Directed by Álvaro de Armiñán
Starring Eliza Dushku, Mike Vogel, Ethan Raines, Gary Piquer
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Release date: February 23, 2010
After a storm washes off a beach party, a group of friends retreat indoors to play a board game with a mysterious past. Those brave enough to play just might be putting their lives at risk; those who lose definitely are. Roll the dice.
Erica (Eliza Dushku) is trying to ‘find herself’ by surfing and living in a cool lighthouse in Spain where she meets glamour photographer Tomas (Ethan Raines) and ‘bum’ Jason (Mike Vogel). Much to Jason’s delight, Erica comes to the party and she joins them to play Mamba. The party soon takes a tragic turn when one of their friends is killed on his way to town and the circumstances of his death sound just like the game promised. Erica and Mike must find a way to stop the game’s curse and keep it from the clutches of Detective Izar.
Open Graves was written by the father/son team of Bruce A. Taylor and Roderick Taylor, whose most recent screen work was the Jodie Foster-starring The Brave One, directed by the excellent Neil Jordan. First-time director Álvaro de Armiñán has set and filmed much of the movie on location in Spain having picked some gorgeous locations, lots of old decrepit buildings, and in that respect it looks like a European horror movie which added to the overall eerie feel.
But despite de Armiñán’s best efforts — which are hardly Herculean but pretty good considering — Open Graves often feels like a made for-TV movie or a mid-afternoon detective drama. It is the Taylors’ screenplay full of pretentious dialogue and characters so desperate to appear macho they sound like a batman villain that this cast of relative unknowns struggle to deal with and pulls the movie down. Too little time is given to building any horror or the game itself that finding a reason to care is often difficult; nothing builds, things just happen and the characters don’t learn things, they just say them.
The game of Mamba is like a grown-up Jumanji — a board game where the grisly inscriptions on your card will come true and like the Final Destination movies, if death has planned for you to die you will not escape it. After a couple of members of the party die, the others too quickly jump to the conclusion that the game is behind these deaths and the deaths themselves were sometimes so ridiculous and trying so hard to be scary that they ended up completely bizarre and distracted me from what was going on. Unlike Final Destination it doesn’t have the fun or elaborate kills and part of the thrill of watching the death scenes (not in a weird way) was trying to guess the ways those kids would die. Here we are told (or given heavy clues at least) how they will die. While it’s true that Open Graves borrows quite heavily from two well known movie franchises, it’s not the first movie to do so. It does try and play on those ideas a bit more but the conviction of those ideas is never fully realised.
Mike Vogel (Deaths of Ian Stone, Cloverfield) never quite does enough to make you believe he is aware of what the hell is going on. He does his best to appear smouldering and troubled but always feels detached from the situation. Relative newcomer Ethan Raines (General Hospital: Nightshift, 24) outshines Vogel; he easily flits between funny, sleazy, compassionate, and shit-scared and is very engaging throughout. Gary Piquer is given the unenviable task of reciting some of the worst dialogue this side of George Lucas. He plays Detective Izar, the Spanish law-man desperate to decipher the game whose speech is littered with such heavy-handed garbage as ‘I’m dead already, kid’ and moments of glaring exposition which makes it sound like his character learned to speak English by watching 80s TV action movies. Dushku is the most experienced actor onscreen here and it shows; she has an immediate presence onscreen and manages to bring far more life to the character of Erica than the script offered.
While it never managed to scare me it did hold my attention. If you can get past the stuttering beginning it does begin to relax and delivers plenty of tension and moments of the comically dramatic: chest compressions at the hospital and the worst car-crash ever could almost have been taken straight from a Zucker/Abrahams movie. Because of all that came before it the ending fails to have the shocking impact it wanted.
Saying that, these reasons could be the best excuse to watch it. On the right night, with the right friends and possibly with the right amount of alcohol this could be a winner. Take a gamble; roll the dice.