Shallow Ground Review
The independent horror film. Is there anything better? Free as they are from studio enforced cuts or 'happy endings' the independent film maker can vent his frustrations on film and at its best produce a cinematic treat that will be enjoyed by horror fans worldwide. Witness Jackson's Brain Dead, marvel at Raimi's Evil Dead and shudder at Barker's Hellraiser; what do these all have in common apart from their independent nature? Blood. Blood every where. Of course blood is not everything, there are little things like a decent script, a well told story etc. At least Shallow Ground got the blood right.....
The sleepy town of Shadow Valley is about to close down. The dam is built and with its completion the work force and most of the townsfolk are leaving. Even the three strong police force are shutting up shop and moving on. Sheriff Jack Shepard is glad to be leaving, he is still haunted by nightmares of an unsolved murder; a local girl whom he came so close to rescuing, but he left her to hunt the perpetrator and was incapacitated and the girls body was never found. On the day of leaving, however, a naked boy walks into the police station covered in blood. That's not all, the blood is human and from more than one person. But if you touch it you relive horrific 'memories' of past (local) crimes that may lead you to commit murder yourself. It seems “the living have to pay for the pain the dead have suffered” as the routes out of town become blocked so that “no one leaves”. What is worse is that the murders are not confined to the Valley, odd occurrences are breaking out in the city too. Can Jack put a stop to the horror, is there a way to make aments to the dead, will Jack ever come to terms with his guilt? I, of course, won't give you the answer because that would be too much of a spoiler.
Shallow Ground has a lot going for it, its independent nature, the amount of gore and flesh and the dedication of a team of cast and crew that want to make the best damn movie they can. In fact it comes highly recommended; contrary to the IMDb this film did have a theatrical release and did win Best Picture at the Dead by Dawn festival 2004. However, I can understand why many might think that it is a straight to DVD feature and really that is its biggest flaw; it looks like a cheap horror flick. This is totally understandable, the entire budget for the film was $72,000 and for that amount of money what has been produced is a marvel. Effects are quite incredible, from the free flowing blood to the many prosthetic grotesques, a tribute to what can be achieved with a drive to look good. The acting too, is well delivered, each part is played well and truthfully, never lapsing into ham or failing to hit the mark. Locations are beautifully realised if a little limited. Finally the script it taken seriously, there are no comedic moments to lighten or spoil the mood, a huge plus in my book. So why do I say it looks cheap? The problem for me was the length of the film. The whole thing could have been shortened by half an hour; this would have produced a tight exercise in horror. There was just too way much exposition in the first quarter, and it looked and sounded like exposition too, setting up the big finale nicely, but there is still 90 minutes to go. There was also way too much running around the woods. Along with clichéd camera moves like hand held POV and extreme close up with a figure moving in the background, even if the director loves the shots (he says so) it's just too obvious. All the stuff about the city was unnecessary and expanded the movie from its town setting, a mistake in my view as you loose the claustrophobia. The woods themselves were sometimes too open, look how Raimi managed to close down the wood in Evil Dead, they were dark and foreboding, here Wilson used nice open wood, with gorgeous looking gullies and streams. Great if you want to advertise southern California, otherwise tighten up the mood, we want to be scared here, POV just doesn't do it. I liked the idea of the monster being a good looking boy, nice twist, but there was little menace from him, if you don't touch the blood you'll be fine. Finally the supernatural element was not really effective in its execution, we get to understand who the real monster is but have no idea as to how events transpired; I'm not one to insist on explanations for everything but to have no explanation at all seemed like poor writing. Remember those old eighties horror videos, Dead and Buried and the like, well that is what Shallow Ground reminded me of, plenty of scope but just not quite there. Even though there was huge enthusiasm from the cast and crew, I think Wilson's inexperience as a director/editor kept the pace a little too slow. I love mood making, but hokey exposition and long drawn out pictures of woods eventually take their toll; enough already get on with the film. So, as an independent film Shallow Ground should be applauded for what it has achieved, but I think with a studio editor, or someone unconnected with it would have made a much tighter horror fest, something I think it would have been great as because as it stands we have a rather too long excuse to show plenty of blood and flesh.... Not that there's anything wrong with that.