The Hollow Amazon Instant Video Directed by Miles Doleac Starring William Forsythe, James Callis, Miles Doleac, Christiane Seidel, William Sadler, David Warshofsky, Joseph VanZandt, Lindsay Anne Williams, Jeff Fahey Uncork’d Entertainment | Historia Films Not Rated | 128 Minutes Release Date: October 7, 2016
The rural Mississippi community of Cutler County is one where the alcohol runs dry, but the crystal meth and Christianity are plentiful and right smack in your face the moment you cross its borders. In this town, Big John Dawson (William Forsythe), the county’s charismatic crime boss and resident legal genius, rules its humidity-soaked stretches like a feudal lord and uses the services of the underworked local law enforcement to peddle his crystal meth to Cutler’s bored citizenry.
The shocking murder of a young eloping couple in Cutler brings the humble little hamlet to national attention when one of the victims is revealed to be the daughter of an Illinois congressman in actor-turned-filmmaker Miles Doleac’s second feature The Hollow – a gritty, downbeat thriller cut from the mold of neo-noir classics like the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple and No Country for Old Men and the modern Southern Gothic suspense of the first season of HBO’s True Detective and Jeff Nichols’ Mud.
Doleac (who also wrote and produced) turns over a rock in the shape of an insignificant Southern town and exposes its dark underbelly of drugs, murder, and corruption to the harshest light. The plot thickens when burned-out FBI Special Agent Vaughn Killinger (James Callis) and his partner – and occasional lover – Sarah Desoto (Christiane Seidel) are assigned to lead the investigation. Cutler County’s Sheriff McKinney (William Sadler), including Ray Everett (Doleac), appear more than willing to assist the agents in their investigation.
Truthfully, McKinney only wants to protect his men and the reputation of his department from legal repercussions since he has long known that Everett deals meth for Big John. When John’s grandson, a promising high school football prospect, becomes a suspect in the murders, he pressures Everett into resorting to desperate measures to prevent Killinger and Desoto from digging any deeper into Cutler’s sordid inner workings.
The Hollow has just about everything you could want in a contemporary, character-driven thriller: sex, murder, drugs, illicit affairs, police corruption, haunted pasts, and seamy locales. Since this particular yarn takes place in the Deep South, there’s also plenty of football and prayer – one scene features both at the same time! Skillfully written and directed by Doleac, truly a talent to watch, The Hollow makes up for what it lacks in originality with solid ensemble acting, foreboding atmosphere, and a narrative that keeps you riveted because of the fascination he creates out of setting up some intriguing characters and watching them interact with each other in fascinating ways.
The writer-director gives himself one of the meatiest roles in the film as the crooked, loathsome, but all too human deputy Ray Everett, a man totally content with being the absolute worst example of a modern-day police officer, but capable of experiencing a crisis of conscience every so often (proving that he still possesses a conscience). Doleac’s performance certainly deserves high marks for how he is able to make Everett a miserable bastard yet surprisingly sympathetic when he realizes that the life he has created for himself threatens to bring harm upon his loved ones.
James Callis (Battlestar Galactica) is well-cast as Killinger, the walking dead man of an FBI agent with an awesome last name and so many skeletons in his closet he might have had to rent a storage unit to deal with the overflow. Callis reminded me a great deal of William Petersen’s soul-ravaged Will Graham in Michael Mann’s classic 1986 thriller Manhunter, and his portrayal of a broken man trying to channel overwhelming feelings of rage and loneliness into a renewed dedication to his job is convincing and a dark delight to watch. Christiane Seidel (Boardwalk Empire) delivers an outstanding turn as Killinger’s tough yet understanding partner who owns her fair share of vulnerabilities and must deal with both the obstructive efforts of Cutler’s police to impede the FBI’s investigation and pulling Killinger out of the purgatory of alcoholism and self-pity he created for himself.
In his finest dramatic performance in ages, the great William Forsythe (The Devil’s Rejects) crafts a memorable antagonist in the form of the lethally charismatic Big John Dawson. His capacity for good as well as the greatest evil – especially when they both benefit himself and his business – is the best example of the story’s welcome complexity; Dawson wants to reinforce his authority over Cutler County and ensure the security of his crystal meth, but most importantly, his actions are motivated by his desire to protect his grandson’s future. Forsythe plays the hell out of the role, which is no shock whatsoever, and Doleac supplies him with some terrific monologues outlining his philosophy and worldview that are among the most compelling screen moments in The Hollow.
I wish William Sadler (Die Hard 2) had more to do as Cutler’s sheriff other than act worried and keep the agents from getting too close to Big John’s criminal enterprise, but what he is given he makes into some worthwhile moments on screen. Jeff Fahey (Grindhouse) takes center stage during his single scene as Everett’s father, and he and Doleac share a pleasant chemistry that transforms their brief time together into a scene necessary to the film and Everett’s arc. As the local high school principal and football coach with a creepy fondness for old-fashioned corporal punishment, David Warshofsky (There Will Be Blood) is a quietly effective scene-stealer.
Doleac shot the film on location in Mississippi, and with the assistance of cinematographer Ben McBurnett, production designer Sarah Sharp, and art director Michael P. Rucker, he captures the depressed small-town atmosphere with an eye for authentic settings and details, from the shabby storefronts and rusted marquee signs to the menacing beauty of the titular lakeside clearing that plays an integral role in the plot. The film is supported by a low-key music score composed by Clifton Hyde that accompanies and enhances the scenes rather than bombard the audience with overwrought cues that brutalize us into feeling all the feels, as the kids would say these days.
I was very surprised by The Hollow. Miles Doleac’s sophomore feature as director is a gripping, intelligent, and emotional thriller with strong performances and a methodical pacing that never rushes the plot and allows events to unfold carefully with attention to detail and character. Only a conclusion set during a nighttime downpour, despite being beautifully photographed, comes closest to ruining what Doleac has created for how it attempts to wrap every plot thread up a little too neatly and end the film on an upbeat note I don’t feel it didn’t deserve or even want in the first place. Regardless, this is one of the best independent features of the year, and I highly recommend it.