ON EVIL GROUNDS
(Auf bösem Boden, 2007)
Directed by Peter Koller
Starring: Aleksandar Petrovic, Kari Rakkola, Birgit Stauber
GHOUL RATING: ** (2)
Romeo and Juliet – a couple that has a very odd perception of their relationship – decide to buy a loft situated in a remote and run-down factory. Don't we all dream of just such places for ourselves? Unfortunately, the secret owner of the factory, and his buddy, the real-estate agent, turn out to be sadistic serial killers (aren't they all?) in the habit of capturing and torturing young and innocent couples. Why? Because they're sick bastards, that's why! Too bad Romeo and Juliet are everything but docile victims…
In John Guare's play 'Six Degrees of Separation' a character wonders: "Why is it nowadays that imagination is replaced by style?" That's the same question I had in mind while watching ON EVIL GROUNDS, a flick definitely NOT made for those who frequent theatre.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with the 'style over substance' approach: there are some auteurs who made entire careers out of it, like, say, Italian horror-maestro Dario Argento. Still, something tells me that Peter Koller would prefer to be compared to some lower-level purveyors of 'stylish' violent flicks, like Robert Rodriguez or Guy Ritchie. And, to be frank, ON EVIL GROUNDS is not too far from their kind of filmmaking: violence is 'fun', violence is 'cool', bad-ass characters are so sexy, so let's cram as many tough-guys and sleazebags into one movie and have them beat and shoot each other to death in ways as spectacular as the budget would allow.
But, one of the problems of this particular flick is that there was no budget in sight, so the director had to make do with only three main characters, plus four or five side characters, all of it confined to one cheap location. Not the most spectacular set up, indeed, but hey, guess what: Tom and Jerry chased each other through just a couple of rooms, that was it, and still it was fun to watch them beat each other. Inventiveness and gleeful sadism were quite sufficient for entertainment even within a limited setting. Now, Mr. Koller describes his movie with a tag-line "Sergio Leone meets Tom and Jerry." But would you care to watch a cartoon in which Jerry is captured for the 4/5 of the running time, while Tom can't think of anything better than to punch him (just once!) with a crowbar and do some innocuous target practice on his head? That's what happens here: Bald Romeo (Aleksandar Petrovic) is dug into the ground up to his neck, and spends most of the time cursing and grimacing like there's no tomorrow. He just doesn't know when to shut his mouth: it's wide open even while the psycho (literally) pisses into his face!
So, our 'hero' (previously seen to be equally despicable as the psycho) is immobile for the most of the flick. The psycho (Kari Rakkola) is woefully unimaginative in his 'torturing' ways, and no budget can be blamed for the poor imagination. Julia doesn't do much, either. Her main scene will be funny to you only if you find the rape funny, as Koller seems to. First she's shown teasing the psycho ('She was asking for it!'), and when he finally takes her from behind and starts humping, he's groaning like a pig while Julia is making 'funny' faces and director accompanies all of that with some 'funny' music. Ho-ho-ho! Your belly will hurt with laughing! (And if so, you know who you are!)
OK, maybe Koller had to be economical with his leads and kept them for the end. How about some funny torture porn with those side-characters? Not here, kids. Mr. Koller is cheating at his own game: he was teasing us with the sight of two previously captured and bloodied hippies in chains. You expected some SAW-like contraptions? Or at least Tom and Jerry contraptions for their demise? SPOILER: No way; they're dispatched with two measly bullets, and that's all. Within 30 seconds the director kills-off 3 out of 4 cannon-fodder 'characters' with the oh-so-boring gunshots! END OF SPOILER!
We're promised a blood-soaked orgy of sadism: what we get is an orgy of extreme close-ups of cartoonish grimaces, 'funny' noises, uninspired, misguided and/or just not funny gags. All of this infantile mess may be amusing to (pre)teens with disturbed behavior (psychopaths in the making), but I'd find it a really sad testament to the world we live in if I heard of a grown up person who enjoyed ON EVIL GROUNDS. It manages the rare trick to both suck and blow, i.e. to be at the same time underwhelming and too exaggerating. It's not good at what it tries to be (violent, brutal, offensive and funny), and what it tries to be is not that admirable in the first place.
On the positive side, Koller shows off a solid talent for direction, what with all those fancy odd angles, close-ups, crazy editing and the stuff. His short film, SKRYPT announced a talented filmmaker who cares more about polished surfaces (excellent photography) than about anything remotely resembling substance, and his debut feature, ON EVIL GROUNDS is a further proof of his strengths and weaknesses. As for the Leone part in that tag-line: are you kidding? Let's just forget that one of the greatest film directors of all times was even mentioned in connection with this Austrian psycho-flick, and stick to the Tom and Jerry part instead. The amount of talent exhibited here is quite sufficient to be used as a calling card for Hollywood. With his inclination towards cartoons, perhaps Koller might be an ideal director of the likes of SCOOBY DOO 3 or GARFIELD 2. Good luck!