Many a post ago, I expressed interest in seeing a horror movie version Jumanji. Cause how awesome would that be, right? Well, Teacups helpfully commented that someone actually did make a horror movie version of Jumanji. Intrigued, I looked up the film, and with the winning combination of Eliza Dushku and that guy from Under the Dome, I was pretty sure Open Graves would be a solid bid for either Bloody Hearts or Splatterfest. Which is another way of saying that it looked terrible.
People. I was not wrong.
There will be SPOILERS throughout, for I am lazy, and you really shouldn’t be wasting your time with this movie anyway.
Jason (Mike Vogel) — or Barbie, as I will inevitably refer to him — buys a board game from the creepiest shop in Spain and plays it with his friends. Supposedly, the winner gets his or her wish granted, but the losers are considerably less fortunate. That is, they die. Badly.
1. We begin our tale during the Spanish Inquisition because of course we do. I wonder how many horror movies begin with monks, evil or otherwise. Hm. Perhaps that question should be how many horror movies begin with people dressed up in monk-like robes. Because maybe they aren’t monks at all. Maybe they wear those giant brown robes like Snuggies. Regardless, I can only think of a few scary movies offhand beginning with monk or monk-like people, but I feel like there are probably more.
So, the evil monks torture this witch, Mamba, and skin her alive. It seems that one Particularly Evil Monk is supposed to burn what’s left of her body, but instead he secrets the remains away and . . . decides to make a board game out of her? Already, I have questions.
Seriously, I can’t even begin to comprehend the logic here. Using a witch’s organs and flesh for dark magic? Sure, no problem. I mean, gross and deeply hypocritical, yes. But I understand the thought process that goes behind it. The same cannot be said for creating a board game that’s nearly impossible to defeat, a board game that will kill you horribly when you almost inevitably lose. Were you just trying to unleash chaos on the world? Could you not think of less ridiculous ways to do this?
Also problematic: the game is made in Spain during the 1400’s, and yet, for no apparent reason, the cards are all written in English. I mean, it’s not 100% English. The Epitaph cards also have their own nifty Latin phrase — vae victus — which translates to, as near as I can tell, you’re dead, sucker. And though this game has been knocking around for about 500 years, give or take, the instruction manual (also written in English) still comes with the game. I can only assume the manual itself is also magic, since we all know that normal board game instructions fall into the same special pocket in the universe where lost socks go, and it doesn’t take no 500 years to do it. I’ve managed to lose those fuckers in under an hour.
2. I’d like to say Open Graves is a cheesy good time, but often I found it simply tedious and dull. Perhaps I was unfairly comparing it to the clearly spectacular Nine Dead, but I wanted this to be more fun. Mind you, I obviously wasn’t expecting it to be GOOD. But there’s something about the format here which I feel sets it up for failure. Most of the kids (kids, she says, like the actors in this movie aren’t all in their 30’s) only play one turn before they’re unceremoniously booted out of the game with a You’re Dead, Sucker card, and dice rolls only seem to lead to Grisly Death or No Consequences Of Any Kind. There are no other fun alternative punishments. Certainly, no one gets sucked into a jungle or turned into a monkey.
Horror Jumanji could be so much more playful and macabre than this. The one I’d hoped for, the one you absolutely do not have time to try and write, Carlie, goes a little more like this:
The players are stuck somewhere. It doesn’t really matter where: a cabin in the middle of the woods, a spooky mansion in the middle of a rainstorm, whatever. A group of people start playing, and quickly find out that what happens in the game happens in real life. It wouldn’t always be Horrible Death, either. One card might kill you gruesomely, but another card might simply blind you, and another card might actually give you something useful, like Advance Three Extra Spaces or Protection Against Death by Giant Snakes. Either way, the players would have to keep playing throughout the movie. They might be able to take small breaks or something, but if they didn’t finish the game in a certain allotted time, then everyone would die. Something like that. It would still be silly, of course, but it could be awesome silly, not stupid silly.
That isn’t to say that watching Open Graves was entirely a waste, though. Because now I can mock it in glorious, profanity-laced detail.
3. For instance, oh my God, the fucking CGI.
If you’re making a low-budget horror movie, here’s an idea: don’t write a story that requires your characters to die from animal attacks because your shitty CGI is not going to scare anybody except, maybe, particularly small children. Of course, there are advancements in computer graphics every year, but even for 2009, this ain’t good, folks. The snake, the crabs, the dragonflies? So, so bad.
Also, guys: there is no making the dragonfly ominous, okay? Not even with Menacing Dragonfly Vision. Please stop trying.
4. Speaking of which, Stupidest Death of the Movie officially goes to Pablo
Pablo is the first player to die and, quite frankly, he deserves it. Why? Because when he feels the urge to pee, he doesn’t just hold it, or pull over and find a tree like a normal person. Instead, he pulls over, walks to the very edge of a super tall cliff, and pisses over the side. People. This is Darwin Award level of stupid. I’m saying this now, to all my friends out there with functioning penises: if you do this, you deserve your doom. Seriously. I may come to your funeral. I may miss you more than words can say. But I will still think of you forever and always as an idiot.
Perhaps you’re wondering if Mamba’s angry spirit pushes Pablo over the edge? Well, I suppose, but only in a matter of speaking. What actually happens is this: dragonflies buzz near Pablo and startle him enough that he trips backwards over the cliff. That’s right. DRAGONFLIES. Ridiculously, the fall doesn’t kill him outright. Break every bone in his body? Probably. But poor Dumb Pablo is still alive when the Terrible CGI Crabs of Death attack, crawling around his mouth and poking out his eyes.
It is hilariously bad.
5. Horror movies are well known for featuring primarily unlikable characters, but there really isn’t anyone to vote for in this movie. Lisa is probably the only semi-worthwhile human being, and I don’t even particularly like her. Mostly, I just feel sorry for her because her asshat of a boyfriend, Tomás, is cheating on her with the wholly unrepentant Elena. And at least Lisa’s not an obnoxious tool like Barbie or a generic assclown like Pablo or Miguel. If I had to express my feelings about these characters in one sentence, I would best sum them up as Oh my God, DIE ALREADY.
I guess Erica (Eliza Dushku) isn’t so awful. But she’s oh-so-quirkily living in a lighthouse, and she just happens to own a bunch of occult books, and she’s the beautiful stranger who just appears one day. So it’s no big surprise when she turns out to be the witch.
I guess a dragonfly witch could’ve been kind of neat, if Eliza Dushku had the special effects to back her up. But she didn’t, so. Yeah. The dragonfly is still failing to haunt me.
6. That’s jumping ahead, though. Let’s go back over the story.
While shopping with friends, Barbie decides to walk alone into some creepy store. And it’s not just that the store sells weird shit — it’s that he has to walk down some narrow alley into a building where there is absolutely no power. He also initially appears to be the only person there.
Normal people might assume that the place is not currently open for business. But Barbie’s adventurous, see. He’s a surfer. He doesn’t let boundaries stop him.
He’s also such a tool. His thoughts on voodoo? “I don’t believe in that shit.” His attitude towards the wheelchair-bound store owner? Well, he basically calls him a con artist, and then actually calls him a freakshow. Yeah. Thanks for representing America, Barbie. Ya dick.
Meanwhile, a skinless corpse has been found, and Annoying Asshole Cop investigates.
We will later discover that the dude who gave Barbie the game in the first place was actually brothers with the dude who got skinned.
Anyway, it’s Big Party Time, which apparently means . . . board games? Don’t get me wrong — I LOVE board games. But I sincerely doubt that this is a board game crowd, unless said game also involves stripping or drinking. Regardless, everyone gets a death card except Barbie and Erica. Let me take a moment to express my shock that the white Americans are the two last standing, even though this movie takes place in Spain and the greater majority of the kids are not white Americans. Can you picture my shocked face? Cause it’s shocked.
Pablo leaves to get beer and ends up tripping off a cliff. Annoying Cop tells the friends, which rather effectively breaks up the party and stops the game. Soon, everyone else starts dying too. Their ghosts appear twice, not to actually do anything, just to stand like jackasses in the middle of the road. It’s pretty dumb, and I’m relatively sure it only happens so that everyone knows what became of Elena. (She tries to outrun her fate. She doesn’t make it.)
Barbie and Erica investigate the origins of this board game, which are laughably easy to find — they basically take five seconds to Google it — and discover that the man in the wheelchair who gave Barbie the game is no longer legless. Turns out, Formerly Legless played the game with his brother. He won and wished to have legs again instead of, say, bringing his dear departed bro back to life. At this point, I took the time to inform Mekaela that she damn well better pick my life over her crummy legs, should such a choice ever arise. Mek promised nothing because she’s a horrible person, which is why she’s making me dinner tonight. By reading this, Mekaela, you’ve already agreed. I think I would like chicken parmigiana.
Meanwhile, Annoying Cop apparently knows the legend of the Dead Witch Board Game. I guess he can Google, too, although his desperation for it seems rather sudden, along with his random tragic backstory. (Oh, you also have a dead wife and child? Well, I suppose that’s only to be expected. Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s a police requirement now: any officer that’s been with the department at least five years needs either a dead spouse or child or both.)
It’s actually Annoying Cop who ends up killing Tomás.
Surprisingly, Tomás’s death only sorta matches up with his Epitaph card. Like, both the card and the cop mention the word ‘worms,’ and that’s about it. Annoying Cop does ask, “Is this what your card said?” To which Tomás sadly doesn’t respond, “What? Getting shot by a psycho cop with bad hair, while I’m standing in my own grave that I was forced to dig? No, the card didn’t mention it.”
Barbie decides that his only course of action is to play the game. If he wins, he can wish all his friends back to life. Erica bravely won’t let him play alone, which would mean more if she wasn’t, you know, evil. So when she receives a death card, it’s not exactly a big deal. Fortunately, Barbie finishes the game, and after solving that ‘One Always Tell the Truth, One Always Lies’ riddle that I never remember the solution for, no matter how many times I hear it, he makes his wish: he asks for it to be one week ago. He wishes that he and his friends had never played this game, that everything that’s happened would be undone. Because he’s an asshole.
Seriously, Erica even warns Barbie to be careful about his wording, and he still doesn’t think it through. I could’ve told Barbie exactly what was going to happen the second he made his wish, and yet we’re forced to wait ten minutes for the supposed twist ending. It’s kind of infuriating.
Adding on to the dumb: Barbie doesn’t understand why nothing immediately happens after he makes his wish. Erica thinks it’s because she hasn’t died yet, which, hey, could be a factor. I’m saying, it’s possible. Here’s what’s definitely a factor, though: no one gets their wish until the winner gives the game to someone else. Barbie and Erica know this — Formerly Legless told them as much when they were interrogating him. And straight up told them, too; it wasn’t like a cryptic hint or something. (Interestingly, Formerly Legless is never punished in the game for selfishly choosing his legs over his brother. This is actually one of the only things I genuinely like about this movie.)
Instead of trying to track down the asshole who killed his friend, the one who actually wants to play, Barbie dramatically chucks the game into the sea and, I guess, falls asleep because the next scene we see is Erica going into the ocean, supposedly to sacrifice herself. Once Barbie wakes up, he runs after her, but she’s already gone. Then Annoying Cop gets the drop on him.
Barbie disgustedly gives him the game. Mind you, this is not done in a ‘Oh, yeah, I need to give someone this game to make my wish come true’ sort of way. It’s more like, ‘Wah, you’re evil, and you deserve while you get.’ While Annoying Cop undoubtedly does deserve what he gets, Barbie remains a moron.
Annoying Cop suddenly senses a supernatural presence nearby and runs away. Enter Dragonfly Witch Erica, walking out of the ocean. She tells Barbie that his wish is a waste. She actually says, “You’ll be right back where you started.” But Barbie continues not to listen, nobly saving his friends over gaining riches or surfing records or whatever it is he wants in life . . .
. . . except not really because, of course, all his wish does is set back the clock. Barbie only asks to erase the last week, not to permanently change it. He says, “I wish we’d never played this game,” not “I wish none of us ever played it or will ever play it.” And thus Barbie and his friends are caught in an infinite loop of bad CGI horror.
7. A few final notes:
7A. The music in this movie is weirdly random and intrusive. I think it may all be done by the same band, and it’s not edited together well at all.
7B. Speaking of bad editing: after the Spanish Inquisition teaser, we open on a weirdly long surfing scene. At first, I thought we were just setting the stage, transitioning from Middle Ages to modern day. But that should really only take about fifteen seconds. So then I’m like, okay, well this seems like the kind of place where credits might go, except . . . there are no credits. And we aren’t watching any specific surfers, like, there are no close ups on Barbie or Tomás or anything. Someone apparently just set up a camera to record a bunch of random surfers for two full minutes (I checked), and decided this was an integral part of the story. Only after this are we ready, as an audience, to see the blood-spattered title of this movie.
7C. I almost forgot about this charming exchange:
Tomás: “I just asked her if she’d pose for my camera, and she was like ‘Oh, no, that’s exploiting women’.”
Barbie: “So, she’s a smart girl.”
Tomás: “No, not really. Just a typical American.”
Did I mention I hated everyone in this movie yet?
7D. About 99% of the cards are Epitaph cards. Barbie, however, is the only person to draw a card that doesn’t kill him. The card says this: “If you could see inside, you’d know what’s false or true. Somebody’s head burst open, but none of it gets on you.”
I took this card rather literally, and was deeply disappointed when no one’s head exploded in this movie. What a waste.
I’m still waiting for my dream Horror Jumanji.
Oh, I can’t choose. There are too many. You may pick from three morals:
One: Don’t take free board games from strange men in strange shops that you clearly shouldn’t be in anyway.
Two: If your happy ending entirely depends on an evil spirit giving you exactly what you ask for, be VERY CLEAR about what you ask for. Like, write it down first. Study it a few times. Try to see if anything you’ve said could be interpreted in a different way than you intended it. In fact, if you have time, go see a lawyer about it, or whoever writes those contracts for iTunes that you don’t actually read before you sign.
Three: Don’t stand on the very edge of a cliff while you’re pissing. Or, you know, ever.
3 thoughts on ““You Go Through All This And It Comes Down to Some Bullshit Guess?””
Oooooh, thank you for reviewing this! Although I think I might skip it now. It doesn’t sound as fun as I had hoped.
I read some of the Darwin Award books as a teenager, and I remember one winner actually was a guy who had tried to pee over the edge of a tall cliff. I believe it was the Grand Canyon, to be exact. It didn’t involve evil dragonflies though, just a poorly-timed gust of wind.
What? But we’re supposed to share our misery together! I’m all sad now. (Okay, fine, that’s a lie. That seems like a pretty valid decision.)
As to the actual person who fell over the Grand Canyon whilst peeing . . . wow. Just wow.
Brillaint writing. Just bloody brilliant. I’ve just watched the film now in 2022. I’ve a thing for Eliza so she was atleast something. I do like corny young adult group horrors though. I’m giving ‘Beyond the Gates’ a go now beens as that’s also a game horror.
Thanks for the smiles on this fabulous review.