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Shallow Ground (2004)

Fear your past... it will find you.

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 97 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 18

Now that the construction work on a new dam is complete, most of Shallow Valley's makeshift community of outsiders is set to move elsewhere, with only a few locals staying on. Still haunted by a string of unsolved missing persons cases that culminated a year ago in his failure to rescue his fiancée Amy (Tara Killian) from the clutches of a sadistic killer, Sheriff Jack Sheppard (Timothy V. Murphy) is also ready to leave the woodland town forever behind him – but as his deputies Stuart (Stan Kirsch) and Laura (Lindsey Stoddart) are packing up the station, out of the forest stumbles a strange boy, covered from head to toe in blood and holding a large hunting knife. Under police interrogation, the boy remains silent and unidentified, but as he continues to ooze blood that seems to have a life of its own, Jack follows its gory trail. What he finds is buried secrets, a dammed-up past, and a whole lot of bad blood, as Shallow Valley faces its final day of reckoning.

About halfway through 'Shallow Ground', Jack is heard to declare “this doesn't make sense”. Rest assured, by the end all the pieces have fallen into place, but along the way writer/director Sheldon Wilson leads Jack and viewers alike on a delirious and disorienting dance through the irrational. As if working out who the killer is does not present difficulties enough, the identity of the film itself is also carefully masked and confounded. Is it a giallo-like psycho thriller? Backwoods survival horror? Science fiction? A ghost story? Noirish police procedural? Slash and dash? Human drama? Religious allegory? Half the fun is trying to find out, and the other half is just reveling in the macabre inventiveness of it all – for 'Shallow Grave' does not so much rip off horror clichés as tear them apart limb from limb, before stitching them back together again into hideous new hybrids.

A low-budget labour of love, 'Shallow Ground' is filled with nightmarishly beautiful images, impossible-to-predict twists, bucketloads of gore, and shocking revelations (with a capital R) – but most of all it is a film bursting with big ideas about the ethics of justice, crime, guilt and punishment. Its final scene (and I am scrupulously avoiding any real spoilers here) manages to question whether cycles of violence and revenge can ever really be laid finally to rest, while at the same time reducing to its most absurd limits the horror genre's obsession with setting up a sequel. Like much of the rest of the film, it will have you both chuckling to yourself, and thinking, for some time after. For while the ground covered by this film may seem a patchwork of familiar motifs from all manner of chillers, it is anything but shallow – making Sheldon Wilson a creepy new talent to watch.

It's Got: A creepy teenager covered copiously in blood; a very sadistic killer; blood with a will of its own; a town that "no-one leaves"; a welcome appearance by Patty McCormack, child star of The Bad Seed (1956); the line "this is going to get a lot worse before it gets better again, isnt it?".

It Needs: Lots and lots of band-aids.


Eerie, apocalyptic, and very bloody, Wilson's horror debut is anything but shallow.