Film Review: Open Graves (2009)

SYNOPSIS:

In Spain, the American surfer Jason, his best friend and photographer Tomas Escaño and his girlfriend Lisa go shopping in a fair and while the couple is negotiating with a street vendor, Jason visits a dreadful store. Jason has a friction with the handicapped owner Malek and the man in a wheelchair offers an ancient board game called Mamba from the Spanish Inquisition period for free to excuse his behavior. Meanwhile, Detective Izar is investigating the death of a man that was skinned alive. When a heavy rain falls during a party on the beach, Jason joins Tomas, Lisa, his new acquaintance Erica Vargas, Pablo, Miguel and Elena to play the game.

Erica reads the rules and explains that the winner would have his wish granted while the losers would be cursed to die the way described in the cards. Pablo is the first to lose and borrows Tomas’ car to buy some beers. Miguel, Lisa, Elena and Tomas also lose, but the players stop the game when Detective Eric arrives and informs that Pablo has just died. When Miguel, Lisa and Elena also die, Jason researches the Mamba in the Internet and finds that the pieces and board had been made of skin and bones of the witch Mamba Masamba and the cards had been written with her blood and tears. Jason decides to finish the game with Erica to undo the curse

REVIEW:

Open Graves starts with a bang, …..quick composed shots of torture, needles thru skin, bloody parts and screaming that strike an immediate cord. Then as if nothing happened we find ourselves among young folks surfing and mingling at the beach. Does this mean this is another teen thriller aka carbon copy derived studio recycle? Well not exactly. It actually has quite a bit of interesting kills smattered around a supernatural premise. Let’s say for comparison sake those who like the “Final Destination” films will highly relate. Then throw a touch of “Jumanji” for good measure. Now many times we’ve seen the premise….a few minglers find a forbidden game and play haphazardly. More specific an ouija board or like vessel.

The game in question is a board called “Mamba” (after the black mamba snake) When Jason (Mike Vogel) steps into a curiosity shop and offends the shopkeeper he is given a gift. Simple enough an old looking wooden game that is explained to be from the spanish Inquisition days. The game features a carved dragonfly emblem with odd game pieces that each player has to assume as a participant. Jason takes the game back to his group of local friends who consist of Pablo (Boris Martinez), Tomas (Ethan Rains), Elana (Naike Rivelli), Erica (Eliza Dushku), Lisa (Lindsay Caroline Robba), and Miguel (Ander Pardo) for an innocent round of gameplay.

Tomas is Jason’s good photographer buddy who spends most of his time balancing his women and relationships the best he can. His model girlfriend Lisa is somewhat oblivious to the who deal and tags along for good measure. Between character builds we see a few relationships start to perk, some interwoven drama and a bit of party every night kind of functions that seem to be woven into the daily life of their current occupations and seaside life north of Spain. I suppose we see enough character build to matter leading us to the meat of the story, the horror. In the background, we visit detective Izar who is investigating a washed up skinned alive corpse that is added to the outbreak of deaths still to come.

Back to the game play, the title of the film “Open Graves” refers to a spot on the game board. As each player takes turns, they land on spots which call for cards. The cards either keep them alive or spell out a strange twisted fate that are referred to as “enigmatic verses of unknown origin”. The board is built from the skin of a witch and has a reputation for nasty consequences. Though in all fairness, this is revealed “after” they have carelessly played a round. Pablo is the first to go and dies pretty horribly. I don’t want to give all the fun away so I’ll just say the “fates” are kept pretty interesting with a batch of great FX thrown in.

I really liked the movie because I admit to being a fan of odd death scenarios. yunno the kind that the Wishmaster might throw at you or the old “die-by-design” death traps. This case its all about a pissed off game that kills whoever loses in the most tragic ways. The bonus though is the winner gets themselves granted one wish. We find this early on as the shopkeeper who’s wheelchair bound circumstance of having 2 amputated legs is later revealed as being not only walking but sporting a brand new set of legs.

The flashback that shows the transformation wish coming true is pretty spectacular! In any case, the reward of one granted wish has created quite a buzz for this board game that has the potential to offer ones hearts desire. You’ll find the “Final Destination” comparison in the time factor aspect that they all try and beat without getting killed. Do I think the movie will entertain the masses?

On the most part its a gruesome but fun stylized film that deserves a healthy look. Eliza is as alluring as ever and combines her talent for appearing in horror films with an ensemble cast that delivers just fine.

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