While life is a wonderful thing, it comes with a price...
...At some point, we all have to come to terms with the fact that our lives and the lives of those we love are temporary. We will all pass on, and many lives end abruptly, with no real rhyme or reason. Loss is a cost that we have to pay for an otherwise joyful life. Though inevitable, it is never easy on those who are left behind. For centuries, our art and literature have focused on coming to terms with life after loss.
An Unquiet Grave, having just made its World Premiere at Nightstream, is one such piece of art showcasing man’s attempt to overcome the trauma of loss. Directed by Terence Krey and written by Krey and Christine Nyland, An Unquiet Grave tells the story of Jamie (Jacob A. Ware), a man who loses his wife Julia in a car accident one year before the film’s opening. Jamie and his wife’s twin sister Ava (writer Christine Nyland) go to the site of the accident to complete a ritual that Jamie believes will allow them to contact Julia from the other side. Once they arrive and the ritual begins, Ava develops a sneaking suspicion that Jamie’s plan is much darker than he ever led on.
An Unquiet Grave is a gripping story about one man’s struggle in dealing with grief. Jamie has been unable to deal with his wife’s untimely death. As one would expect, he is haunted by the loss of the woman he loves, and he is willing to do whatever it takes to get her back. At its core, the film is about how unresolved trauma can damage our lives like a poison and how that poison will spread to those around us if we don’t deal with it. It is a story about unearthing our trauma, facing it head on, and learning to grow past it. Jamie is a relatable character whose struggle we can sympathize with, even when it’s hard to agree with the path he takes. Nyland and Krey show off their deep understanding of human nature and narrative structure to weave together a powerful story that will leave any empathetic viewer in a state of introspection.
Films with small casts leave less room for error in even a single actor’s performance, and since Unquiet Grave has only two cast members, there is considerably more risk of failure due to poor chemistry or lackluster performances. Fortunately, Christine Nyland and Jacob A. Ware kill it. The chemistry between the two feels fully developed and they are able to play off of each other to create characters that feel real and three-dimensional. Ware tackles the role of the widower still haunted by his wife’s death with such care that it’s hard to imagine him as anything else. On the other hand, Nyland portrays a wide range of emotions, from doubt to fear and sorrow to rage, with prowess. These two, along with a compelling story, are responsible for the intense emotional power of Unquiet Grave.
One thing that persists throughout Unquiet Grave is a palpable sense of tension. The score, sound effects, and creeping camerawork come together to create a feeling of anxiety and suspense that permeate the entirety of the film. Despite the overarching sense that something bad is just around the corner, the tension that the film develops so wonderfully often leads nowhere. Moments of terror are few and far between. While it could be argued that toying with a viewer’s expectations gives more power to those moments when something finally does happen, I found that wasn’t really the case here. The lack of payoff left me wanting, and when something does happen, it simply wasn’t enough. Part of that may be due to my conditioning from other horror movies with a similar atmosphere, in which the sense of dread leads to more and more scares, but the biggest flaw I found in Unquiet Grave is that it played with my expectations and never delivered upon its promise.
Though it might lack many moments of serious terror, An Unquiet Grave should be on your watchlist. Its deeply moving story, sympathetic characters, and brooding atmosphere create a powerful piece of storytelling with an important message about learning to move past our grief and carry on with our lives.
By Tim Beirne