Chances are you've never heard of "Hollow Creek" (or "A Haunting in Hollow Creek", per the UK release title). It's a low-budget ($500,000) indie film that was made under the auspices of the Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theatre, an admirable venture that encourages film industry professionals to mentor promising younger talents in the hopes that they will be able to create inventive new feature films. "Hollow Creek" was written by an alumnus of the Institute, director Guisela Moro, who also has the female lead. The film was co-written by the male star, Steve Daron. It's an ambitious crime thriller by way of supernatural elements that looks more expensive and polished than its budget might indicate. The film, which sat on a shelf for three years, was released in 2016 and was recently made available on DVD and Amazon Prime streaming service. The plot starts off in a leisurely manner: bestselling horror novel writer Blake Blackman (Daron) arrives at his agent's vacation home located in the deep woods of rural West Virginia. He's accompanied by Angelica Santoro (Moro), who we initially presume to be his wife. Blackman is there to write his next novel but he's secretly harboring an obstacle: a severe case of writer's block. Not helping matters are the sexual distractions afforded him by Angelica, who we learn is actually his mistress. Blackman's marriage has been fragile for some time and he relishes the time spent with Angelica- but their bliss will be short-lived. While Blackman is preoccupied by trying to fill blank pages for his next book, Angelica becomes unsettled by some eerie and inexplicable events including indications someone or something is lurking in the nearby woods. She also has a brief glimpse of the ghostly apparition of a young boy. She later learns that the area has been on edge for the last few years due to the unsolved disappearances of three boys. When she thinks she recognizes one of them in the back seat of a dilapidated old vehicle, she gives chase in true Lois Lane fashion. She discovers that two of the boys have been held captive and literally kept in cages in a hidden chamber in house owned and occupied by a crazy, sadistic couple. Angelica, who has just learned she is three months pregnant with Blackman's child, is captured and imprisoned with the expectation that her child will belong to her insane captors. Meanwhile, the frantic Blackman's life begins to unravel. He's released from contract by his publishing house, his wife files for divorce and due to circumstantial evidence, he is the police department's prime suspect in Angelica's disappearance. Nevertheless, he doggedly pursues finding out what happened to Angelica and rescuing her if he can.
Were it not for some of the more sordid elements, "Hollow Creek" would have fit well into the ABC Movie of the Week productions that were telecast on TV in the 1970s. That's meant as a compliment, not a knock. The film isn't without flaws. It has a primary plot loophole in that, when Angelica goes missing, it's never explained what happened to her SUV, which was parked near the villain's house. Additionally, the film's chaotic but exciting conclusion incorporates elements of the supernatural that seem somewhat superfluous since the film succeeds on the level of being a compelling real-life crime saga. Nevertheless, it's an extraordinarily accomplished work for the aspiring director and her cast. Moro certainly doesn't give herself an easy time of it. In addition to having written and directed "Hollow Creek", she puts her character through the ringer, having to endure torture and death threats from her sadistic captors. Although the film has unsettling aspects to it, Moro refreshingly doesn't bleed into slasher territory and shows restraint when it comes to crossing the line into showing repulsive imagery. She gives a terrific performance, as does Steve Daron. The supporting cast is also exceptional with not a false note to be found. Burt Reynolds makes a brief but effective appearance in an obvious gesture to lend the credibility of his name to the film. The movie is impressively scored and shot, though cinematographer Jon Schellenger can't resist being a bit gimmicky by utilizing a distracting technique of filming some scenes inexplicably in a garish blue hue. The finale packs in some cliches and predictable action scenes but there is an imaginative and moving finale.
The FilmRise DVD boasts an excellent transfer, but frustratingly there are no extras. It would have been interesting to hear the perspectives of the principals regarding how the film was made. "Hollow Creek" is an impressive, often spellbinding thriller. If there's any justice, we should be hearing more from Guisela Moro and Steve Daron.