STUDIO: Screen Media
RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes
Day of the Animals meets Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on a beach in Australia.
Written by Everett De Roche, Directed by Jamie Blanks, Starring Jim Caviezel and Claudia Karvan.
Peter and Carla (Caviezel and Karvan, respectively) go on a camping trip at a secluded beach in a last ditch effort to save their failing marriage. The attempt at a romantic getaway turns into an excuse to fight constantly and carelessly disrespect nature. They litter, they pollute, they hurt the local wildlife. As their relationship unravels, the beautiful surroundings turn menacing and it seems as though nature is lashing out at them as punishment for their indiscretions.
Outside of Jaws and maybe one or two other well-known films (PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING), the nature runs amok subgenre is underappreciated in the horror world. Nature doesn’t need fictional embellishment to be terrifying and vicious, it’s rife with perfect killing machines ready to be inserted into a screenplay as is. Sure, the wolves and bears of the real world are more mundane than the metal-skinned werewolves and giant mutated bears of the fictional one, but that’s what makes them so terrifying. They actually exist and they can actually kill you. The only problem is that can be hard to convey cinematically without becoming cheesy.
A particularly good yet sadly overlooked entry in the genre is Australian director Colin Eggleston’s subtly environmentalist 1978 thriller Long Weekend. Eggleston avoids the potentially cheesy pitfalls of onscreen animal attacks by taking an ominous slow burn approach, favoring unsettling ambiguity over “HOLY SHIT THAT SQUIRREL IS TRYING TO KILL US! RUN!” In fact the movie’s tension comes as much from the strife between the two main characters as it does from the dread soaked atmosphere and menacing behavior of the fauna around them.
It’s a very good little movie, and it obviously made an impression on new wave Ozploitation director Jamie Blanks, because 30 years later he’s remade it and saddled it with the unfortunate new moniker Nature’s Grave. It’s just too bad the title is virtually the only thing Blanks has attempted to change.
Worst mime routine ever, or Hollow Man mouth assault? You be the judge.
Nature’s Grave is not bad, but not bad is not enough for a remake of a genuinely good film. It does nothing to justify its own existence. In fact it goes out of its way to be as redundant as possible by slavishly recreating the original almost shot for shot. The things that are good about it are so because they’re good about the original and it copies the original. It’s a lot like the relationship between [REC] and Quarantine; the differences between the two versions are subtle, but subtle differences are all it takes to mark the remake as inferior.
For one thing, there’s a lot less atmosphere. Blanks can reproduce Eggleston’s work in a mechanical sense but that doesn’t mean the less tangible aspects will carry over. Nature’s Grave is too slick to replicate Long Weekend’s eerie 70s charm, but not enough to achieve the heightened style of a more successful modern remake such as The Ring. It’s in a no mans land of high end DTV flatness. It also ups the pace of the original a bit, but only enough to keep the dread from building as much in the first half. If Blanks had taken a markedly faster, more intense approach at least he would have been doing more to distinguish his take on the material.
To the film’s credit, when things do escalate it’s reasonably effective. Blanks might not be great with tension and mood but he’s capable enough when the shit hits the fan. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen much, which leads me to wonder why Blanks didn’t try to turn this into a movie more suited to his sensibilities as a filmmaker. For example why didn’t he take the basic premise of the original and fashion it into a more extreme survival thriller/killer nature flick? I suppose part of the blame rests on the shoulders of writer Everett De Roche, who also scripted Long Weekend. As far as I can tell all he did was pencil a few suggestions into the margins of a copy of his original script and fax it over to Blanks.
Soundtrack by Jim Crociezel
The other major shortcoming stems from the casting and performances. See, the characters in either version of the film are pretty much assholes, but as played by John Hargreaves and Briony Behets in Long Weekend they are compelling and nuanced assholes. You get moments where you can see through the acrimony and believe that they actually love each other, or at least did at some point, and on better days might actually be decent folks. They get you invested in them, their conflict, their situation, and that approaches something vaguely resembling likeability even if you still don’t like a lot of their actions. They’re engaging, and that’s important, because they’re the only two characters in the film.
In place of Hargreaves and Behets, Blanks casts Jim Caviezel and Claudia Karvan, and they’re just not able to pull off the same trick. Caviezel, best known for his role in the 2001 smash hit Angel Eyes, is… well, dull isn’t the right word, although it’s the result; there’s something overly subdued and detached about him, to the point that attempts to be more lively and charismatic come off as unnatural, unconvincing affectations. There’s one particular moment that is hilariously, over the top terrible, but it’s a spoiler so I won’t go into detail. He seems to me better suited to playing an alien pretending to be human (like in Passion of the Christ) than a dickish, cocky husband fighting with his wife or a normal guy unraveling from unexpected circumstances. Karvan, on the other hand, is dull in a more earthly way. Her performance barely leaves an impression and renders the character flat and one-note. Together they’re simply unable to draw you into the film the way Hargreaves and Behets do in the original.
I know it’s not entirely fair to compare a remake to the film that inspired it. In fact I usually try not to do that. Judge a film on its own terms. The problem is that it doesn’t have its own terms. It’s like trying to judge Van Sant’s Psycho on its own terms. This film is decent enough that you could sit through it and enjoy yourself, but why do that when there’s an almost exactly the same but better film out there waiting to be watched? To put it as plainly as possible, if Nature’s Grave sounds appealing to you, you should go out and rent Long Weekend.
Acting by Admiral James T. Kirviezel
There are no special features on this disc, which is fitting I guess. Just for shits and giggles they should have included the commentary track from the Long Weekend DVD. But at least the cover features a giant Caviezel head with bugs crawling out of its ear sprouting up out of the middle of the forest, much to the chagrin of an onlooking shadow person.