Perhaps a better tagline for Sheldon Wilson’s creepy “Shallow Ground” would be “Evil never dies”. Winner of the Best Picture Audience Award at the Dead By Dawn Film Festival 2004, “Shallow Ground” has been called “disturbing”, something that “stays with you for days after you see it”. The movie begins with an amazing opening sequence of a boy stalking through some woods. A naked boy. Covered in blood. Carrying a hunting knife. Intercut with his determined march are bizarre images of what I can only describe as “taxidermy” projects in progress. And the menacing score over all of this only heightens the tension.
Using a Steadicam to get that “Evil Dead” –woods feel, the camera follows the character referred to only as The Boy (Rocky Marquette, “Mortuary”) up and into the remote police outpost of the tiny town of Shallow Valley, California where everyone is moving out. Apparently a nearby dam’s construction was recently completed and all but a very few residents of this place in the middle of nowhere are leaving. Deputies Stuart Dempsey (Stan Kirsch, “Highlander -The Series”) and Laura Russell (Lindsey Stoddart, “The Ring”) are horrified at the sudden appearance and hold The Boy there until Stuart can go find the sheriff, Jack Sheppard (Timothy V. Murphy, “Skeleton Man”).
Jack has just been awakened by another nightmare of the year-old murder of a local girl, which he could have prevented, and the guilt is affecting his relationship with Laura as well as his job. Now, to compound that, he has to deal with this mysterious Boy and the weird happenings that begin soon after The Boy’s appearance. Cryptic messages in blood on doors, the blood on The Boy is not his but that of at least 3 other people, his fingerprints…well, you have to see the movie. Add into that mixture a sinister hunter, Leroy (John Kapelos, “Mimic: Sentinel”), a grieving widow, Helen Reedy (Patty McCormack, “The Bad Seed”), a psychotically grieving father, Albert Underhill (Chris Hendrie, “The Langoliers”) and a detective (Steve Eastin, “A Nightmare on Elm Street: Freddy’s Revenge”) who seems to know more about The Boy than anyone else and tries to warn them that “he is not what he seems” and not to touch the blood which at times pours off the boy and seems to have a will of its own.
The story is a mixture of supernatural retribution, murder mystery and psychological thriller with superb Super 16-mm cinematography by John P. Tarver, a creepy yet very effective score by Steve London, using the Budapest Film Orchestra, sound design by Richie Nieto which made use of the sounds of the woods interspersed with whispers, human voices, wails and groans, all to effective eerieness. But the SFX by Patrick Mcgee and Saul Gallegos are the real star of the show. Without resorting to any CGI other than two shots involving insects on The Boy’s face, they were able to make blood move about in amazing and unnatural ways. And in one memorable scene, VERY reminiscent of a similar scene in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, they created horrific corpses, called “Dead Heads” by director Sheldon Wilson. So, for gorehounds, it’s all here, as well as a few other “tasty” and gruesome SFX.
The acting is adequate; Lindsey Stoddart, whose character is a major component of the story, seemed to be drugged through most of the shoot. She did everything in slow motion. Timothy V. Murphy, an Irish actor, had an accent that came and went so I was never sure if he WAS an Irish sheriff or just couldn’t get the American accent to stay put. Stan Kirsch was excellent as the “city boy” deputy who wants the hell out of Dodge but when things start going from bad to worse, sticks it out until… Patty McCormack, all grown up from her ground-breaking role in 1956’s “The Bad Seed”, does admirably as a widow trying to restart her bed & breakfast business in a dying town. And Rocky Marquette as The Boy is incredible – he never says a word but with his bright blue eyes against that blood red face and with his body movements, he is able to convey all sorts of feelings and emotions.
The film was shot in 18 days in June of 2003 in the Topanga Canyon area near LA, Charlie Manson country. And due to the low budget of only $72,000, which is all on the screen, the producers had to make use of the SAG Experimental Program which meant no one got paid up-front. So this was a truly dedicated group of people who really believed in their movie.
A lot of people are going to be either freaked out, as I was, or disappointed by the shock ending. This is a movie you may need to watch more than once to catch a lot of subtle clues and, who knows, there may very well be a sequel. I would love to see The Boy again.