Open Graves Review
When will these foolish but super-cool fresh-faced youngsters ever learn? If you're hanging out in Northern Spain with a group of equally carefree and similarly attractive contemporaries, and a strange guy in a murky, shadowy store stacked with sinister trinkets and disturbing artefacts offers you an old, satanic-themed board game in a box carved out with intricate dagger and serpent designs, then here is the simple advice. Don't touch the box, walk straight off of the premises, don't look back, and continue to live your enviable existence in the glorious sunshine amongst your fancyfree, one-dimensional friends. Thankfully, they don't ever learn, and we have endless vehicles for the inventive and creative demise of the twenty-somethings involved, this time in the form of Álvaro de Armiñán's Open Graves.
On paper, it's an appealing prospect, with Eliza "Faith" Dushku and Mike "Cloverfield" Vogel in lead roles, and early signs are positive as a gruesome opening sequence tests the mettle of the viewer with an eye-watering slice of torture from the period of the Spanish inquisition. Yet, as we segue a little less than smoothly into a sequence of impressive, well-shot but somewhat incongruous surfing activities, the movie has difficulty imposing its character with any authority, and ultimately the final delivered product is a disappointment.
Perhaps the biggest issue is our indifference to the mainly insipid and irritatingly flippant characters; we don't care for them anywhere near enough to be bothered about their demise, and we don't dislike them enough to cheer on the death scenes either. The fact is, we don't particularly get to know them at all; all we uncover is a throng of largely humourless and underdeveloped individuals who have little to pique our interest.
This isn't to say that all of the actual performances are underwhelming. Whilst Gary Piquer as Detective Izar, Ethan Rains as womaniser Tomas, and Lindsay Caroline Robba as Lisa all perform a perfunctory job in fairly central roles, Dushku and Vogel work hard to make the best of a script that never really comes to life, and any failing cannot be attributed to the shifts they deliver. At times, they both wrestle with unlikely lines and situations, yet carry on with all the conviction they can muster. Despite their obvious graft, their relationship doesn't prove convincing, and feels like extraneous baggage to the plot.
There is the occasional decent shock on offer; the afore-mentioned torture scene performs well by elevating your nerves into a heightened state of arousal, there's an interesting moment where vain Tomas is shocked by the sudden change in his girlfriend, and the tanker explosion yields some interesting results. For all of the slickly executed horror, however, there are more moments where the execution is questionable, and this seems to be, in part at least, due to the overuse of CGI. The CGI crabs, for example, whilst providing a stomach-churning pincer moment, aren't especially convincing – or frightening. The venomous snakes, also CGI-heavy, are not realistic enough to make us fear their slithering assault. And the pointless scenes where dead friends appear briefly in the road before being disintegrated by vehicles are neither remotely frightening nor necessary.
Capped off by an obvious and frustrating concluding “twist”, Open Graves is a disappointing modern horror entry. The movie never really builds momentum where it counts, whether in character development, tension, suspense, or out and out horror. It's not a complete disaster; the cinematography is pleasing and consistent enough, and technically, the team behind the movie are very competent. Yet I can only really recommend Open Graves to ardent fans of Dushku and Vogel, who display their pedigree despite the constraints placed upon them by a weak script. For everyone else, it's probably best you look elsewhere for your fresh-faced super-cool youngster slaughter fix.
The movie is presented with a screen ratio of 1.78:1, in anamorphic widescreen. Whilst the transfer itself seems fine, with a clear reproduction and no evident noise, the original image is fairly grainy, and often struggles to keep up with some of the fast moving images – such as the exhilarating but out-of-place surfing scenes. The other problem is that whilst blacks are presented with appropriate depth, certain scenes are shot in such darkness that it’s a little tricky to see the horrific action clearly.
There are English subtitles for the hard of hearing.
Audio is available in straightforward 2.0 stereo, or Dolby Digital 5.1. Dialogue is clear enough, though it’s occasionally difficult to fully catch some words and sentences – though this may be related to some of the slightly odd accents, which don’t always sound like the native tongue of the speaker! The rocky soundtrack is reproduced in acceptable enough fashion, and there is some positioning of sounds across the spectrum to help deliver the shocks. The sound is clean with no perceptible distortion.
The only extra is a theatrical trailer, with the modern bent for showing just about every important scene in the film within a couple of minutes, so if you’re not familiar with the film then I’d suggest you don’t watch it before the film itself.
Álvaro de Armiñán's Open Graves shows initial promise with some gritty horror and respected lead roles, but Eliza Dushku and Mike Vogel soon outperform the limited framework they find themselves operating in, and the result is a disappointing picture where the characters and the beautiful Northern Spanish location remain frustratingly one dimensional. With an eminently predictable finale and dearth of extras, I regret that there’s not a great deal I can recommend with this release.