FEBRUARY 18, 2010
Finally, a real horror movie! After a week largely filled with “Well, it’s not REALLY horror...” movies, Shallow Ground bucks the trend right off the bat, opening on a bloody kid wandering around the woods and quick flash cuts of some seriously disturbing events. And like most of the best horror films, it’s an independent film that is not a carbon copy of whatever movies were currently cleaning up at the box office (though I do sense a minor J-horror influence), made by people who give a shit about something besides making a profit.
In fact, I was shocked to learn that the film only cost 72 grand, considering that it was shot on a commonly used locale (Topanga Canyon, same place as Friday the 13th Part 4 and Pumpkinhead) that probably didn’t come free, a few recognizable actors (Patty McCormack among them), and shot on film to boot. The film wasn’t perfect, but the filmmakers have earned every ounce of my respect for accomplishing so much with so little.
Apart from a distracting lead actor with an Irish accent (he’s supposed to be a small town local sheriff), the only real problem I had with the movie is a slightly muddled plot and obscure ending (which the director refused to expound upon in the commentary). The story is pretty original - a curse that allows people to come back to life and get revenge on their killers (and if that person killed multiple people, then the victims fuse together into one being) - but it gets a little over-populated, with two separate killer plotlines involving the same characters, a hint at the “virus” going out beyond the woods where the rest of the movie takes place, flashbacks mixed in with hallucinations... the script could have benefited from some compressing.
However, this has a benefit, as the film essentially has four main characters (three cops and a medic), so I was never “sure” that any of them were safe. Thus, scenes that in most films would hold zero suspense for me were actually pretty tense. And writer/director Sheldon Wilson keeps up the “What the fuck is going on???” approach for an admirably long time, but never to the point where the movie gets so baffling that it begins to annoy rather than intrigue (though his repeated cutaways - he’s also the editor - to the bloody “NO ONE LEAVES” message on a door gets mighty bothersome after 40 minutes or so).
There were also a number of little touches I appreciated, such as a scene where we see a bunch of newspaper clips relating to the various missing/murdered characters related to the living ones we are watching. If you keep reading them it ultimately becomes unrelated jibberish (one is about a Dreamworks movie!), but the prop guy at least took the time to make the headlines, captions under the photos, and first paragraph or two all match up and be about what they are supposed to be about, as opposed to the usual “Let’s just do the headline and fuck the rest” approach I see even in some major studio films. And the scene where a few photographs reveal the bloody boy’s “identity” is pretty awesome - one of the film’s many unique plot concepts.
As I mentioned, Wilson provides a commentary along with DP John P. Tarver, though the talk leans more toward technical than creative. I don’t get why so many writer/directors seem to let their director side take over when it comes to doing commentaries, but I’m no longer surprised to hear one play out that way. It’s a bit dry, and they spend a bit too much time reminding us how little they had to work with, but it’s got enough info to warrant a listen if you dig the movie and/or the low budget filmmaking process. The making of is more of the same, showing the producers and director gathering up trash and cables because they didn’t have any PAs or full grip department, but it includes some insight from the actors. Also in the bonus feature menu - Spanish subtitles. Bueno.
Oddly, this is not only the 2nd “real” horror movie this week, but it’s the 2nd one from Screen Media Films to boot (they also gave us Severed). And like that one, they offer a nice anamorphic transfer, so thanks for that, but they annoy the piss out of me by placing their trailers after the DVD menu/hitting of the “Play Movie” button (even when you select the commentary track). It’s bad enough to be forced to watch trailers for a studio’s other releases, but putting them on AFTER the main menu, instead of before like everyone else, is just unforgivable. It’s not a movie theater - when I hit PLAY, I want the movie to start, not sit through a bunch of other crap.
Wilson also made the above-average Kaw, so I think I’m gonna keep an eye on him from now on (for real this time - I said the same thing after I watched his surprisingly kinda decent Screamers 2). He’s got a movie called Mothman coming up (not sure if it’s a leftover mutated man script from the 60s, or a re-telling of the story featured in the Richard Gere film), and something called Carny apparently aired on the Sci-Fi Channel. I will queue these films out of interest, not HMAD necessity.
What say you?
*I spent the entire movie thinking that it was shot at the same ranch where I had just spent the past three nights helping out on Hatchet 2, as the little wood bridges, general terrain, and small shacks with easily changeable facades all looked identical. BUT, oddly enough, Shallow Ground and Hatchet 2 share the same camera operator (BJ McDonnell), so I was at least sort of right in a backwards, coincidental, actually not really right at all kind of way.