Open Graves was a released direct-to-video all the way back in 2009. That it reaches our cinemas now is more than a little baffling. The film was not deemed good enough for theaters nearly five years ago. It still isn’t good enough for theaters today. This cheap, boring and decidedly unfrightening combination of Jumanji and the Final Destination series suffers from a serious lack of vitality. It would have been better off staying buried in obscurity.
Surfer Jason (Mike Vogel) is out shopping with a couple of friends at a street fair. He wanders into a store filled with curios, where the owner offers him the gift of a strange, antique board game. The rules explain that anyone who plays the game and wins will be granted a wish. When rain prematurely ends a party, Jason and his friends decide to play the game, not knowing that losing the game means certain death. One by one, the players get knocked off, suffering mysterious deaths foretold by the game. Jason has to finish the game in order to get a wish and set things right.
The first problem the film encounters is in the board game itself. Its mechanics simply aren’t interesting, the characters just rolling dice and randomly drawing cards that tell them in fairly vague language how they’re going to die. It makes all the setup a real slog. The film has us sit through an interminable sequence that has these characters sitting around rolling dice, moving their pieces, and reading cards out aloud. It just seems like a really boring game to play, which means that it’s an even more boring game to watch.
Once the film gets that out of the way, it just rolls out its series of violent deaths. The film obviously takes inspiration from the Final Destination series, but it lacks the inventiveness and the sense of humor that made that franchise so memorable. The deaths here are completely uninspired, relying heavily on bad visual effects to achieve an end that’s basically some variation of falling to one’s doom. It gets repetitive rather quickly, and it isn’t helped by the fact that these characters are all flat and interchangeable.
All this builds up to a climax that has the surviving characters playing the game again. And it’s just as boring and lifeless as the setup. The film fails to create any tension, the protagonist reduced to rolling dice to save the day. Mike Vogel makes for an appropriately boring hero in this film. He does make it seem like he’s the kind of guy who would think that playing this board game was a good idea. Eliza Dushku seems to be barely conscious through her role. This cast as a whole just isn’t very good, with most of the supporting characters completely indistinguishable from each other.
Open Graves is a real relic. Much in the same way that the board games of today are infinitely more interesting than the one depicted in this film, horror films have gotten more sophisticated than what is ultimately presented here. This film feels like it comes from way before 2009, back when the trend in horror films was to simply subject a series of nameless youths to grisly deaths based on some ludicrous gimmick. It feels like a product of the 90s in the worst way possible. And yet here it is, in our cinemas, wasting space that could be given to worthier films.