'Hollow in the Land'
Have you ever stopped over the last eight years and wondered why there hasn’t been another movie almost exactly like ‘Winter’s Bone’? No? There must be one of you. There is? Good! Your dream finally came true. ‘Hollow in the Land’ finally shows us what it would be like if Debra Granik’s film was knocked off as thoroughly as that other breakout Jennifer Lawrence movie (the one with the games that make people hungry or whatever). The results are predictably depressing and mediocre.
Once again, this downer small town mystery/thriller about deadbeats living on the edges stars a beautiful blonde actress on the rise who never for a second looks like she belongs. This time, Dianna Agron from ‘Glee’ got the call. She’s a talented actress and delivers a damn fine performance at the center of every scene, but she just doesn’t look right, especially early on when we’re supposed to buy her as a burnout factory worker.
Things improve when the story shifts out of small town misery and into heightened thriller land. Agron plays the blue-collar Allison, thrust into running her household when her dad went to prison. In addition to making that factory bacon, she also has to look out for a teenage brother (Jared Abrahamson) who’s always getting up to no good. One night, he disappears and Allison has no idea why since she hit the bottle hard the same time he vanished. The police are looking for him, but she doesn’t trust them. That means Allison’s gonna put on a hoodie and play detective, leading her into a dark world filled with grime, drugs, crumbling country homes, and sadness.
If nothing else, the spectacularly named writer/director Scooter Corkle achieves impressive atmosphere on a small budget. The found world of snow-strewn woods and rotting bars so sad that not even booze can distract from their misery is extremely evocative. Corkle and his design team found the perfect dying town and came up with ways to shove their story within it. The mood is oppressive and the jittery hand-held camerawork gets the right amount of tension out of its constructed docu-naturalism. Even though the film nails the white-trash noir vibe on a technical level, problems arise when you scratch beneath the dollar store hellhole aesthetic.
The story is as meandering and misleading as these sorts of mysteries tend to be at the best of times. It’s neither as intriguing, sad, truthful, or suspenseful as needed. The whole thing feels perfunctory, as if Corkle had a concept and vibe in mind, but no clear idea of what to do with them. Acting varies in quality. Dianna Agron is admittedly excellent even if she doesn’t look like she belongs. The rest of the cast range from rustic deadbeat types and sporadically-employed TV actors looking for something more serious. From person to person, the cast either feels like they belong in their evocative surroundings or are starring in a bad TV movie version of the same story. It’s endlessly distracting, but that’s probably rooted in the fact that there’s so little genuinely interesting about the story being told that it’s easy to worry about those things.
This is not to say that ‘Hollow in the Land’ is a terrible movie. It’s not a disaster, and it’s even quite well made given the resources. The problem mostly stems from authenticity. This isn’t a film made by people trying to capture a world they know; it’s clearly the product of slumming filmmakers who find small towns aesthetically intriguing and want to steal that vibe. Not only that, they want to steal that vibe from another movie based in that world, not even the world itself. This is one of those movies separated from a good idea by so many degrees that it doesn’t matter how well put together or performed it is. You can smell the secondhand nature of every creative decision through the screen and it stinks worse than any of the dilapidated locations.