Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Devil's Ground (2009)

The Devil’s Ground opens with a blood-splattered college student, Amy (Leah Gibson), running through the woods and trying to get away from a hulking psycho trying to kill her. From there we cut to Carrie (Daryl Hannah), who is driving late at night and following the cross-country route her now-missing boyfriend took to get to Maine. After having an odd encounter with a gas station attendant (who eerily resembles the man that was chasing Amy, played by Twan Holliday) when she stops at a run-down gas station, Carrie gets back on the back roads of Pennsylvania. Suddenly, a traumatized-looking Amy steps out onto the road and begs for Carrie’s help. As Carrie drives them to get help, she asks Amy exactly what happened. In flashbacks we see that Amy was part of a college archeological dig that hoped to find Native American remains in order to stop a gold mining operation. She and four other classmates had come out to the middle of nowhere at the direction of their environmental studies professor and to secure passing grades. Before heading to the dig site they stopped for gas and met a handless gas station attendant named Billy. He tries to warn the group not to go to “the devil’s playground,” but they just brush him off.

After experienced a strong earthquake (or the locals rocking their Winnebago) in the middle of the night, the five students begin their work early the next morning and discover many Native American skeletons. Unfortunately they also find some much more recent remains…and discover they’ve stumbled upon a killer’s dumping ground for bodies. Soon the killer is after them and begins systemically killing them.

Amy got lucky and escaped, but can she and Carrie find help before the killer tracks them down?

Obviously this movie treads some very familiar ground, but for the most part it was engaging and entertaining. With that said, it does have some major flaws that hampered my ability to completely enjoy it and it is no where near perfect. Nonetheless, let’s start with what I did like about The Devil’s Ground.

First of all, I liked how the characters were intelligent and actually had a purpose for being out in the middle of nowhere that didn’t involve sex or drugs. The fact that they were there for scientific study made me respect them much more than if they had just been there to party. Though not all the characters were likable (yes, we get the token asshole, but at least he wasn’t some stupid misogynist), it was much easier to cheer for them because they weren’t the stereotypical young partiers looking for a weekend of debauchery. Also, all of the acting was great and there wasn’t a bad apple in the bunch!

Secondly, the production values and direction were both top notch. Despite a relatively low budget, the film looks amazing. There were some inventive camera angles used and lots of different point of view shots kept things interesting. Director Michael Bafaro really knows how to keep your attention and keep the pace moving along with some great camera tricks. These tricks gave the film a slick, professional feel that is usually sorely lacking in independent productions. The stylish look of the film is reason enough to watch it!

Thirdly, while the basic backwoods slasher story has been done to death, there are several touches to the story that make The Devil’s Ground unique. One is that the killer used not only a machete, but also a gun. This may have taken some fun out of the kills, but it also made the killer much more menacing and much more of a threat. Also, I loved the interplay between the students, Billy and the killer. The dialogue was believable and the characters even discussed any bad decisions they made (like why one of them left his girlfriend to die instead of facing the killer). It just felt so much more well-made than the usual brainless backwoods slasher flicks.

Now, on to the negative aspects of the film, The Devil’s Ground really needed a bit more oomph to set it apart from standard backwoods slashers. I know I just said it was much more intelligent and believable than most horror films (which is true), but nonetheless it still lacked that special something to make it stand out. The ending tries to be different from most slashers, even delving into the supernatural, but it just didn’t work.

The “twist” is predictable and the ending is confusing and unsatisfying, pretty much ruining any momentum and suspense the previous hour and a half had established. After the abrupt ending I was left wondering what could have been had the climax not been botched so badly. Also, the gore was nonexistent. I’m not asking for buckets of blood, but something more than a severed hand and body engulfed in flames was desperately needed. Some cool, cringe-worthy deaths really would have made this film much more memorable.

I’m pretty evenly split on The Devil’s Ground. On the one hand, I was well entertained for most of the film, but on the other hand, the ending was a real let-down and overall the film wasn’t that memorable. If you’ve got about 90 minutes to kill, The Devil’s Ground is good for a rental, but go ahead and stop it at the 65 – 70 minute mark to avoid the abrupt ending!

Available from Amazon!

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