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March 2010

Open Graves

cast: : Eliza Dushku, Mike Vogel, Ethan Rains, Ander Pardo, and Lindsay Caroline Robba

director: �lvaro de Armi��n

84 minutes (15) 2009
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Icon DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
review by Barbara Davies

Open Graves

Horror films featuring a supernatural board-game are nothing new. In Open Graves, the board-game in question is called 'Mamba' and it's made from the skin, bones, blood, and tears of a witch that Spanish inquisitor Torquemada put to death in the 15th century. The winner of the game gets his heart's desire, the losers a horrid death.

It's the present day and the chest containing the board-game has resurfaced in northern Spain, where American graduate student Jason (Mike Vogel) surfs the waves in his spare time. A wheelchair-bound curio-shop owner gives the game to Jason (doesn't he know you should never accept gifts from strangers?). Conveniently, and rather oddly given its supposed origins, the Mamba game's cryptic instructions are written in contemporary English, so Jason, fellow American Erika (Eliza Dushku), Jason's surfer buddies Tomas (Ethan Rains), Pablo, and Miguel, and their unfeasibly glamorous girlfriends Lisa and Helena sit down to play.

Soon, those who lost the game start dying in the manner prescribed on its gruesome 'epitaph' cards. First up is Pablo, who has a nasty run-in with crabs. Next is Miguel. Will Jason and a surprisingly knowledgeable Erika (well, she does live in a lighthouse and owns a copy of the Necronomicon!) realise the connection in time and be able to do anything about it? And will the chain-smoking, foul-mouthed Detective Izar help or hinder their attempts to save their friends?

Open Graves is not for the squeamish, as the gruesome, pre opening credits torture scene makes instantly clear. It likes to wallow in the prolonged deaths inflicted on the unfortunate cast. If only the director and writers had spent such tender loving care on their script and its underlying rationale. Though good at toying with audience expectations, the plot doesn't survive close scrutiny, and the ending will frustrate as many as it intrigues.

The Mamba chest's presence in that opening torture scene, for example, makes little sense given that someone other than the witch constructed the game from her corpse. And since when did dragonflies sting people or become associated with evil? More seriously, it's simply hard to care what happens to any of those doomed by the game. They're either sleazebags or bitchy party-girls, or their characters are so sketchy we barely have a chance to get to know them before it's their time to die.

The Spanish coast setting is nicely scenic, especially the huge waves supposedly surfed by the characters, but special effects are patchy - the snakes are so rubbery they bounce. The international cast is a mixed bag, some clearly being cast for their looks rather than their acting ability. Ethan Rains (Sin City) fails to engage either our sympathy or empathy, and as Open Graves reaches its climax, Gary Piquer's Detective Izar becomes ridiculously over the top.

It's left to the two leads, Mike Vogel (Cloverfield, Sisterhood Of The Travelling Pants), and Eliza Dushku (The Alphabet Killer, Dollhouse), to do their best with the weak material. Fortunately, they largely succeed, though Dushku in particular is underused, reduced to giving enigmatic, significant glances. Verdict: one for Vogel and/ or Dushku fans only.



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