Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Starring Eliza Dushku, Mike Vogel, Alex O’Dogherty, Gary Piquer
Directed by Álvaro de Armiñán
Distributed by Icon Home Entertainment
Hearing a movie described as Jumanji meets Final Destination gets me really rather excited. Hell, just the mental image of Robin Williams’ mirthful mug being impaled by one of those rhinos raises my mood slightly. While Open Graves doesn’t quite promise that, the premise is certainly a cool one. Now, after a few years on the shelf, the game has been opened…and this one’s going right back in the box.
Open Graves stars Mike Vogel as Jason, an American student getting down to some surfing fun with a group of friends in Spain. During said surf time he meets fellow American Erica (Eliza Dushku) and amidst a tour of backstreet stores comes into possession of a board game called “Mamba” – said to be made of the skin, bones and blood of a witch executed during the Spanish Inquisition. On a rainy evening our group of disposable victims gather round to enjoy the game, unaware of the deadly consequences. Land on an “open grave” spot, and you draw a card. Receive an “epitaph” card, and you’re out of the game. Whoever makes it to the final spot and succeeds gets a single wish granted. Each “epitaph” card sports a brief phrase which, unsurprisingly, mimics the method of execution each character will eventually suffer. With their number of friends dwindling, Jason and Erica find themselves in a race against time to reverse the curse of the game, all the while dogged by a ridiculously underdeveloped Spanish detective.
The problems with Open Graves are numerous, the most obvious of which are the completely lacklustre death scenes. You’d be forgiven for thinking after the first death (which occurs very early on) that the film is going to offer up some real nastiness as one character has parts of his face torn off – and his eyes gouged out – by some rather decent-looking CGI crabs. Instead, the methods of dispatch actually become less and less interesting as the film moves on with the worst offender featuring some truly atrocious CGI snakes. One death is sure to illicit sniggers as you witness a car flip upside down after the smallest jerk of the steering wheel.
On a technical level Open Graves looks and sounds pretty decent (some of the locations are great), but it feels as though most of the production design budget went into making the board game props. Directorially, it’s almost completely bereft of tension and mystery. Everything stays on a very safe narrative path, offering next to no surprises. The first time Erica and Jason drive through the apparitions of two of their friends, it only comes across as trite. The second time (with three ghosts instead), it’s just tired. The mystery of Mamba’s origins, the witch in question, and the motivations behind the game itself are never touched upon. Does the witch feed on the souls of those the game claims? Surely there’s something more going on than them just being dead, considering their demonic-faced ghosts are floating about? Maybe the witch just likes granting wishes to those who can pass the trial? What the hell does a dragonfly (here used as the harbinger of death) have to do with anything besides being carved into the game’s box? Who knows? The audience certainly doesn’t.
The characters’ relationships are only acceptable on a poorly written straight-to-DVD level. At times you only believe that these people are genuinely friends because the script is telling you so. In fact, Open Graves features one of the most awkwardly shot and edited MTV style “falling in love” sequences I’ve ever witnessed. This isn’t to say that Vogel and Dushku do a bad job – they really don’t – but they have absolutely zero to work with.
As the finale approaches, the movie tries to flip the rules and ignore a crucial piece of information that was given previously. This was obviously done in order to provide a scene of emotional climax between the main characters, but instead just serves to have you screaming at the screen at how fucking idiotic they’re behaving…and the idiocy doesn’t end there. It goes on for another good 10 minutes. To follow that up with a poorly conceived CGI-fest, and an ending you’ll see coming a mile away, just tops off the disappointment. What starts off relatively interesting simply falls and falls in quality as the runtime increases. It’s no surprise that Open Graves has languished without release for so long – this is one game you’ll leave tucked away come party time.
Now, in the UK the movie is released on DVD by Icon Home Entertainment. Can the Special Features shed some fascinating light on the filmic proceedings? Here we get the grand total of…the trailer. Try not to let your excitement get the better of you.
1 1/2 out of 5
1/2 out of 5
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