Monday, March 1, 2010

'Hell's Ground' Review

Here it is kids!!! Omar Khan's 2007 Horror film Hell's Ground. Much like any memorable RONCO product, this film does many things simultaneously. It's a zombie film, it's a slasher, it's Pakistan's first entry in the horror canon. No, wait; it's all three! Clocking in at a brisk 78 minutes, one may be wondering how they were able to successfully marry both of these sub-genres into one film. Well, Khan didn't really succeed. Not that Hell's Ground isn't enjoyable. It just doesn't know what it wants to be about. Perhaps I should clarify by saying it IS a slasher, but wants to have a zombie apocalypse as it's backdrop. That, in my opinion, is where it loses any hope of being a rush of a film watching experience and merely becomes fun. There's certainly nothing wrong with a fun movie. It is however, disappointing when you see the potential for an invigoratingly oddball film quickly descend into just a fun movie.

Hell's Ground begins by introducing us to our five Pakistani teenage leads. We are shown their various living conditions, as our protagonists all come from different socio-economic households. This is a nice way to introduce the non-Pakistani audience to a little of their culture. From the beginning, I was pretty excited at the prospect of taking a peak behind the curtain of Middle Eastern civilization. Throughout the film there are glimpses of cultural elements so foreign to a North American viewer that it's downright fascinating. It's kind of like watching March of the Penguins and having one cute little waddle bird rip the other's throat out.

Once our five leads have lied their way out of their respective homes, they meet up and head out on the road in a dilapidated “Mystery Machine” of a van. It seems their destination is a “rock” concert of sorts that their parents would hardly approve of. At this point I was thoroughly along for the ride. So when the cell phone service failed and the van ran out of gas, I was able to wave out the window at these annoying horror cliches as I passed them on the side of the proverbial dirt road. At this point, the director suddenly channels Lucio Fulci and we have our first zombie encounter. To call this a giddy moment of zombie goodness would be an understatement. It REALLY felt less reminiscent and more authentic than anything else. Much like Ti West's House of the Devil, I was genuinely transported into another time. Sadly, the film moves away from this zombie tease and into slasher territory. Not that I don't love slashers. I just thought I was watching a zombie film!

Suddenly, midway through act two we get grubby, toothless, backwoods people popping up and thrilling us with their oddness. The atmosphere here was certainly palpable. The wooded location and characters lack of dental hygiene really added to the nasty feel of the film. As our principles begin to separate, looking for any type of assistance, we are introduced to our primary antagonist. This burqa wearing behemoth is in his own right, pretty damn creepy. Imagine if Leatherface had been the one wearing the sheet and glasses in the bedroom instead of Michael Myers. The gore is there. However, what you get is aftermath gore. Often times when budgets become a crutch you have filmmakers that can't show the cutting, just the blood. Although this is a bit of a disappointment, it really did not pull me out of the film. What pulled me out of the film was wondering where the damn zombies went. In any event, all hell breaks loose and the battle for survival is on.

All things considered, Hell's Ground does not break any new “ground.” What it does do however, through no effort on it's director's part, is bring Pakistani horror to us. That is not intended to be an insult. He is a Pakistani filmmaker, who made a Pakistani horror film. Thus, he obviously and unintentionally brought us a Pakistani horror film. Once I resigned myself to the fact that I was not getting much of anything different (just from a different world) from this director; I really was able to enjoy it. The acting was pretty solid, the direction was serviceable, and as I stated before: the cultural elements really did interest me. Will this film be added to my DVD collection? More than likely not. I can however, say with all honesty, that while not a masterpiece in any way, this movie falls solidly into the “wow, I'm really glad I got to see this” category. Final thoughts: Hell's Ground is a fun little film, it slices, it dices, it entertains.

Hell's Ground
Director: Omar Khan
Starring: Ashfaq Bhatti and Sultan Billa

7/10 Farmhouses ~ Chris Conduit

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