SHALLOW GROUND (31 Days of Horror)

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SHALLOW GROUND is a film that seemingly has everything going for it, except its execution. And while I had hoped creating a few days’ distance between my viewing of the film and my writing about it would mellow my opinion, that is not the case. All I can think of are the few moments the film did right and lament that it fumbled the ball in so many other areas.

The film begins with the end. The police department of a small town is looking forward to a low-key day as everyone packs up and leaves. Not just the police department, but the whole town. The place has been barely making it for a while and has now been pretty much swept aside in favor of progress. Only a few people, like the stubborn Helen Reedy (She is Patty McCormack and no I’m not finishing the Helen Reddy lyric) are sticking around. Even the sheriff (Timothy V. Murphy) isn’t bothering to come into work. Though to be honest, he hasn’t been the same since finding that naked girl strung up in the forest and then failing to save her from her killer.

But hold up, everyone has a lot more work ahead of them today. A boy wanders into the police station, covered in blood and wielding a knife. He doesn’t put up a fight and allows officers to clean him off and handcuff him in the office. Why not the holding cell? Well, the town drunk is sleeping it off in there and I guess that’s more important than an armed kid covered in blood. It just gets more bewildering from here, folks.

The sheriff is called in and soon everyone is trying to figure out who this kid is. They test his blood and find out that the blood belongs to several missing people. Notably, the dozens of missing persons that have plagued the town for the past year or two.

Woah, hold on again. Sorry to keep stopping like this, but did anyone else catch that gaping plot hole upon which this entire film hangs? There have been dozens of missing persons in an already miniscule town for the last couple years. Dozens. And at least one case of a girl being stripped, strung up and cut open like a pig. You don’t have to be an expert at police procedure to know that this isn’t a case for a few backwater cops. Forget the state police, they should have had the FBI combing these woods ages ago. I realize that part of these films involves a willing suspension of disbelief, but SHALLOW GROUND expects us to swallow some real whoppers and this is probably the biggest one.

Anyway, Kid Bloody mildly freaks everyone out. He keeps bleeding other people’s blood and whenever that blood touches someone, they get a flash of something horrible that has happened. At least one character gets the pretty sensible idea of getting out of town while someone more qualified to deal with the problem comes in. But he’s told that “you’re-a-cop-sacred-duty-blah-blah” and everyone pretty much just runs around acting as confused as the viewer. It doesn’t look like this supernatural force intends for anyone to leave anyway, but the reactions from some of the characters strain credibility.

I said SHALLOW GROUND had a lot going for it and I meant it. The basic premise of the bloodsoaked kid being some sort of portal into unsolved crimes is a good one. There is even a suggestion that this is not limited to their neck of the woods and figures are showing up at the state police level as well. Who knows, maybe more. We never find out. It’s one of many intriguing plot threads that are never followed up upon.

The actors give it their earnest best. And I have to hand it to director Sheldon Wilson. He really tries to have his film stand out, making an honest attempt to create a constant air of tension. Unfortunately, Wilson’s own script has so many holes in it that it seems like he’s dressing up an unfinished piece. There is also an ambitious orchestral score from Steve London. Unfortunately, it’s so bombastic that every small event is greeted with a “bom-bom-BOM” soundtrack. It would have been better for Wilson and London to compliment each other’s work, instead of the pissing contest for dominance that we are witness to.

The conclusion of the film is unfortunately predictable. I won’t go into it here, except to say that the mystery isn’t as mysterious as London probably hoped. It undoes some of the good concepts and genuinely surprising turns SHALLOW GROUND takes. There’s some good stuff in here, but it’s all buried deep.  Awful.

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ABOUT 31 DAYS OF HORROR

For the month of October, I and a number of other people are taking part in the 31 Days of Horror Challenge. Each day in October, we watch one horror film and share our opinions through social media. Because my reviews tend to run longer than what they’re supposed to, and because I never know when to stop myself, I’ll also be posting my reviews here as part of Moviocrity.com’s revitalization efforts.

RATING SYSTEM AND CRITERIA

  • What was the film trying to accomplish and how well did it meet those goals? 
  • In addition to (or sometimes despite) that, how does the film hold up on sheer entertainment value?

The Best – Reserved for the absolute cream of the crop.
Highly Recommended – Very good. Far better than your typical film and one that I will remember for some time.
Recommended – Just what it says. This is a good film and earns a recommendation. Don’t think that because it’s not one of the top two categories that these films aren’t worth your time. The “recommended” tag is a winner and nothing to sneer at.
Barely Recommended – The middle of the road. Those films where I didn’t feel it was a complete waste of time, but it didn’t set my world on fire either. Not bad, but leaves me feeling bored and/or apathetic.
Disappointing – Close but no cigar. Does a few things right but is ultimately a whole lot of wasted potential. Not recommended.
Awful – A bad movie. Pure and simple. Not worth your time.
The Worst – The Britta Perry of ratings, though not as entertaining. The bottom of the barrel.

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