Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Graves (2009)

Flawed moviemaking at some of its ugliest

Usually I break into describing a film and then unfold its positive and negative points to be fair, especially to give a reader a chance to form their own opinions as well. Though I'm going to come right out with it: the pacing, character motivations, storytelling, dialogue, sense of the dramatic, music, you just name it with this film and it frequently misses the mark. "The Graves" attempted to tell an original story along with some horror conventions intact to show its homages but the end result felt like a cringe worthy amateur stab at filmmaking. It makes me as a terrible writer look even more terrible mind you just trying to describe it. I've met the director/writer/producer Brian Pulido at conventions and even talked about cool horror vids and whatnot before this came out, but even so, the experience just doesn't work. I have to say there is still passion here and they take it seriously rather than this being anything other than a genuine attempt. It's a learning lesson that shows how much filmmaking can be a pain in the neck to get right.

This begins in a remote stretch of land with battered cars strewn about. A husband, wife and baby come upon a black smith when they get senselessly attacked with the weapon the man was pounding away at. Megan and Abby Graves are going on a short road trip before the more in charge sister Megan goes off to New York to find the world's largest thermometer in Arizona. Meanwhile they film themselves in a comic book shop shamelessly plugging Pulido's books and then at a concert shamelessly plugging a horror punk band called Calabrese with none other than, you guessed, it Pulido himself announcing the band. Come on. Being two women, they get lost while driving--no more explanation needed. Jk, ladies. On their way off course they find a small town diner in a dinky place called Unity where the takes-himself-too-seriously preacher that they just heard on the radio walks in with a sense of command over the locals. The sister's tourist destination of choice is Skull City Mine that's supposedly haunted. Remember the description of the opening scene. Yep, they're headed right for there and it's about the only mode of build up that works here.

If you guessed this is going to be along the lines of "Children of the Corn," "Tourist Trap" and a little bit of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" then you wouldn't be too far off the mark. The clerk with the crusty yellow teeth at Skull City Mine should have been a tell-tale sign of trouble, yet they immediately find it within a short while anyway when following the trails of the ghost town. A man is savagely killed by the blacksmith and the sisters silently witness the attack. Some kind of deafening noise ensues and the dead body is left without eye sockets. Something more is going on than just a burly backwoods looking man with a bludgeoning hammer. I'd like to mention that I haven't seen such a ridiculous case of walking villain/running victim since "I Know What You Did Last Summer." Like other aspects in this film it's hard to tell if it's trying to be serious or taking a piss, or when it's transitioning to either or and back again.

Soon enough one bad guy is traded for another when they try and leave, only to end up back in the same spot they arrived at. This isn't exactly mindblowing stuff: two women in bouncy tank tops running around trying to survive a maniacal killer who thinks himself as witty. I'm sure it's been done effectively before in a low-brow but still entertaining way, but this just feels like run-of-the-mill stuff. At least one of them is tougher than possibly most men inside the film instead of tripping over her own feet or whining. This is one woman with a winning streak of confidence that you wouldn't want to double cross despite her delicate feminine looks. It gives some clues as to what it all means but then slows down to go with an element of a sadistic torture film that we've all seen 100 times and the leading lady with strength starts to crumble under pressure. It felt like progress turned in on itself again, especially when you think Abby is going to take over but stands by idle till it's almost too late. It might be fine in a graphic novel but seeing it in action looks choppy. They eventually get to the town and then go around in more circles. Do they really not have that much of story that the characters just roam about? Then its attempt at explaining what happens feels so nonchalant as to lose its punch that it was leading up to.

The tone of the picture feels all over the place. So when it attempts to transition to its scary moments it comes across as forced. One moment there will be a splash of humor or being in the way of having fun, then in the next you'll get abrupt music and something that wants you to take it seriously in a matter of moments. Usually these things require a steady build up to put the audience in someone else's shoes, otherwise the viewer watches what's unfolding from a distance since there's no perspective or connection to what is seen or happening. The characters are going to find more relating points with guys despite their gender. Though it was evident that the two leads put a share of effort into this despite what they're given. Tony Todd and Randy Blythe are performed so over-the-top with invented speech that it comes off as cartoonish. Some of this is measured out where you can tell time was taken on a particular scene or location, though at other points it has state-the-obvious dialogue and scenes that feel rushed or done in one take especially towards the end. Some of the over-the-top dialogue has its moments scattered about, though some other lines fall flat on delivery: "I ain't in no hurry...nope. However long it takes...it takes."

"The Graves" fails to come together like a unified piece. It feels exactly like it was made with contrasting influences, day-to-day temperament and filmed at different times no less--all the various modes that should be hidden or flush when the final product is delivered. Even the background story that's supposed to drive the picture has nothing to say about religious fanaticism, with followers that are one-dimensional cronies. It uses it merely as a mundane, throw away plot device.

The experience wasn't pretty...nope.

Rating: 1.5/10

Director: Brian Pulido
Stars: Clare Grant, Jillian Murray, Tony Todd, Bill Moseley
Link: IMDB

No comments:

Post a Comment