Eye For Film >> Movies >> Shady Grove (2022) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
One of the first things you’ll notice about Shady Grove is the unevenness of the performances. Niki McElroy, who plays newly pregnant Shaina, and Juhahn Jones, who plays her friend Eli, seem to be acting in completely different styles. Todd Anthony, as her partner Mark, doesn’t register much of a presence – at any rate, she and he don’t seem to have much chemistry, even in their (discreetly shot) shower sex scene. As the story unfolds, however, this comes to seem like less of a bug and more of a feature. Shaina is on a very different trajectory from her two companions – much more so than they realise.
is this because of the pregnancy? Perhaps not. There are indications that she was drifting away from Mark before she knew about it. Whilst mark is superficially understanding about an incident which happened at that time, he’s suspicious about her now, and there appears to be a measure of prejudice contributing to that. Still, they’re trying to make it work. That’s why they’ve decided to enjoy a short break in a rental lodge out in the country, with Eli – who doesn’t know about their difficulties – tagging along.
Arguably Eli has problems of his own. He’s just dumped his most recent girlfriend by text message because a relationship is not, as he puts it, conducive to his lifestyle, but he wastes no time in flirting with the locals and inviting them round to party. What he doesn’t know but viewers do, thanks to a prequel, is that there’s a masked figure out in the woods shooting people with arrows, so this may not be the best place for campfire hijinks.
With a nice supporting turn from Becki Hayes as the local sheriff, this is a film whose secrets lie as much in what we don’t see as what we do. It’s riddled with elements of folk horror, including one ritual practice which seems so distressing as to be unlikely to be sustainable in reality, but the sense is very much of recently invented practices chosen to bind a community together, rather than something truly ancient. Indeed, this is the US, and aside from our heroes, everybody else is white. Blond haired, sweetly smiling, toothpaste commercial white. This adds to the undercurrent of tension and to the disconnect between the film’s urban and rural worlds, but tension doesn’t get much of a chance to build before it shifts gears into all-out violence, the light comedy of early scenes permanently erased.
Clearly made on a low budget, Shady Grove looks pretty rough, but it delivers enough gore to please a certain sort of horror fan and it keeps the pace reasonably well. Whilst its premise is dubious in a modern setting for many reasons, even in a country with a shockingly low homicide detection rate, director Dale Resteghini makes it work well enough to entertain for an hour and a half, and many viewers will enjoy its reversal of stereotypes. Go in without expecting too much and you might be pleasantly surprised.Reviewed on: 25 Oct 2022