Gravedancers, TheReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/17/06 10:31:13
(Worth A Look)
SCREENED AT THE 2006 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: When you get right down to it, most supernatural horror movies are based on fairly stupid ideas. "The Gravedancers" starts from a particularly dumb premise (not just accidentally angering the dead by dancing on their graves, but really choosing the wrong dead people to anger), but throws itself into its story with zeal and humor which never does too much to undermine the thrills to be had.Despite living in the same area, Harris McKay (Dominic Purcell), Kira Hastings (Josie Maran), and Sid Vance (Marcus Thomas) haven't seen each other for years; they only meet up now because a friend has died in a car crash. After the reception, they return to the cemetery, where they read a condolence card which suggests dancing and being happy in the graveyard. Really bad advice, as it's not long before things in their house start moving, they hear strange noises, and even small fires start appearing. Fortunately, Sid has seen and answered an ad (which promises a cash reward) from Vincent (Tcheky Karyo), a professor of paranormal studies, so he and research assistant Frances Culpepper (Megahn Perry) are on the case...
...and stealing the movie. The main characters are, really, kind of drab. Dominic Purcell is as dour and mirthless as he always seems to be, and Clare Kramer is just fine as his understanding wife. Josie Maran is nice enough as the old friend who still has a torch for Purcell's character, and I'll give the model some credit for spending most of the movie looking like an assault victim (she screams well when called upon, too). Marcus Thomas takes ne'er-do-well duty, at roughly 2/3 slacker and 1/3 schemer; he's basically harmless, although he's fun in that the way he acts isn't nearly as predictable as the others. They're fine, we like them, we don't want to see ghosts beat them, burn them, or chop them up with axes. But Vincent and Frances are more fun. They're initially coming at the situation from scientific curiosity rather than fear for their lives, and as outsiders they can look at the other characters' interpersonal issues as, well, someone else's issues. Tcheky Karyo is dry and witty; Megahn Perry is humorously detached, not quite aware she's a character in a movie, but still kind of sounding like she doesn't quite believe the coincidences even as she's being matter-of-fact about the supernatural stuff. That Meaghan Perry is the cutest girl in a movie with two more obviously glammed-up beauties is a bonus.
According to the director, there are only a couple of purely digital effects in the movie; even one of the big, showy creature bits that I just assumed was CGI was done with model work and then composited and made to glow by folks using computers (I don't figure the tool used really matters, but it appeared to be a matter of great import to many there, including the filmmaker). What's more important is the look of these big money-shot effects; they're very much akin to Disney's Haunted Mansion ride - glowing with spectral energy, grotesque and macabre without being stomach-churning. Not all of the thrills come from big, flashy effects, of course - there's a ton of more conventionally low-budget stuff that gets the job done well, too.
It's the big stuff that's most memorable, though, because it's the most unusual in a big, R-rating-worthy horror movie. Coffins being sucked back into the ground, giant skeletal apparitions, fences closing in, and the like are perceived as kids' stuff, but writers Brad Keene and Chris Skinner throw them right into a movie with nasty attacks and pools of blood, and director Mike Mendez runs with it. The end result isn't something I'd show pre-teens, but retains a lot of the exuberance of the PG-13 summer movie while being decidedly more adult. It's fun to see a movie that wants to supplant its bloody mayhem with other kinds of jolts.
Most of the details are handled well. The soundtrack by Joseph Bishara pounds in all the right places, with Chopin used as this film's "creepy piece of music that plays without the involvement of the living". I dug the design of the house that serves as Vincent's headquarters and laboratory for the paranormal, with cameras set to record any possible manifestation; I kind of wish they'd gotten a little more use out of that. The ghosts are sometimes a little rubber mask-y, but with enough speed and ferocity that their occasional lack of expressiveness can be overlooked."The Gravedancers" is a real kick once it gets a head of steam behind it. This takes a little while because the main characters aren't going to grab the audience's attention themselves, but once the support (living and dead) comes in, the audience is in for a reminder of just how much fun it can be to have things jump at them in the dark.
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