Home > Reviews > SHALLOW GROUND – Steve London


shallowgroundOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Shallow Ground is the debut international feature from young director Sheldon Wilson, a low-budget independent horror movie with lots of good ideas, but a disappointing lack of sense and professionalism. It focuses on a small sheriff station in a remote California mountain town, staffed by three officers (Timothy V. Murphy, Stan Kirsch, Lindsey Stoddart), all of whom are packing up, ready to leave town following the completion of building work on a nearby dam. Their journey is halted, however, by the macabre appearance of a naked teenage boy (Rocky Marquette), covered from head to toe in blood, who refuses to speak, but who emits a palpable sense of malevolence and menace. Thus begins a terrible night for the Sheriff and his deputies, who try to piece together the mystery of who – or what – this boy is, and what his appearance has to do with the unsolved murder of a local girl a year previously.

I’m actually a little perplexed at why this film has been released in cinemas in the UK. After playing at a few film festivals (where is did not get great reviews) it went straight to DVD in the United States, and has not been scheduled for distribution anywhere else – which is not necessarily a bad thing as, by and large, it’s really not very good. Sophomore writer/director Wilson is technically adept, and has interesting angle thoughts when it comes to cinematography and lighting. Similarly, the basic concept of the film – ‘what goes around comes around’ – is fine, the special effects are gorily good, and the Bloody Boy character is a remarkably original and effective creation. It’s just that there is a noticeable absence of logic in the screenplay and a noticeable lack of quality and conviction in the acting. It’s perhaps a little unusual that the only performance of note comes from young Marquette, who does little more than stare threateningly at people. For the rest of the time it’s strictly amateur night, despite the inclusion of 1957 Oscar nominee Patricia McCormack and 1980s character actor John Kapelos in the supporting cast.

The music for Shallow Ground is by Canadian newcomer Steve London, who was nominated for a Canadian Emmy in 2002, but who has yet to make an international impact elsewhere. In purely musical terms, London’s score is actually pretty good: he has a great deal of fun experimenting with all manner of atonal madness, screeching string work, whispery voices, bombastic stingers, and wild percussion rhythms, especially in the action sequences. At times his music is reminiscent of early James Horner, especially scores like Humanoids from the Deep, while elsewhere he seems to have picked up some of the avant-garde techniques his former boss Christopher Young employed in early scores such as The Power and The Dorm That Dripped Blood.

With Spongebob Squarepants composer Gregor Narholz and industry stalwart Bill Stromberg undertaking conducting, orchestrating and “consulting” duties, and bolstered by the performance of the Budapest orchestra, London seems to have captured the spirit of the low-budget horror score perfectly. The single problem, however, is that the movie is desperately over-scored, almost to the point of ridiculousness.

As well as being the film’s composer, London was also part of the sound editing team, and as a result his music is much higher in the mix than is necessary. As a fan of orchestral scores, it is almost sacrilegious of me to say this, but London should have gone down the less-is-more road, because as it stands his music does the film more harm than good. Every tense moment, every minor camera movement, every glance of recognition between the characters is accompanied by an ear-shattering squeal of dissonance on the soundtrack that starts out tiresome, quickly becomes annoying, and eventually is almost laughable. Whatever sense of dread and menace the filmmakers intended to create has been completely undermined by the needlessly overbearing music, which is a shame because there is a great deal of raw talent on show. With a more musically-aware director behind him, London could easily go on to enjoy a successful career in Hollywood – IF he can show a little more self-restraint. Unsurprisingly, there is no soundtrack album for Shallow Ground, although the end credits rock song “No One Leaves” written by London with Nicole Hughes and Jeff Dalziel and performed by Scratching Post was released as a single.

Rating: **

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