Alternate Ground Image

Alternate Ground

By Bobby LePire | November 19, 2021

Oddly, the IMDb page for the mystery-drama Alternate Ground does not list any screenwriters, and the plot synopsis is a rather massive spoiler. As such, avoid the page at all costs unless knowing the end to writer/director Daniel Groom’s feature-length debut without seeing it appeals to you. So with that warning out of the way, let’s dive into the uneven but engaging picture.

Riley (Owen Myre) is not in his bedroom this morning. His parents, Arthur and Joyce (Michael Anthony Coppola and Demitra Papadinis), and brother Brad (Ethan Boucher), search the entire house for him to no avail. Eventually, the young boy is found outside, with no memory of how he got there. Now, Riley is losing time, acting out at school, and having nightmares. All the while, his family is seeing Riley performing actions, such as throwing his dinner plate onto the floor, that he isn’t actually doing.

So, after much deliberation, Arthur decides to take his son to the hospital for a two-week evaluation at the behest of Dr. Bartlett (Patience McStravick). Meanwhile, Joyce consults a psychic, Samantha (Susan Ahearn). As Riley gets worse and becomes catatonic, the family becomes more and more desperate. What happened to Riley, and why is he suddenly acting so oddly? Is it a medical condition or something beyond human comprehension?

“…his family is seeing Riley performing actions…that he isn’t actually doing.”

Alternate Ground drips with atmosphere and tension. The director does an incredible job at sustaining the mysterious happenings surrounding Riley and the family’s bafflement over what they’re witnessing. However, the film only runs some 90 or so minutes, and it still feels a bit padded. More accurately, it feels underdeveloped, which causes some scenes to be confusing (the last moment with Dr. Bartlett is very tough to suss out) while others lead nowhere. This is too bad, as the first ⅔ of the narrative is intriguing, but Groom forgets to give audiences the why. Sure, the what is revealed, but there appears to be a lack of motivation behind it, which is frustrating.

But, the editing does help keep audiences engaged, as scenes become more erratic or bizarre as Riley’s mental state deteriorates. Also helping matters along is the strong cinematography, which is where all that tension stems from. While obviously filmed with meager means, Groom makes the most of what he can and helms a strong, visually stylized effort.

The cast, though, is quite the mixed bag. It’s not that some of the actors in Alternate Ground do well, while others fare less so. Honestly, that is to be expected. No, here, there are several scenes where each thespian digs deep and finds the right emotional beat for the moment. But, there is an equal number of scenes wherein each actor’s delivery feels wooden or awkwardly rushed. When Joyce calls Arthur after figuring out what is wrong with Riley, Papadinis sells her fear believably. But a scene where she gets mad at the dad for allowing the boys to go to a hockey team the next night feels forced. Annoyingly, the main cast all have moments of such wildly divergent performances and emotional resonance.

There are a number of flaws throughout Alternate Ground, chiefly the lack of clarity as to why anything happened and the inconsistent performances. But, Daniel Groom proves most adept at crafting and sustaining tension and a mysterious atmosphere. While mileage may vary a bit, in the end, the positives do wind up outweighing the negatives.

Alternate Ground (2021)

Directed and Written: Daniel Groom

Starring: Owen Myre, Michael Anthony Coppola, Demitra Papadinis, Ethan Boucher, Patience McStravick, Susan Ahearn, etc.

Movie score: 6/10

Alternate Ground Image

"…drips with atmosphere and tension."

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