It’s always impressive when any film, especially a horror themed one, given the opportunity to use a real location, herein the Mill Hill School, London, England, a great feat for first-time feature debut director Russell England, who previously only had his hand doing TV documentaries and short films, achieving distribution for Unhallowed Ground from MTI Home Video in 2016. In addition, screenwriter Paul Raschid makes his debut with this film and portrayed Rishi Patel. The opening of their film establishes a bit of secrecy at the school, noting a plague in London in 1665, which really did happen, known as The Great Plague of 1665 and 1666 with a death count of approximately 200,000, it actual became the last outbreak of bubonic plague in Great Britain.
In less than 2-minutes of the opening of this film, we have the quickest introduction about a plague and a plague doctor (Gil Cohen-Alloro), private school, a weird connection to satanic mumbo-jumbo, and then transition into modern day and students instructed about learning military tactics, as a great opportunity. Soon it transforms again with six students at the historic private school Dhoultham School protecting its cherished integrity and honor. Meanwhile two burglars, ex-Marines Shane (Will Thorpe) and Jazz (Ameet Chana) plan their mission to steal priceless historical documents from a vault, scope out the location, though one seems less than enthralled for the mission. The small team, headed by Daniel (Thomas Law) to patrol the grounds because it is required of them to prove that they have basic military training to enter the British Army. As they do their preparation the typical behavior of sexual innuendo references and naivety especially between Aki (Marcus Griffiths) and Meena (Rachel Petladwala), and them leading off for separate showers, Meena fears of a monster what she would do when confronted with one, makes for a comical moment. Their only supplied with radios for emergencies as the thieves immerse into the youth drama filling in conflict situations, shadow images, and ghostly occurrences. It all moves along at slow tedious crawl for about 45-minutes, meaningless dialogue and plodding through senseless scenes without any motivating actions, as for the thieves just seem inept perhaps the reason for their dishonorable discharges. The last third of the movie starts increasing into diabolical frenzied situations however it seems more rated PG-13. All of it trying leap into understanding the guardians of the ancient, really the protectors to their well-being, and it all relates back to 1665 in a confusing ritual tied to the five points of the inverted pentagram.
The masks used early on in the film reference plague doctors, featuring a long curve nose and hooded robe trying to infuse a bit of sinister attributes which links back to the actual plague doctor’s costume, where the long nose filled of something sweet to combat the stench of death. The long coat and gloves all served as protection against blood and other fluids, and the outfit inspired a 17th-century poem often seen in a few horror films, steam-punk attire as well as the world famous Carnival of Venice.
A few technical issues with Unhallowed Ground first, the casting of unknown actors hence perhaps due to cost and best hope to keep the audience more focused on the story. As for the story, it tries to incorporate a bit of the occultism, however never feels comfortable or even qualified, finally mudding the simplistic script, as if the conceptual design had been done before and sadly better namely the film Bad Kids Go to Hell (2012). Lastly, the CGI one word to describe it – ugh – appears as something from 1980s, the quality thoroughly ugly and lessens the quality of movie. Computers definitely have a place in cinema, including the horror genre, but old-school practical effects still outweigh the luxuries and ease of point and click.
England brought a lot of passion to screen, never achieve the level of horror, feels more as a thriller, the twist in the movie works slightly, this is a condemnation of British horror, many fine pictures from years ago and modern day, but those understand the meaning of horror on the screen. The phantoms more like Casper the Friendly Ghost, the scares never materialize, Ghostbusters’ librarian better situated in the 1984 classic than here.