Set in an historic British boarding school six students from two prestigious North London private schools, spend a night patrolling the grounds of the historic Dhoultham School as part of an initiative with the British Army to arm them with basic military training. As each hour passes and the teenagers complete their mundane tasks, they witness a series of increasingly disturbing occurrences…..
When I sat down to watch Unhallowed Ground, I had no idea what I was about to watch. My first thoughts were that it could well be a sequel to the 2004 underrated horror Shallow Ground?, but my hope was soon dwindled when the credits started to roll and I began to think it was a film set around the Bubonic Plague…..and how cool would that be? I mean when was the last time we saw a film set around those damn awful real life events, especially with the climate of fear we are living in now. Again though, despite a three minute start telling us about the time that dreaded virus hit this small part of Britain, the film quickly switches to modern times and then I began to realise what I was watching.
Now any British horror is always welcome, but I have been hit many times with some dire films starring ex Soap stars, so I will admit, twenty minutes in I began to have serious doubts where this film was taking me.
Even half way through, Unhallowed Ground was offering nothing new to a well known genre, the plot displaying the same old clichés that have been offered up in much better films. Somehow though I carried on watching right to the end, meaning that despite the well worn scenario, this little ghostly horror is a decent affair, not enough to scare you at night, but a perfect watch for a rainy night, that does deliver massively if you stick with it.
Set in the fictitious Dhoultham School on the last day of term, the place is now empty of students and teachers apart from an army cadet of teenage recruits that patrol the grounds at night, to stop thieves from robbing the place of their prized assets. The cadet consist of well known faces from well known TV Shows, Thomas Law (Ex Pete Beale from EastEnders), Meena (Rachel Petladwala from MI High), Verity (Poppy Drayton in Downtown Abbey), while we have Roman Polanski’s daughter Morgane popping up as Sophie. The rest of the cast consist of Rishi (played by screenwriter Paul Raschid) and Aki (Marcus Griffiths), all different characters but thankfully well written and not the typical “meat for the reaper” stereotypes.
Its the high quality acting that raises this little horror above the low budget, because from the acting and with the deft hand of Russell England behind the camera, a lot of love and care has gone into the proceedings and when the cast and crew are enjoying what they making, it transfers well on screen.
What should be a routine patrol turns into the worst night of their lives. From the opening montage we are told that the school was around in the 17th century when the plague was hit, but was spared the many deaths because it made a deal with “him downstairs”. By sacrificing four students in a ritual murder, the place carried on, but now the spirits are back and its time for another offering and these poor cadets are bang in the middle of it. They also have to deal with two burglars, Marine (Corrie star Will Thorpe) and another ex EastEnder Ameet Chana in the role of Jazz who are determined to get their hands on the prized items in the school’s vault.
With the horror genre littered with nothing but endless Found Footage horror, Unhallowed Ground is a pleasant change of old fashioned horror, even the setting of a school offers a fresh slant, because how many ghost films have you seen lately set in an old abandoned asylum?
As the night goes on, the cadets find themselves getting deeper in the mess. What starts with normality at what they were doing, ends up with strange noises and things that go bump in the night. The film sometimes dips its toes into the slasher genre, with the ghouls appearing out of nowhere or walking past slowly, with a kind of Michael Myers vibe that did thrill my horror bones.
There are moments though that did test my patience. The characters on show are supposed to be intelligent but at times they do silly things like “whoa what is that noise?, lets go an investigate!”, now I know they supposed to look after the place, but come on, there is some weird shit going on and they have seen enough stuff to realise things are above the norm, so why go and walk down a dark corridor?.
Even the poor CGI may have you gasping at the low quality, but its more of a case of ideas above the station and all I could do is admire the ambition on show by those involved. But just as the film seems to stay on this one level of quality, the last twenty minutes stunned me, because out of the blue, Unhallowed Ground delivers a mouth opening twist that rocked me.
I love any horror that stuns me like that, Scream itself would not be half the film if it weren’t for their double whammy offering, and I felt the same level of adrenalin here. It was a case of “Where the heck did that come from?” and bravo Raschid and England for shocking this horror veteran to his core.
While the film is low on the blood to thrill all the gore-hounds, and deaths are sparse (apart from a great twisted electric shock death), with great acting, decent enough plot and a new setting, Unhallowed Ground is a welcome treat to the British horror genre and by sticking with it, offers a killer twist which will honestly stun you…