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Shallow Ground (2004)
An indie piece that explores daring new ways to suck
One user comment asked if they'd seen the same movie as everyone else, because otherwise he couldn't account for all the positive reviews. My theory on that is that this was a labor of love for the people who slogged through $100k to get this made, and they all came on here and wrote good reviews to pump it up. There's just no other possible explanation for the overwhelming good buzz this Gigliesque movie is getting.
MASSIVE SPOILERS from here on out:
The negative reviews you read are pretty much right on. There are plot holes, pointless characters and unfinished subplots galore, and you're expected to suspend disbelief to the point where it snaps and breaks. The killer being the widow is utterly ridiculous. Her motivation supposedly is that her husband and daughter were killed working on a dam project, so she went after people involved in building the dam. In one year she goes from ordinary wife and mother to raving psychopath who not only strings up naked babes before she guts them (something middle aged women just don't do), but keeps the bodies in her parlor until they have to be held up with wire and fish hooks. The sheriff wanders in at one point and he's only a room away and yet doesn't notice any kind of stench. I had a dead mouse trapped behind my wallboard once and had to hire a guy to come in and fumigate.
I don't agree with heaping praise on this flick because the cinematography doesn't suck as bad as a typical $100k movie. So what? The technical stuff should be a given. It's not what makes a movie good to anyone other than tech-dweebs. I also don't agree with the comment someone said that nobody goes to see a horror movie expecting a decent plot or depth. I do. Without those things the gore is like watching one of those evening news magazine shows about surgery--gross, but hardly frightening. That comment actually sums up this movie pretty well.
The gore in this film is excellent, but has no punch whatsoever because it lasts too long. Over and over we see the Bloody Boy until his presence begins to elicit a sigh. At the end where he feels around in the widow's throat, yeah that was pretty nasty but then he does it for so long you start wondering if maybe he lost his wallet in there.
I watched this on DVD, recommended by a friend who now owes me her firstborn child, and I caught the last minute of director commentary because I wanted that zombie thing that tore out Bloody Boy's heart at the very end explained to me. The director declined to explain it at all, merely saying he liked that people didn't get it. Let me translate for anyone who doesn't speak arrogant artiste: "I cannot write a coherent plot to save my life and when someone calls me on it I will pretend I find it tres amusing that they are too stupid to understand."
Less a documentary than a vanity project
I commend Zana Briski for wanting to help these children. I believe she was moved by what she saw and did the best she could with the tools available to her. As she said herself, she is neither social worker nor teacher. She is not a native speaker of the language nor member of the culture. As such she brings her own values and assumptions to the table when trying to help the children, but I don't think that's something to criticize her for.
However the movie she made documenting her attempt to help these children was not effective as a documentary. We never get much of a feel for the kids, and only a cursory glimpse into what their lives are truly like. We see a few scenes of a woman verbally abusing a child but it's not clear why she's yelling. We're told rather than shown that their world is unpleasant, but from what we see on screen it doesn't seem all that bad. The children are almost always laughing and happy. Their parents seem to love them. Occasionally we see one scrubbing out a pot or getting a spanking. I would've loved to know more about these kids, their families and their lives, but what we mostly see are Briski's efforts to get them an education, which are commendable but place this film in the category of a feel-good (for Briski) vanity project rather than a work that truly shows us what the children's lives are like. Briski misses the mark by focusing on the two least interesting parts of the story, herself and the photography lessons, and relegating the most fascinating, the kids and their environment, to a relative sidebar.
The most telling scene in the film was when Briski learns that Ayvajit's mother has been burned to death by her pimp. The opportunities here for a visceral emotional punch are astounding, but what we get are a few seconds of Briski shaking her head and saying, "How sad." This sentiment sums up the shallowness of this film. By focusing on Briski and her efforts, we get an intellectual exercise instead of one that grabs us in the guts and makes us feel, as much as we can in our comfortable chairs from half a world away, what it is like to be born into a brothel.