Grief – and the ends a person might go to to stop the pain – has been meat and potatoes for horror stories since Edgar Allen Poe’s Raven first cried “nevermore”. On screen, we’ve had the always brilliant Vincent Price as the disfigured romantic trying to revive his wife in The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), the doctor in Eyes Without A Face (1960) trying to cure his daughter, the grieving parents in Wake Wood (2009), the kids in Pet Sematary (1989/2019), even. All of these stories have the same moral: what’s gone is gone, and woe betide those who try to pull nature’s pants down.
We’re to assume this particular horror truism escaped the attention of widower Jamie (Jacob A. Ware) in An Unquiet Grave, as we find him attempting to bring back his late wife, Jules, by involving her twin sister, Ava (Christine Nyland), in a black magic ritual. Why Ava acquiesces to the ceremony, which takes place in the middle of the night, at the exact spot where Jules was hurled from their car onto the highway, exactly a year to the day, is a matter of bafflement. But then, it is frequently and handily signposted to the viewer that she’s a smoker, which is movie shorthand for someone being evil or a waste of space – it’s the latter, in this instance.
Even less care is taken over explaining how Jamie got himself to this point, mentally and physically. At what stage in your Average Joe Shmoe’s grief does a black magic ritual appear to be a viable option? Was counselling too expensive? Did the self-help books fail? And what fast-track studies did he undertake to become an Aleister Crowley-style mega-mage just a year from the catalytic tragedy? Gymnastic suspension of disbelief is required to be settled with the idea before Jamie the Warlock gets cracking with the incantations.
You suspect during the conception of An Unquiet Grave (Nyland co-wrote it with director Terence Krey) there was a fork in the road from which there could be no return: set the movie in a world in which magic is real, and you have a straight-to-video Doctor Strange; set it in a world in which magic is not real, and you’d have a potentially more frightening tale about the power within the brain to bend one’s own reality. Did they make the clever choice or did they tell some dumb old story about a bloke who undeads someone? The star rating should spell that one out for you – this slow two-hander is a dark, doleful watch that is, somewhat ironically, lacking a little magic.
- Director: Terence Krey
- Starring: Christine Nyland, Jacob A. Ware
- Release date: June 24 (Shudder)