When it comes to horror films, we all have our subgenres and niche weaknesses. Anything that comes out that fits our little obsessions immediately becomes a must-watch, sight-unseen. My heart sings for two things: Deadly Games and Horror Westerns. Give me Saw (2004) or Union Furnace (2015 – read our review here), and I’m on the edge of my seat. Give me a Bone Tomahawk (2015 – read our review here) or The Burrowers (2008), and I’m the happiest camper to ever pitch a tent. So when the opportunity to watch Miles Doleac’s new movie, Hallowed Ground (2019), presented itself, I leaped. The synopsis alone got my hairs up and twitching:
A married couple, trying to rebuild their relationship after an affair, travels to a secluded cabin and stumbles into a blood feud between the Native American owners of the property and the neighboring clan, who obsessively guard their land and punish those who trespass on it in terrifying ways.
That sounds like a Western. It also sounds like a Deadly Game. It sounds like I’m in.
Mississippi native Miles Doleac (Demons 2017 – read our review here, Attack of the Southern Fried Zombies 2017) lends a strong voice to the proceedings as a writer, director, and actor, co-starring as Bill Barham. Hallowed Ground has the same visual grit and auteuristic flourishes you’d find in a Ben Wheatley film, as well as the grounded depictions of a forest cult like you’d find in Kill List (2011).
Most interestingly, the film’s married couple is two women, something rare in cinema, let alone horror. The affair mentioned in the film’s synopsis occurs between one of the women, Alice (Lindsey Anne Williams: Demons 2017), and photographer Thatcher Vance (Jeremy Sande: Deepwater Horizon 2016). A great deal of meat is made from the double betrayal of Alice’s not only cheating on her wife but cheating with a man.
This drama feels out of place, though. The film opens with a harrowing flashback, a dispute between a Native American and a settler. The two men exchange threats and reach a steady truce, but not before the audience sees plenty of after-the-fact blood and gore. Then we’re catapulted into the present day, sharing a car with Alice and her wife, Vera (Sherri Eakin: The Hollow 2016), driving to this remote Native location to hash out their relationship and see a sacred burial ground. Like you do.
Then, for almost forty minutes, we are treated to their marital strife via telegraphic “I’m mad!” dialogue and hazy flashbacks to Alice’s love scenes with Thatcher Vance.
That’s where Hallowed Ground loses its footing, in both the script and the performances. Dialogue is delivered like it’s from scenes out of Bikini A Go Go or The Red Shoe Diaries. There are distinct pauses between lines that evoke cue cards and calls for, “Line?” which left me wondering: “Was that really the best take?” The lesbian relationship doesn’t feel real or relatable, as it too frequently vacillates between tense fighting and intense kissing moments that seem, at best, performative, and at worst, exploitative. There’s also a monologue in the film so bizarre, so wild, and so obviously written as to be un-actable that I’m gonna wait until the end of this review to talk about it. It has to be unpacked on its own.
We are also treated to left field explorations of biphobia and homophobia as Alice and Vera fight for the high ground in their marriage. This goes on for an hour of the film’s egregious two-hour runtime. One of the mortal sins of a writer/director is the hesitation to cut any words from their original vision. This script needed quite a few cuts, and maybe a punch-up for naturalism to address the stilted line readings.
By the time Hallowed Ground’s main conceit (cross the property line between the Native land and the neighbors, and then die) is introduced, the film feels listless and like something completely different. It tries to give us a couple on the skids like The Strangers but just ends up with a cast of deeply unlikeable people closer to Rob Zombie’s 31 (2016 – read our review here).
The second hour of the film feels more accessible. The couple did a bad thing in the woods, kissing each other so hard that they fell over… and across the property line. Because of this sin, they’re forbidden to leave the premises until revenge is exacted by the neighboring clan. We know this because we are told this for five full minutes of screen time. The rules comprise a deadly game, but one that’s explained after the characters have already lost. As a result, all the ensuing blood feels anemic and unearned.
About that blood. The mysterious neighbors we’ve been warned about are a community of rednecks that wear robes and murder outsiders by torchlight when their land feels threatened, and they worship a dragon. It’s purely coincidence that the Ku Klux Klan wears robes, feels threatened by outsiders, and follows a Grand Dragon, I’m sure. The dragon cult, led by Miles Doleac’s Bill Barham, seeks justice for trespass through attempted rape, torture, and murder. This is even less fun to watch, and somehow more boring than it sounds.
There are some interesting thematic nuggets to Hallowed Ground: the way it explores territory as a metaphor for romantic entitlement, causality, and, most of all, the hypocrisy of a bunch of robed white men on Native land demanding restitution for trespassing. Disappointingly, all of these themes and thoughts are drowned in a bloated script, poor acting, and unforgivably bad pacing. The property line is guarded by barbed wire, something this film doesn’t need to keep people away.
As for that monologue… It’s given by Jeremy Sande’s Thatcher Vance, Alice’s male paramour. He delivers it to Vera, gloating about his being a better lover to Alice than she’s ever been. It begins with my current favorite batshit movie line, usurping the throne from the Death Race remake: “Okay, cocksucker. Fuck with me, and we’ll see who shits on the sidewalk.” Ouch.
“Let me ask you a question. Have you ever had sex with a camera? Answer the question. Have you… ever fucked… a camera?”I have not, but after two hours of Hallowed Ground with its unlubricated script and oversized runtime, I can say confidently that I’ve been fucked by a movie.
Agree or disagree with our review? Let us know in the comments!