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Hell’s Ground (Zibahkhana)

July 31, 2007

Set in modern day Pakistan, Hell’s Ground takes the age-old horror convention of young, sophisticated suburbanites being thrown into a terrifying alien landscape and runs pell-mell with it, bumping crazily into all manner of homages and thefts from old movies but adding a few unique little twists and turns all its own.

Somehwere just outside Islamabad, an isolated rural area is beset by huge environmental problems. Outrageously infected water supplies have led to horrific diseases and defects. Ignorant of this, a group of friends, OJ, Roxy, Ayesha, Simon and Vicky set out from the city on a hidden-from-parents trip to a distant rock concert. Ayesha, the baby of the group, is cautious and naive, worried about the lies she’s told to get away from home. On the way, in their Mystery Machine-a-like Scooby mobile, the gang toke on a few Js and talk about music and rebelling against their parents. Diverted by a protest, aimed at the factories polluting the rivers, they end up in an uncharted jungle and are soon lost. When they stop for a comfort break, OJ the stoner of the group, is attacked off-camera by a madman with a face “like a leper”. I imagine you’re way ahead of me, and I’m sure it’s no surprise that as OJ’s health deteriorates we see more and more of the creepy countryside, with strange leering figures walking zombifically (it’s a word) through the scrubland and trees. The sense of dread develops quickly and at one point we tip full length into an horrific Lucio Fulci-style chomping on intestines cannibal-fest.

It is at this point that the thrust of the film alters and the intense sort-of-unDead storyline judders to a halt and – as the car (natch) runs out of fuel – we clatter straight into a full-on, over the top, stalk-and-slash hunt to the death. First one, and then the next, and then the next, of the young blades discover what happens when the isolated and forgotten have been suffering for too long, unknown and unwanted. The damaged and mutated villagers they’ve previously witnessed are nothing compared to the hermit-like monster they now stumble on. As the first victim comes to his gruesome end, there’s no looking back, no moments of rest, no let up; it’s like having someone scream directly into your face for twenty minutes. You almost miss the colon-chewing loonies from Act 2.

Hell’s Ground is as rough as a badger’s arse, there are some eye-rolling jump cuts and the director is too in love with his fish-eye lens to evoke dread than is healthy, plus, it’s so derivative as to be actionable, but…I loved it. Omar Khan directs with an infectious (no pun) exuberance and the result is patchy, but one thing that really comes alive is the sheer sense of absolute, nerve-shredding, WTF! terror that all great horror movies must have. I recognised all the steals, but I still had no idea what was going to happen next, and for that it deserves huge credit. Some nifty little comic graphics between ‘chapters’ give it a knowing swagger, too.

There’s a genuinely heartfelt social/environmental message thrown in, and the Urdu/English patois that the kids chatter away with is incredibly addictive to listen to.

A rip-roaring ride into darkness.


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