Shallow Ground (2005)
"Horror fans are a forgiving bunch." – Uncle Creepy
Never do I agree more with that statement than when I sit down with an "acclaimed" modern low-budget independent horror flick. Indeed, we are a forgiving bunch. Maybe too forgiving. I realize there's a need to support the underdog, but given the current quality of the indie output, maybe we should learn to be a little more critical. Right now the only difference between Hollywood and its counter-culture is that the latter simply copies old trends instead of new ones.
If last year's derivative Malevolence taught us anything, it's that an indie horror need only take itself seriously and contain some sort of "old school" throwback in order to win the adoration of fans everywhere. So I'll throw out a single compliment to Shallow Ground writer/director Sheldon Wilson: He doesn't try to duplicate some bygone era of filmmaking and makes an honest attempt at something different and original. But good intentions don't automatically equal success. And you know what they say about the road to Hell . . .
The story takes place deep in the woods of a small town, where a naked teenage boy emerges covered in blood. Before long he's picked up by the local deputies and locked away in their secluded station, but something is amiss: The blood and fingerprints of the boy belong to three separate missing persons. It's up to the town's knuckleheaded sheriff to piece together the mystery before a strange supernatural force vanquishes the entire population.
Sadly, Shallow Ground ends up feeling like an amateurish episode of The X-Files. This is a story that is crushed under the weight of its own ambiguity.
Believability is pushed to its absolute limits as our characters piece together clues through dumb luck and stay in harm's way out of their own stupidity. Acting-wise the cast is as wooden as their surroundings, while the blood-covered antagonist (doing his best Doug Hutchison impression) simply leers at everything for the film's entire running time. And since this was obviously shot on a dime, one can't help but wonder why the production blew its micro-budget on bad 16mm cinematography and a goofy orchestral score (which is so over-the-top, it borders on self-parody).
Technical faults aside, Shallow Ground ultimately fails because it never really goes anywhere. Why it won a single award is completely beyond me. In the end, this is just another example of a half-baked independent film that earns high marks for what it tries do, rather than what it achieves.
Shallow Ground (2004)
(Imagination Worldwide/Screen Media Ventures)
Written and directed by Sheldon Wilson
Starring Timothy V. Murphy, Stan Kirsch, Patricia McCormack, Lindsey Stoddart, Rocky Marquette
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