Open Graves (2009)

Open GravesReviewed by The Foywonder

Starring Eliza Dushku, Mike Vogel, Ethan Rains, Lindsay Caroline Robba, Gary Piquer

Directed by Alvaro de Arminan

If you’re in Europe and a crippled Spaniard giving you grief for being a rude American suddenly changes his tune, begins making cryptic comments about fulfilling wishes and desires, and gifts you with a mysterious board game dating back to the Spanish Inquisition – don’t play the damned game!

Open Graves is a horrific mix of Jumanji and Final Destination that’s better than I expected it to be given its troubled history though still not as good as it could have been. Given it was shot back in late 2006 and then appeared to fall into an open grave as nothing was heard about it for so long even Eliza Dushku was clueless as to if or when the movie would ever see the light of day, and then it finally materializes for a one-airing premiere on Syfy of all places, to say I was expecting an infinitely worse movie than it was would be an understatement.

Mike Vogel (Cloverfield, Texas Chainsaw Massacre) stars as an American grad student studying in Spain. His friends, the unusual assortment of stereotypes but some with Spanish accents, are enjoying a surfing vacation. Three of the friends are also filming a sexy video of a bikini model dancing around with a chainsaw – still not entirely sure what that was all about. Vogel hooks up with fellow surfer Eliza Dushku, an American living in an old Spanish lighthouse whom Vogel describes as “a goth in wetsuit”.

I once read a quote from Eliza Dushku about picking her movie roles based on vacations she’d like to take. She must have really wanted a paid surfing vacation to Spain because there isn’t much to her role here outside of what amounts to standard concerned girlfriend duties.

The dangerous game they gather round the table to play unaware of its supernatural consequences is called Mamba. They think it to be just some antique curiosity. What they don’t learn until it’s too late is that this is a cursed board game made from the skin and bones of a notorious witch tortured by the high priest Torquemada during the Spanish Inquisition and playing it comes with dire consequences. If you win the game you’ll get your deepest wish granted. But if you lose, you die. Players roll the bones and move their pawns around a centerpiece that brought back childhood memories of the Masters of the Universe Snake Mountain Playset I had as a kid. They frequently land on tiles that instruct them to pick a card that is inexplicably written in English. The cards contain enigmatic verses; some give a cryptic description of the player’s demise (“Sweet venomous kisses annihilate you” reads one death card. Want to guess what fatality awaits him?) eliminating them from the game. Soon they will begin dying in the order they were eliminated from the game in a manner corresponding to the quatrain written on the card.

The first friend is eliminated from the game after choosing a card about meeting his fate on the side of a road by the ocean or something obtuse along those lines. He goes on a beer run but stops to pee over the ledge of a seaside cliff. He takes a fatal death plunge after being attacked by the evil dragonfly that serves as a harbinger of impending doom throughout the movie. But he’s not dead yet. Death doesn’t claim him until he lay broken on the rocks below making him easy prey for a swarm of possessed crabs that pinch his eyes out and pick the flesh off his face.

Again – Jumanji meets Final Destination. Many of the deaths even involve animals – computer animated animals. They always look extra cartoony even by Syfy movie standards. The film is hampered by a myriad of bad computer effects work that never fail to take you out of the moment and those moments are the whole reason the movie exists. A big digital effect shot at the end involving Dushku; I think her head was the only thing not poorly animated. Even her cleavage appeared Photoshopped.

As a game Open Graves is passable enough for one roll of the dice but definitely not a game with any replay value.

2 1/2 out of 5

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