A popular sub-genre in contemporary horror cinema is what is sometimes condescendingly referred to as the “dead teenager” movie. Films in this category have a simple formula: plonk a group of unwitting teens in a spooky arena and kill them off one-by-one, leaving one survivor at the end for a potential sequel. It is an approach that’s been used so often that its limited appeal has grown increasingly stale, and if you’re going to make a movie about terrified teens in the dark, you’ll need some unique bite in order to succeed. Russell England’s latest film Unhallowed Ground has that bite, and whilst it doesn’t necessarily eschew the trappings of this sub-genre, it does offer an intelligent screenplay.
The plot depicts six ethically-diverse adolescents at a grand boarding school in England. On the final day of term, the headmaster tasks the teens with guarding the empty building for the night. What they’re blissfully unaware of is that a satanic presence is bubbling under the surface that threatens to endanger them all.
Instead of portraying a set of dumb, beer-swilling attractive teens ripe for slaughter, Unhallowed Ground depicts a set of well-educated, responsible teens with army cadet training defending their ground. They’re still sexually-charged, naïve and harbouring an irrepressible need to bend the rules, but hey-ho, that’s just teenagers. The butch Aki and kittenish Verity are the ones constantly behaving like “devil on the shoulder” types, but as a whole, Unhallowed Ground separates itself from teen-horror competition by setting up a group of characters that might actually pose a challenge to lurking paranormal forces rather than just scream and scram for the duration of the film. The picture even throws additional trouble the teens’ way for good measure, with two thieves aiming to rob the school blind.
When the spooks do come in Unhallowed Ground they aren’t exactly terrifying. But there’s a smart script here, and the characters are established soundly to the point where you care about what happens to them. The third act descends into decidedly more sinister territory, with dark revelatory scenes at the conclusion compensating for the somewhat tepid scares that arise in the middle of the picture.
Overall, Unhallowed Ground might not be scary enough to keep you up at night, but it may make you think twice about sending your kids to private school.
Unhallowed Ground is released nationwide on 12th June 2015.
Watch the trailer for Unhallowed Ground here: