DVD REVIEW: GRAVE HALLOWEEN / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: STEVEN R. MONROE / SCREENPLAY: RYAN W. SMITH / STARRING: KAITLYN LEEB, CASSI THOMSON, DEJAN LOYOLA, GRAHAM WARDLE / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 27TH
You pretty much always know what you're going to get with a Syfy channel movie. It’ll be wise to the rules of its genre and have something ridiculously weird but somehow entertaining happen every ten minutes, but ultimately it will fall apart if the script or performances are at all scrutinised. It would be great to say Grave Halloween departs from that mould. But it doesn’t.
From I Spit on Your Grave director (and all-round fan of the word ‘grave’) Steven R. Monroe, Grave Halloween follows – stop me if you’ve heard this one before – a group of shockingly attractive young students who venture into the deep, dark woods to make a documentary about a dead person. The woods in question are Japan’s Aokigahara, a notorious suicide hotspot, and the corpse in question is the mother of Maiko (Leeb). She wants to give her mother, who topped herself when Maiko was a child, the ritual burial she deserves, while allowing Amber (Thomson) to film it for a college project.
“Damn, if only I’d thought of exploiting my friend’s childhood trauma to get me through school”, you'll probably be thinking. That, or, “Ah shit, not another found footage movie” – but Grave Halloween isn't quite that. The film intercuts the group’s documentary footage with more traditionally shot scenes – a wise choice that allows Monroe the freedom to craft a spine-chilling atmosphere and to cut away to other people, mostly so we can see them die horrifically. Yes, this is a film which knows how to raise hairs, particularly in its dark and troublesome climax.
The problem is, when the film slows down between scary bits, you’re at risk of accidentally thinking about the plot, and that’s when it all goes downhill. There’s little consistency as to what’s actually going on – it’s a ghost story, but at one point a guy’s attacked by evil trees. Not sure why. And I’m no expert on the Japanese justice system, but I don’t think it’s common practice for arrested thieves to be handcuffed to a shelf in a morgue.
What’s worse is that, Maiko’s determination to bury her mother aside, the characters are sorely underwritten. In the opening sequences, Loyola’s Terry is introduced as the easy-going, ‘everything-will-be-fine’ member of the gang, and Wardle’s Kyle is tipped as the new guy whom the others can’t yet trust, but neither of these characteristics are at all returned to once they get into the woods. Actually, considering the quality of acting on show, maybe it’s for the best that they don’t have to bother with depth…
Grave Halloween may not stand up to much analysis, but if shockingly attractive students and the horrifying murders of the aforesaid are the kind of thing you like – well, there are worse ways to spend a night.