From the instant HALLOWED GROUND began, I felt a little uneasy about what I was going to watch. Not because the premise was particularly disturbing, but rather there felt like there was too much room to do it poorly. The plot, though initially quite simple, quickly becomes increasingly convoluted and unintelligible: Spouses Vera and Alice are going through a tough time. Due to her unwillingness to fuck her, Alice has cheated on Vera — with, gasp, a man — and it’s understandably forged a rift between them. To help salvage their relationship and also allow Vera to do more research on Native culture they on visiting what — I assume — is a Native reservation that also shares a border with said Native’s generational rivals: a group of what we can only call white supremacists. Then, the man Alice cheated on Vera with shows up. There’s a metaphorical dragon the white supremacists pray to. It’s all quite a lot.
But from the get-go, nothing really seems right about our cast of characters. Firstly, our protagonists are literally a married queer couple, but, unsurprisingly, their relationship seems deeply predicated on the writer/director having watched a few lesbian porns from the mid-90’s. To that end, it seems deeply, deeply strange to me, as a queer person, that we’re shown a scene where the two are arguing about their experiences with queerness, with Alice speaking to her bi-erasure and Vera speaking about growing up gay in the south. To be quite frank, it seems impossible to me that two women who decided to marry each other wouldn’t have already had this — albeit common — oppression olympics conversation and gotten the hell over it at this stage in their relationship. What’s more, I’m also not sure what that scene serves to do. It certainly doesn’t help that the dynamics between Vera and Alice felt weird and forced, possibly because they couldn’t be bothered to hire actual queer people for these roles. Who knows.
At this point, we’re nearly an hour into this two-hour long film. That’s when the “horror” part actually gets going, which includes some twenty-ish minutes of flogging our bisexual protagonist along with some attempted rape. The klan leader shoots a Native woman, and the white women escaped unscathed — and finds the ability to fuck again!!
And I really don’t know what else to say. We get some extremely cool practical effects in the beginning, but that’s immediately overshadowed by a stereotypical portrayal of a native person. Unfortunately, HALLOWED GROUND doesn’t accomplish what it sets out to do successfully, and I think the failure lies in its apparent contempt for its characters. They’re all based in deeply outdated, offensive stereotypes of natives and queer people, which makes it hard to enjoy the film. I will say that it prompted me to want to learn more about the Native lore presented throughout — Choctaw bone pickers for example — but too many of the jokes were at the expense of Native people for me to think that reverence and education were the films original intent. Based on how it regards its characters, I’m not willing to give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt. HALLOWED GROUND is now in select theaters.
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