Late night in a small Mississippi town in Cutler County, a young couple (including a congressman's daughter) passing through follow directions from police to a ‘romantic’ location by the lake. Known to locals as ‘the hollow’, it’s the place people go to where everybody knows what happens but nobody speaks about what happens. It’s not long before the couple, along with a local girl, are murdered by an unknown assailant.
A team of FBI agents are dispatched to find out what happened. Headed up by the destructive and demon-stricken Killinger (James Callis), the agents find a county that, although officially ‘dry’ and God-fearing, is in fact riddled with corruption and vice, beginning with the sheriff’s department. Sheriff McKinney (William Sadler) knows what happens in his town but looks the other way as he heads for retirement.
One of his deputies, Ray (writer and director Miles Doleac) is neck-deep in the corruption, being as he’s the only drug dealer in the county. Both are understandably concerned that the investigation will uncover the truth about the town. The seemingly gentlemanly (and therefore sinister) Big John (William Forsythe) has his own interest in the case and it appears is pulling the strings of the townsfolk to ensure he protects his own. Ray quickly finds himself out of his depth as problem piles on problem.
The Hollow is being marketed as a film in the modern-noir/Coen Brothers/Twin Peaks mould. Considering that, initially it seems like Doleac is seeking the comparison by overselling the atmosphere of the town and the unpleasantness of some of the characters. Again, at first Callis’ performance seems misjudged, pitched at an almost hysterical level. It’s also the kind of place where real world rules don’t apply (people don’t pay for gas, or tell anyone where they actually are when requesting an ambulance). This could all seem ultimately part of Doleac’s intent if we take it not so much as thriller, but aiming instead for a mix of Southern melodrama and swampy noir.
Does it succeed as any of these? As a thriller or mystery, it’s not anything special - there’s no major twists or anything to make you gasp - but as that Southern melodrama-flavoured noir it packs in adultery, alcoholism, twisted relationships, heightened emotions, hidden secrets, irony and some grim humour. It’s not the equal of the Coen siblings at their best, nor is likely to become a film you return to more than once. It is worth catching however, particularly for the enjoyable performances (Forsythe is an ever-reliable scenery chewer) and the blossoming of an ambitious talent in Doleac that will hopefully be refined in films to come.
THE HOLLOW / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: MILES DOLEAC / STARRING: WILLIAM SADLER, JAMES CALLIS, JEFF FAHEY, WILLIAM FORSYTHE, MILES DOLEAC / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 7TH