Starring Ameet Chana, Poppy Drayton, Marcus Griffiths, Thomas Law, Will Thorp
Directed by Russell England
Distributed by Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment
A group of students from posh London boarding schools are tasked with patrolling the grounds of the historic Dhoultham School on the last day of term. In conjunction with the British Army, the students – a selection of male and female individuals from two different institutions – take on the responsibility of spending the night on the grounds and keeping watch over its valuables.
But in a twisted turn of fate, it becomes apparent that said grounds were once the site of a group of horrific deaths, all the way back at the time of the bubonic plague’s ravaging of England – and it seems that the spirits of the deceased have far from moved on.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that a pair of thieves, led by ex-military man Shane, have chosen this night to break in and bag themselves some swag. The groups are, of course, destined to come to loggerheads – but even with a gang of ghosts in the mix, things aren’t exactly what they seem.
And that’s probably Unhallowed Ground‘s strongest element. While most of the tension and scare setups are very much par for the course – jump scares, creepy figures moving in backgrounds and foregrounds, and hallucinatory shocks – Paul Raschid’s script uppers up a selection of varied and convicted characters, and a couple of uncommon approaches to the material. Where one would expect the kids and robbers to take the usual route of forming a reluctant partnership amidst the supernatural goings-on, for example, Unhallowed Ground keeps them firmly at each other’s throats – quite unmercifully so, in fact.
The same kind of positive surprise is to be found in the big reveal – which, even if director Russell England and his cast have trouble pulling it off with total confidence – is a pleasantly different shift in direction from what you may think the generic setup has been leading to. It plays out with far too much of a pantomime feel to it, though, rendering it as regrettably awkward as it is surprising.
Casting across the board is solid, with each of the players seemingly enjoying their time as intelligent characters in a stock horror setting. These are smart kids, and the robbers aren’t stupid either, so there’s little in the way of eye-rolling when it comes to their actions. However, there’s something of a negative trade-off there, with the reliability of the ghost fodder lumbering Unhallowed Ground‘s second act with very little of standout interest. Sometimes a little hysterics are exactly what you need to break the monotony – something that Unhallowed Ground just doesn’t manage to do.
Rather, it’s predominantly a re-tread down familiar haunted grounds with characters who naturally assess their situation instead of immediately running screaming into the nearest dead end to await their deaths – and honestly, the approach proves almost morose given the lack of genuine unexpected frights or extreme violence. It just kind of trudges along, offering up the occasional smart idea with a big smile on its face and confidence in its heart. But once the meeting’s over, there’ll have been little to be gained from it.
Unhallowed Ground is a competent, but largely uninspired horror jaunt that, in whole, proves just about worthwhile on the strength of its cast and a smattering of good ideas (not to mention the seriously cool plague doctor design). But you certainly needn’t kick yourself too hard if you give it a miss.
Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment’s UK DVD release of Unhallowed Ground holds only a trailer up its sleeve in terms of special features.