I guess you’re way ahead of me here, which is pretty much how it’s most likely to be for the audience with regard to the predictable narrative of this very slow paced film. Vera understands and respects the seriousness of the situation, what with being an anthropologist and all, but her ‘cheatin’ wife’ Alice has no respect for the ways of the Native American spirits that are keeping the Barhams at bay so, of course, she is the one to transgress. (in fact, it’s not really that much of a transgression... she drops her watch while they’re out walking and reaches over the fence to retrieve it... still, in the eyes of the red-necked Barham family, a trespass is a trespass!)
But the scene isn’t quite set yet. Sleazy Thatcher Vance turns up unexpectedly (of course) to try and convince Alice to ditch Vera and resume their affair, and there’s also that strange old caretaker, Sandy (Ritchie Montgomery) who keeps popping up at the most inopportune times with his homespun, southern drawl philosophy and thinly veiled warnings. Cue the appearance of the Barham family patriarch, Bill (played with arch, evil enthusiasm by writer/director Miles Doleac). Turns out he’s also the local sheriff, so they won’t be getting any help from the cops in a hurry. Alice and Vera very quickly discover that the Barham family are some kind of weird, violent cult looking like a warped and bloody version of the KKK in their crimson robes and deer antler headdresses.
On the surface, this movie seems like it’s trying to address some of the issues to do with the portrayal of women and diversity in violent horror films; placing three women in key roles, including a gay marriage and a Native American story at the centre of the narrative, but all that quickly falls away and we’re soon back to stock standard ‘women as victims of nasty male violence’ with a bit of gratuitous nudity thrown in for good measure. It’s disappointing when the first act of this film seemed to be wanting to go another way.
Having said all that, the violence itself (if that’s what you’re looking for) is not especially shocking or thrilling or even suspenseful. Partly that’s to do with the snail’s pace at which the story travels and partly it’s to do with there not being very much of it (sound that that old joke in Annie Hall – the food’s terrible and such small portions).
Also missing in action (or lack thereof) is much in the way of ‘horror’. There’s a nice, creepy little scene with Bill’s boy Lonny (Scott Bolster) who’s the one that catches Alice reaching over the fence line. There’s a touch of Deliverance in the back-woods demeanour of the kid (especially when we find out what he’s holding – no spoilers here) but it’s really the only scene that raises the bar above all the other scenes that are both derivative and predictable.
Eakin is good as the moral centre of the film and Williams makes a good fist of being the more reckless of the two. Richie Montgomery finds a bit of humour in his cantankerous role (the kind of character that, if this was an old Western, would have been played by Slim Pickens or Chill Wills) but Sande and Doleac play the villainous melodrama of their characters much more than the threat they might otherwise present to our two heroes. All in all, Hallowed Ground is a film that starts out with some promising ideas that could well have taken us into fresh territory with some good scary stuff along the way but, sadly, doesn’t ever deliver on that initial promise.