Shallow Ground (2004) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

I suppose a lot of you regular readers think I hate horror movies. That isn't true. I love horror movies. I don't like werewolf movies and giant creature films, of course, but I love real down-and-dirty, creepy, psychological, under-your-skin scary films about people alone and vulnerable and terrified by mysterious forces or circumstances they can't comprehend. Unfortunately, 99% of those either totally suck or are barely-disguised remakes of previous horror movies, but when they do work, they are what the movie-going experience is all about: a safe, vicarious wave of emotions at an intense level that you just can't experience in everyday life. We love horror movies for a lot of the same reasons we love roller coasters - because we want to experience the intense feelings humans are capable of, but we don't actually want to get there by being in danger of dying or feeling great pain.

Shallow Ground is a good, original horror movie. It doesn't feature much in the way of expensive effects or anything else that would cost much, and the cast consists of unfamiliar faces, and yet it looks like a professionally composed film and delivers spooky thrills, gore, and mystery using only a couple of basic elements: (1) an unpredictable, original story which combines various elements of thrillers, mysteries, and horror films; (2) excellent editing, which uses suggestion, music and surprise to maintain the suspense of the overall story while delivering some "jump" moments along the way.

One of the genre sites pointed out that it's the kind of movie that will get your date moving closer and closer to you as the story unfolds.

What is it about? Unfortunately, it is so original that I can't tell you very much. Suppose there was a movie where it was revealed halfway through the film that the sheriff was a vampire. If I told you in advance that it was a vampire movie, I'd fuck up everything for you, wouldn't I? Well, this movie is like that. (No, there are no vampires! That was a hypothetical example.)

I can give you an outline of how it sets up:

A naked, bloody boy wanders into the office of a rural sheriff. Is it the boy's own blood? Is it even human blood? Nobody knows who the boy is. Nobody even knows whether he is human, because he seems to have certain supernatural powers. The sheriff has him cleaned up and sends the blood off for analysis. The sheriff also has the boy fingerprinted. The results of these tests provide a series of bizarre surprises ...

We learn in flashbacks that the area has experienced a rash of missing persons in the past year. The sheriff is riddled with guilt because he could have saved one of the victims. He found her hanging by her hands from a tree, cut her down, then went off to find the killer and left the victim alone - with disastrous consequences.

The mysterious disappearances and the bloody boy are related somehow, but how?

Just about anything else I could write would be a spoiler, and since the film is ingenious and innovative enough to try some new gimmicks and create a new horror mythology, you probably want to find the rest out from the plot development rather than from me.

A few additional, miscellaneous thoughts:

  • This is not an erotic bondage film, but it uses some of that for titillation and atmosphere. As far as nudity goes, there is toplessness from struggling or subdued victims, but nothing more. There are two pretty girls hanging from a tree, struggling, wearing only their underpants, and there is another naked victim who is dead or unconscious. Lower body nudity is discreetly avoided.
  • This is not a gore film, although it uses some of that for shock and atmosphere. If you are a real gore-hound, this will be tame for you, but if horror gore disturbs you, you should avoid the film. Under no circumstances should you expose the film to very young children. It is filled with the usual spooky horror elements like graphic portrayals of decomposing corpses, spurting blood, and sadistic torture.
  • The last few frames of the film are totally incomprehensible. It's not uncommon for horror films to have the classic "reversal" endings which show that the tranquility of the preceding scenes does not really represent a permanent quelling of the threat. It's the ol' "hand reaching from the grave of the seemingly defeated monster and setting up a sequel" trick. This film has one of those "gotcha" endings, but I just can't figure out any point to it at all.

The film is not without problems. The script requires the characters to act too stupid too often, the acting is barely adequate, and the ending is just plain goofy. In spite of all that and the low budget, this film is still a keeper.



  • full-length director's commentary
  • featurette on "the making of"



Natalie Avital and Tara Killian are seen hanging from a tree by their hands, clad only in underpants.

Christine Boutrous plays a naked unconscious victim. (Lower body nudity discreetly hidden.)

The Critics Vote ...

  • BBC 2/5.

Miscellaneous ...

The People Vote ...

  • No theatrical release in the USA. It will get a brief theatrical run in the UK this summer (2005).
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C+. It's just a grade-B horror film, and it is not without weaknesses, but it is original and creepy enough that I forgave all its sins.

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