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A young couple pulls into a gas station where a pair of sheriff deputies are filling up. They ask where they might find a cheap hotel to spend some quality time together, the inference clear. Instead of a nearby inn though, one of the lawmen, a sort of foul-mouthed, hard-as-nails type, recommends a small clearing in the woods not far from where they are, a place called The Hollow. The lovers depart and before the night is over, both will be dead, along with another girl in a nearby car who is also beaten. It will be a mystery that involves the federal government and exposes a corruption that shakes a small Mississippi town to its knees.
Writer/director and lead actor Miles Doleac understands the importance of atmosphere and character development in a story that requires the viewer to be suspect of many in the cast. By establishing several key characters well before the story starts, we come to understand an important dynamic in this backwoods Mississippi town, so by the time the big city law arrives, there is already a palpable sense of right and wrong, though who is aligned with which propels this ironically slow-paced thriller with great speed.
Doleac plays Ray Everett, a scruffy senior sheriff deputy with a less than lawful lifestyle. Married with kids, he is also a small-time drug dealer of whom most of his colleagues are aware. He is having a sexual affair with Kami King (Portia Walls), a high school cheerleader who is also hooked on meth, a girl his partner and a client know is mixed up with the deputy. When she turns up battered and dead in The Hollow with the two young people Everett sent there, he becomes cornered on all sides as pressures mount to both keep secrets hidden for some and uncover them for others.
Everett’s counterpart, in more ways than one, is FBI Special Investigator Vaughn Killinger (James Callis), a borderline alcoholic in a broken marriage with a young son he has no time for. He’s in love with his partner Sarah Desoto (Christiane Seidel), with whom he is involved sexually. Numb and weary of the bitterness and callousness of his job, he and Sarah descend upon Cutler County with an edge as sharp as Everett’s though with a big city cut. He and Everett rarely share screen time together, acting like reflections of each other (sometimes even seen together through mirrors) in an investigation with roots that grow deeper with every tick of the clock. That we believe each is the master of their circle and then learn that neither is true for both, makes for some interesting storytelling moments and redirects what we think is happening.
The ensemble cast includes a number of excellent supporting roles with William Sadler as Sheriff Beau McKinney, a man near retirement struggling to be the cushion between his volatile corrupt deputy and the equally temperamental FBI agent. Jeff Fahey shows up in a bit part as Everett’s older brother with a past of his own. But it is William Forsythe as Big John Dawson, a smarmy local lawyer with a smile in your face and a knife in your back, a kingpin in the town with a personal agenda that has authority over a number of powerful people in the county, that delivers the most potent performance. Words slip out of his mouth with delicious villainy, and while he may be a cliché, he makes it work with great effect. Indeed, all the supporting cast provide layers to the film that give the story a kind of stage-play feel.
Doleac isn’t interested in painting any of the people as heroes. These are frail characters, desperate and trapped and like the pit they have dug for themselves, few can escape. There are indulgences in the lengthy story, and its introduced storyline is mostly abandoned in favor of the characters rather than investigation, and it ends with brief sequence that feels unnecessary, but these are minor observations. Doleac paces the action well and keeps this a compelling watch. The Hollow is a gripping, often emotional film that has more to say about the character of men at the heart of crime than the crime itself and in so doing presents a chilling personal experience.
Director: Miles Doleac
Writer: Miles Doleac
Stars: William Sadler, Miles Doleac, Christiane Seidel, James Callis, Jeff Fahey, William Forsythe