t make a whole lot of sense. Seeing the camera move around and zoom in is slightly off putting given that there is only one camera man and half the time he is too busy starting fires to actually realign the camera. Couple that with Zach’s infinite supply of batteries and the immersion can drop just a tad. I can’t take more than 20 pictures on a DSLR without the damn batteries draining but part of enjoying horror movies is suspending disbelief, right?
So what do I think of Survive the Hollow Shoals? Well, I absolutely love the concept. I am a huge fan of shows such as “Alone” and I think the woods can be one of the best locations for a horror movie. Out in the middle of nowhere, completely isolated, exposed on all sides – the story just writes itself. Even the natural parts of the woods are terrifying. Bears are a part of the fauna in much of North America and there have been a number of excellent horror movies based on this fact alone.
The woods can be so dense and constricting that they feel as though they are crushing you. Barely any light enters and sounds are swallowed up by the leaves; there can be seemingly no escape. This is not just conjecture, either. Thousands of people go missing in national parks and the associated stories are terrifying. With this in mind, why did Survive the Hollow Shoals decide to ignore that fact and film the movie in a gorgeous clearing next to a stream?
I don’t expect them to head into the middle of nowhere and find themselves consumed by the forest but this location was too open and looked fairly well traversed. My fiancee actually remarked that she kept expecting to see picnic benches. I am sure I noticed a few tree stumps that were obviously the result of a tree being felled with a chainsaw. I know this could be classed as nitpicking but I didn’t find the location at all imposing.
Survive the Hollow Shoals takes a gamble early on that I don’t think pays off. Something happens within the first 5 minutes that took me right out of the experience. I won’t specify what it is because I don’t want to ruin things for anyone but if you notice it you will spend the first 25 minutes of the film playing Where’s Waldo whenever a wide angle camera shot appears. Plenty of movies have done the exact same thing and succeeded but Survive the Hollow Shoals, in my opinion, does not. The result is a serious punch in the nose to what is some, otherwise, pretty decent tension on the first few nights.
This really speaks to the greater issue with the movie itself. It seems as though Survive the Hollow Shoals’ director Jonathan Klimek couldn’t wait to get the scares rolling and the movie suffers for it. I really feel we would have benefited from a few nights of character development with only the slightest hint at spooky goings on. Instead we have a few minutes of Zach talking into the camera before we are bombarded by a relentless onslaught of noises and visual scares up until the film reaches its final stanza.
This wouldn’t be the problem it is if the film had a little more originality. Survive the Hollow Shoals dips its hand deep into the bag of horror tropes and comes out bearing such classics as musical cues with an undertone of infrasound, “did you or didn’t you see it” glimpses of figures, camera interference, watching eyes, bestial screams, and some of the most aggressive jump scares I have seen in quite awhile. The last 30 minutes of Survive the Hollow Shoals are basically a movie version of those dumb screamer videos that people used to share on social media.
It is hard to watch Survive the Hollow Shoals without drawing comparisons to The Blair Witch Project. We have creepy noises at night, a similar, yet less imposing, location, wooden effigies and the like left for the protagonist, a sense of dread, and an inability to escape the woods when the desire finally takes him (it literally takes Zach until right near the end to actually want to leave).
It is all just very familiar. Sure, Survive the Hollow Shoals goes in a different direction towards the end and is far more aggressive with its desire to scare the viewer. but this doesn’t really change much. It never manages to escape the fact that it is little more than another Found Footage Horror Movie set in some spooky (but not actually that spooky) woods.
Survive the Hollow Shoals is very typical of a lot of the horror movies that we are starting to see as of late. Somebody that was a fan of The Blair Witch Project wonders whether the youth of today know of that movie and whether they can capitalise on it. Why not take The Blair Witch Project and throw it into a melting pot with Youtube Vlogs, jump scares, and the recent obsession with survival shows and see what comes out? Sure, horror has always been a derivative genre but so many recent horror movies are forgoing any kind of originality purely to avoid taking a chance.
Survive the Hollow Shoals is a mix of a few different movies, and television shows and unfortunately, while this isn’t a bad thing in itself, it manages to be both unoriginal and inferior to the ideas that inspired it. Does that mean the movie is bad? Well, not really! Horror movies are some of the easiest to enjoy and they definitely don’t need to be masterpieces to justify watching.
Survive the Hollow Shoals is average and no more. To be honest, it’s a good first effort and likely a lot better than most of us could do if given a camera and a wad of paper with which to write a script. On a positive note, if you enjoy losing your popcorn then I almost guarantee that this movie will get you with at least one of its obvious, yet well placed, jump scares. I actually found myself laughing at a few parts. It becomes almost a tongue in cheek horror movie parody at certain points. Whether this was intended or not I am not sure but it pleased me and that is a good thing.
If you go into Survive the Hollow Shoals not expecting too much you may actually quite enjoy it. Zach is likable, the location is beautiful, though not very imposing, and the camera work is, for the most part, pretty adequate. I have to mention the soundtrack. I wish there was no music at all in this movie. It doesn't fit with found footage and I really didn't need audio cues as they almost ruined upcoming scares.
I had, unfortunately, read a number of glowing reviews for this movie that hyped it beyond reason and that impacted my enjoyment. There is an element of the horror movie community that is very easily pleased or happy to help out a low budget movie with ridiculously hyperbolic reviews and I think that is a shame. I can't count how many times I read the phrase "Hidden Gem" and that's pretty ridiculous. Unfortunately, when these types of reviews begin to propagate, natural tendency dictates that people parrot them with limited deviation from the norm.
Survive the Hollow Shoals is an okay horror movie with a short enough run time to not feel punishing and enough jump scares to rattle the bones of even seasoned horror fans. A hidden gem? Not by a long shot. If you don't expect too much, you may actually really enjoy this movie.