Brian Pulido is a comic book writer turned filmmaker with whose work I am completely unfamiliar. Until I received this disc for review, I hadn't even heard of his name so I'm able to pass opinion on this film, his debut feature, without any preconceptions and that's always a good thing. It's clear from the cast but Pulido knows his horror films as the cast list is full of familiar names from Tony Todd, the iconic actor who played Candyman, to Bill Moseley who has recently been seen in The Devil's Rejects and the Halloween remake.
When Megan Graves decides to travel to New York City for a job, she is not only leaving behind her home in Arizona, but her young sister Abby, to whom she is really close, almost like two peas in a pod - except Megan isn't a Goth. They both love comic books, hard rock and hanging out together so, as a farewell to Arizona, they decide to go off into the desert as part of a trip across the country and take in some of the tourist attractions that they, being residents, have ignored all their lives. The first one they visit is Skull City, an abandoned town that is supposed to be haunted by a group of miners who were hanged from a tree and their spirits haunt the town. The locals have turned this into a theme park of sorts, allowing visitors to walk around the deserted town and visit the buildings, taking in the atmosphere as they go.
As soon as Megan and Abby arrive, they meet Mama, who is asleep behind the counter with horrible brown teeth but who wakes abruptly when they ring the bell and tells them that it is a self guided tour so they can take a map and wander around on their own. Only a few minutes into their visit, they encounter a huge, murderous man armed with a sledgehammer who has every intention of using his blunt weapon on them with maximum force. Being resourceful types, they managed to survive the psychotic individual and Megan even kills him by stabbing him in the leg with a tire iron. When they go to leave however, they find that their car doesn't work as it has been sabotaged. Not only this, but they meet a man who is trying to get out of Skull City as the rest of his family has been killed and he is pretty sure that his life is at risk.
Getting out of the area is pretty tough as, although they have dispatched one of the murderous locals, there are plenty of others around and, even when they've dealt with these, there is always the local preacher, Reverend Abraham Stockton and his maniacal followers from The Church of the Devout Ascension to contend with. There is also some supernatural element at work that arrives when someone is about to die to do terrible things to their body.
The Graves is certainly an interesting and ambitious project and one that would work well as a comic book, showing the roots and sensibilities of its writer and director. It doesn't always hang together correctly and sometimes feels like Brian Pulido has almost too many ideas for an 80 minute film and putting them all in results in something that is not as taut as it should be. If the film just concentrated on murderous, psychotic locals praying on the two sisters and their fightback, it could have been a taut survival horror but this aspect is only the first half of the film and, after this aspect, the sisters have to deal with the whole town and its crazed religious cult.
Although there is probably too much here for an 80 minute movie, it does show that Brian Pulido is a man of ideas and ambition and that he has cast well, especially for the roles of the two sisters. Jillian Murray and Clare Grant are excellent, good female leads who are resourceful and mentally strong but, when the occasion calls, can scream with the best of them and will probably find a lot of work as 'scream queens' if they want it. It's a pleasant change to see a film starring two young women that doesn't resort to torture porn, gratuitous nudity or cheap scares, treating the female leads are strong characters. The film is fairly well written, nicely directed with pace and invention and the special effects make-up and CGI effects work quite well for the murder scenes, although the low-budget is fairly evident by the quality of the CGI.
Not one of the featurettes or other special features are of great length or depth, but they do add up to give you a reasonable understanding of the casting process, how the film was made and what the actors think of the finished film.
Oddly, the press release says that there is a commentary, introduction and many more special features that aren't on the disc which is a slight disappointment. The behind-the-scenes interviews are reasonably interesting but do fall into that trap where everyone says how pleased they are with everyone they worked with and how the film turned out. I did find the audition footage to be quite interesting as it shows how little changed in terms of lines and delivery firm are completely anonymous office to a set in the middle of the desert.
The focus on sound design also proves to be quite interesting as you don't tend to think about how sounds are created and what the film would be like without them. It also goes through some ADR is a scene where Tony Todd gives a powerful delivery had substandard sound quality and it is a great deal more effective when the lines have been re-recorded.
The shorter pieces and concentrate on trivial matters like outtakes, the fact that there is a gnome that keeps appearing throughout the film and you have to go back and spot it (Brian Pulido says that he intends to put the gnome in every one of his films), Brian Pulido getting a tattoo of the Skull City logo and the music video for Vampires Don't Exist by Calabrese; the theatrical trailer is also included.
A nice crisp transfer with bright colours and good contrast levels so that very little is lost in the darker scenes. The special effects are a little ropey at times and show that the budget wasn't huge. This isn't a major problem as most of the effects are only half seen and mostly comprise sound.
The opening third of the film switches between the main camera and the small camcorder that Abby carries around but thankfully, just as this was beginning to irritate, she drops it so the film stops which in between the two different points of view. The lesson learned from this is either choose first person shooting (as in [rec] its size or The Blair Witch Project) or don't use it at all.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is clear enough although a couple of lines are slightly muffled and had to make out. A subtitle track would have been welcome, but it's not a massive hardship that one doesn't exist. The sound design is quite good, especially for the odd swarm that sounds a bit like a load of bees or flies, but with some monster effects are thrown in.
With an RRP of £15.99, and available for about £9.99 online, The Graves is perhaps slightly overpriced but this is only an observation of marketing rather than quality. It is a well made film with excellent performances from most of the cast (some of them must be friends of the director), a good script and good direction. It isn't the best film you'll ever see and certainly not the best film I've reviewed recently, but is perhaps worth a look as a rental rather than a nailed on purchase. Jillian Murphy is certainly an actress to look out for and I look forward to seeing what Brian Pulido does next.