What to Watch Verdict
'An Unquiet Grave' blends the consequences of grief-driven actions into a sullen ghost story riff that is, unfortunately, a little too quiet for its own good.
🔪 Under eighty minutes.
🔪 Connects with human storytelling.
🔪 DIY within its means (read: smart).
🔪 One whispery mood.
🔪 Familiar is fine, but it needs accentuations.
🔪 Performances can drift.
An Unquiet Grave is a part of our Tribeca 2021 coverage.
Terence Krey’s An Unquiet Grave is as streamlined a satanic ritual as any horror fan could ask for both narratively and based on production aesthetics. No frills, no mental gymnastics. There’s nary an objective to challenge audiences, which becomes more detrimental as the script co-written by leading actress Christine Nyland feels like a pedestrian stroll into occult romanticism. We’ve seen reanimation spells cast before, and horror fans fully understand the consequences that come along with raising the dead—something unshakable as signature simplicities succumb to the staler quietness of this moody-but-mundane resurrection sleepwalk.
Jacob A. Ware stars alongside Nyland as Jaime, playing a widower who grieves the loss of his wife Julia after a car accident. Nyland plays Ava, Julia’s equally distraught sister, who begins the film by approving some plan Jamie has not yet revealed. We soon find Jamie and Ava driving to the scene of Julia’s death, where she was ejected through a windshield on impact, so the duo can perform dark artistry with the hope of granting Julia life once again. Jamie wants his wife back, and Ava wants her sister—but one of these pain-stricken souls is willing to do whatever it takes to summon Julia from packed earth without the other’s knowledge.
An Unquiet Grave doesn’t reach beyond the confines of Jamie and Ava’s burning of wrapped sage and harboring of secrets, given how they’re the only actors ever on camera. Jamie telephones the token spiritualist or demonic advisor or whatever, but we never see their face or even hear their voice. Every scene is Ware and Nyland’s showcase, which can become tedious given the repetitious conversational dodging that occurs either in a white sedan, outside in woodland chilliness, or inside an isolated cabin. It’s minimalism that provokes distrust, but their presence is a bit weightless as dramatic beats float around without a haymaker impact—all hinging on a rapid-wrap-up finale that is a finishing dagger with an inexplicably dulled point.
At roughly seventy minutes, you’d expect An Unquiet Grave to be a leaner repossession thriller, but this sense of meandering around predictable milestones is a hindrance. As souls intertwine and blood seeps into graveyard soil, dangerous elements feel stretched when grief’s stranglehold envisions monstrous responses. Tension relies on cinematography that scans treelines for looming paranormal threats, or one gnarly wound-picking effect that leaves questions, all rather mundane given the scrappy indie aspects around jarring edits or sparsely lit scenery. Any drama must be sparked by Jamie and Ava’s inability to process loss and embrace their sullen futures for the better—a worthy thematic hook, albeit through the sparsest representation imaginable.
As presented, An Unquiet Grave is a somber and sorrowful addressing of tragedy and how humans would instead brandish daggers or play God than process heavy emotions. Terence Krey elicits those more heartfelt and tragic angles of horror storytelling with a purpose. The tortured spirits played by Jacob A. Ware and Christine Nyland’s characters are relatable genre fools—my problem exists in performances that never enact misty eyes or alarmist anxieties. There’s a horror story worth telling at the film’s core, but execution only delivers mere flickers of intrigue and emphasis. Quietness, despite titular claims, ends up being more of a blockage than an artistic lullaby when it comes to this sinister twist on cruel, misguided intentions and what Meat Loaf might describe as doing “anything” for love.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.
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