Gravedancers, The (2006)

The Gravedancers (2006)

Unrest In Peace

After the death of a close friend, Harris, Kira and Sid reunite at the graveyard for a final farewell which soon turns into a night of heavy drinking. However after reading a warning on a gravestone and dancing on the graves of those resting nearby, they soon become haunted by three very angry and vengeful ghosts: a violent rapist, a child pyromaniac and a pianist who was murdered with an axe. They turn to a paranormal investigator who informs them that they must rid themselves of the curse before the next full moon or they will be killed.

 

I must say I’m a big fan of this film. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a horror film based around ghosts. I tend to go for the splatter and gore flicks which guarantee the schlock goods. It was a nice change of pace to sit down and watch a film that didn’t have a guy in a mask or a genetically enhanced monster killing people. The Gravedancers channels the spirit of the likes of Poltergeist, The Entity and The Haunting to create a reasonably atmospheric, tense and edgy affair which won’t send pulses racing too much but delivers effective jolts of fear when required. I get the feeling that the budget was just about right for this one – too much more money and the special effects would have taken centre stage but more on that later. But it’s been a while since I saw a non-Japanese ghost story and it’s nice to see that they can still make them when they want to in this era of torture porn films.

The Gravedancers takes its cue from the classic ghost stories of the past, playing up things like sound to get across its scares. I don’t scare very easily anymore as I’ve been totally de-sensitized with horror films to the degree that I can read a lot of scares before they happen. However the beauty of this film is that, although the scares are predictable enough, it’s the build-up which works brilliantly. In one scene, one of the characters is in the house on their own and hears the piano playing in the other room. Slowly he walks through the house until he reaches the room, opens the door and the piano suddenly stops playing. It’s almost as if you can sense the ghost present in the room with him as he checks the room out. The feeling of fear is genuine as you know something is there and watching him but you can’t see it. There are other scenes like this scattered throughout the film where you can literally feel the presence of the ghosts. It’s no surprise that once the ghosts start to appear in traditional form that the film loses some of its impact.

There are elements of J-horror borrowed here including a freaky long-haired ghost crawling across a bed and the menacing axe-wielding piano-playing ghost who floats above the ground, moves around like her neck is broken and is generally a rather unsettling thing to look at. At no point does the film turn into an out-and-out splatter fest which I guess is one of the reasons why this isn’t as appreciated as it should be. If there is one thing that spoils this film, it’s the finale and ending. What had been a rather effective ghost story turns into a silly special effects-driven mess like some cheap The Haunting remake wannabe as all manner of giant floating heads and hands chase the survivors through a large mansion. I don’t know why they couldn’t have kept it low key like the rest of the film and it really feels like they didn’t know how to end it properly so just threw whatever they could out there.

It’s good to see a film with adult actors in it taking the lead roles. Too many times have we seen teenagers be the main focus of these horror films so it’s refreshing to see a group of adults be the ones to take their turn in peril. It works better too because there’s no silly teenage plots to worry about (like meddling siblings, jocks and high school shenanigans, falling in love for the first time, etc) and instead the film can focus on proper adult relationships to build the characters around.

The dynamic between the main trio are pretty believable even if the acting isn’t up there to match. I just can’t shake Dominic Purcell’s character of Lincoln Burrows on Prison Break every time I see him on the screen and it’s not going to go away anytime soon. You watch him and all you can see is that character. It’s no disrespect to Purcell’s ability as an actor but he needs to pick roles which go against type a little so that he isn’t just remembered as that guy from Prison Break. The rest of the cast do well in their roles and French actor TchĂ©ky Karyo is on to provide a little comic relief as the ghost-busting paranormal investigator who hopes to solve their problem.

 

The Gravedancers is a solid, tight and effective ghost story which may be a little slow-paced for those weaned on flashy MTV-style horror films but delivers more scares than a dozen rehashes of My Bloody Valentine ever could. We don’t get to see nearly half as many ghost stories as we should do because they’re not fashionable enough but do yourselves a favour and check out The Gravedancers to show that there is a demand for serious, non-splatter, non-torture porn films.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

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