a zoo in hell


Shallow Ground

Shallow Ground

When I read "gory" on the box art for a movie it begins a chain reaction of judgements. Is the gore worth mentioning because there is no other selling point? Was gore, like some flashback to the eighties, assumed to be the ultimate gift the film brings to the viewer? Then, I wonder what kind of gore this may be, so I look over the stills, the plot and other evidence to see if it is ridiculous over-the-top gore or if it is gore meant to shock and revolt toward some plot-driven end. This is all worth mentioning, because technically, Shallow Ground is a very gory film. There are buckets of blood. In fact, the whole film is about blood.

Strangely, as omnipresent as blood is in this film, the blood here is more for set dressing, plot device and visual effect. As blood constantly pours from every orifice of "Boy", the mystery visitor, it eventually ceases to be a matter of visual shock for the viewer, and assumes a more dangerous role in the world of this film.

Despite the reliance on the visual staples of "lost-in-the-woods" horror; the stalker, the tree-bound victim, the serrated blade, the film really demands that you follow along and think about where the nightmare is heading. This takes a step into "thriller" territory and out of the realm of horror. The film's awkward dance around what all this blood is about pushes it into science-fiction as well. Scenes in which Darby puts samples of the blood under a microscope, while an important plot point, only confuse the origin and cause of Boy's exsanguination.

The last act of the film does offer a few mild surprises, but nothing that hadn't been blatantly hinted at early in the film. As usual with concept horror films like this, the strongest point is also the weakest. The true nature of the blood is confusing, and not resolved enough to really hammer home the chills. Sure, the unknown is scary, but I got the distinct feeling the filmmakers weren't certain they knew what was going on with the blood. Remember, you can make your own rules, but then you have to follow them.

Most likely, if you've made it far enough into the film to be upset about this, you've gotten something out of it and you are a fan of this kind of ambitious filmmaking. Unfortunately, because of the cheapie stalker-film vibe the film creates in the opening, many viewers will never get to the real surprises the film offers. With the exception of the constantly bleeding Boy, there is little in the first twenty minutes of film to make it stand-out or rise above the hundreds of conventional films that find horror in the woods.