Director – Russell England, Screenplay – Paul Raschid, Producer – Neville Raschid, Photography – Glen Warrillow, Music – Xiaotian Shi, Visual Effects – Darkside Studios, Special Effects Supervisor – Mike Peel, Makeup Effects – Rogue Creations. Production Company – Aviary Films
Marcus Griffiths (Aki), Poppy Drayton (Verity), Rachel Petladwala (Meena), Thomas Law (Daniel Gordon), Will Thorp (Shane), Paul Raschid (Rishi Patel), Morgane Polanski (Sophie), Andrew Lewis (Dr Carmichael), Ameet Chana (Jazz)
It is the end of term at the Dhoultham School for Boys. Three of the cadets and three of the female cadets from the nearby Norfield College for Girls are selected for a special training exercise where they are required to patrol the grounds of the school overnight. The principal Dr Carmichael promises he will organise some surprises to keep them alert. As the group settle in, Shane, a former soldier, and his accomplice Jazz break in to the school to steal valuable items from the Artifact Room. However, as both students and burglars make their way around the grounds, they are startled by ghostly figures. As Rishi uncovers, this is the anniversary of the infamous night in 1665 when the school was under threat from the bubonic plague and four of the students were killed as sacrifices to Satan, something that caused the school to be spared from the plague.
Unhallowed Ground is low-budget production from UK’s Aviary Films, which is run by expatriate Indian producer and former film financier Neville Raschid. Neville’s son Paul writes the script and stars in the role of the student Rishi. The director’s chair is taken by Russell England who has mostly worked directing tv documentaries since the 1990s with this marking his first fictional film.
Unhallowed Ground reminds of a boarding school thriller such as Like Minds (2006) pushed over into being a supernatural horror film. The setting did nothing for me given my opposition in general to military glorification films. On the other hand, as the film settles in, the sextet of students are drawn with some reasonable characterisations and you warm to watching them play off one another.
I held out promise for the film as Russell England seemed to be doing something interesting as it started. However, not long after the spooky element kicks in – which to its credit the film holds off delivering for a good third of the show – this is revealed to be an empty poker hand. The effects of shadowy figures with glowing eyes don’t really work. Moreover, the film has clearly been shot on a low-budget. The filmmakers have obtained the use of a real school for the occasion (Mill Hill School, a boarding school in London) but thereafter Russell England has done little more than point the camera and have actors run around the halls. The school is passable as a location, although if the film had had the budget to build sets you suspect it would have gained more atmosphere.
However, what causes the film to collapses into the ridiculous is the end reveal of what is going on. [PLOT SPOILERS]. One doesn’t have too much of a problem with the diabolical pact explanation or the fact that the end revelation doesn’t transpire as the ghost story the film sets out as being. However, this is also a twist that requires two characters to abruptly develop left field reversals of sympathy and reveal they are planning to sacrifice everybody – the first giving some reason about wanting to unleash the bubonic plague again because privilege exists and the second, more absurdly, because the rest of the classmates ignored her for being straight-laced.