BBFC Classification: 18
Director: Steven R. Monroe
Starring: Kaitlyn Leeb, Cassi Thomson, Dejan Loyola, Graham Wardle, Jesse Wheeler, Hiro Kanagawa
Directed by I Spit on Your Grave remake director Steven R. Monroe, the awfully titled Grave Halloween is a striking mixture of J-horror, zombie gore and some quite fancy photography that had the potential to offer up something a little deeper than the standard teenage-led Halloween horror releases that get banded around this time of year, but when you throw so much into the mix it doesn’t necessarily mean something substantial is going to come out the other end.
Maiko (Kaitlyn Leeb – Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings) is a young woman who has horrific dreams about a ghostly child and her dead natural mother, who committed suicide some months before. She gathers up some friends and heads to a local suicide spot – helpfully called Suicide Forest – where her mother hanged herself and, as is customary these days, plans to document the trip with a video camera. When in the huge forest Maiko begins to see visions of her mother and, with the help of mysterious stranger Jin (Hiro Kanagawa – Godzilla) who knows a little bit too much about the forest and the secrets it holds, tries to find the tree where she died but the forest seemingly shifts around and soon the group are well and truly lost, unable to escape and facing the spectral presence of the dead souls trapped in the trees.
Which all sounds well and good on paper but in execution this is basically Ju-On: The Grudge set in a forest. Again, that may not sound so bad but there’s nothing in this film that is developed to any level other than mildly interesting, which means you may as well watch the far superior Ju-On: The Grudge for a full-on fix of Japanese ghost mythology rather than listening to Kaitlyn Leeb describe what she knows about rituals and ceremonies in a monotone voice that sounds like the kind of information you can quote from any tourist guide of the country.
Along with the underdeveloped mythology we also get a handful of characters that play up to American high school stereotypes – the film is set in Japan but has an American cast – and who thoroughly deserve the fate that befalls them after they desecrate the sacred land of the forest with their willfully destructive and disrespectful ways. Of the main group only Graham Wardle as cameraman Kyle has any sort of character that you can relate to, being the knight in shining armour (of sorts) to Maiko and generally being the one to get what is happening quite early on. With the exception of Hiro Kanagawa’s knowledgeable presence there is nobody else here who won’t grind your gears before the inevitable ending that feels like an eternity to get to.
But it isn’t all bad, as director Monroe does have an eye for setting up a scene and for putting in some good gore to liven things up. There are some truly gorgeous aerial shots of the forest that he inserts between scenes that really give you a sense of place and make what is happening at least feel a bit threatening, and there are some gruesome make-up effects that are more than welcome in a film that tries hard to create a spooky atmosphere but doesn’t quite get there. Where the visuals really fall down, though, is when the filmmakers resort to the kind of CGI that looked rubbish when it was used in The Mummy Returns back in 2001, let alone in 2014. Is it really that hard to make CGI insects look real? During the final confrontations of the film it’s more than distracting to have computer graphics filling the screen, nearly killing any sense of dread that had been built up.
Overall, Grave Halloween is a big disappointment. It isn’t totally without merit and less clued-up teenage audiences may get some thrills out of it but the J-horror boom during the last decade provided a whole heap of titles that did more with Japanese mythology than this so why would you need to bother with it? There are good moments and, given the right treatment, the long-haired Japanese ghost figure can still look creepy but the American remake of The Grudge fleshes those ideas out a whole lot better, although this is better than any of that film’s sequels. Give it a go if you absolutely have to see everything remotely J-horror but otherwise it may be best to keep Grave Halloween buried.
Special Features: None
UK Release Date: 27th October 2014