Grief threatens to destroy what’s left of a broken family in this necromantic story of loss and acceptance
An Unquiet Grave is a chilling tale of grief, guilt, and the consequences of refusing to properly deal with those feelings. There’s no shortage of these kinds of stories, certainly not in the horror genre, but director Terence Krey’s feature-length debut shows that there’s still room for them to be effective.
With both a literal and figurative dark and foreboding atmosphere and a pair of exceptional performances from its two leads, the film carries on the legacy of a similarly creepy tale of grief – Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, and its wisdom that “sometimes dead is better”.
An Unquiet Grave opens on Jamie (Jacob A. Ware) visiting the grave of his wife, Julia, a depressing activity he’s presumably very accustomed to at this point. It’s been a year since Julia was killed in a car crash, and the fact that Jamie was behind the wheel at the time of the accident has intensified the pain of his loss by adding guilt on top of it. Needless to say, he’s not exactly in his right state of mind, leading to some irrational and even dangerous thinking. He’s going to try and bring her back.
Jamie’s been doing a little digging into the occult, and believes that he’s found a foolproof way to resurrect his deceased love. He just needs one essential thing: Julia’s sister, Ava (Christine Nyland, who also wrote the script alongside Krey). Ava desperately misses her sibling as well and after some thought, she agrees to go along with whatever it is Jamie has planned. The two set out in the dead of night to the scene of the accident, both hoping to see Julia again for their own reasons, and both unaware of the terrifying consequences of what they’re about to do.
The simplistic ambient score supplied by Hugo Lopez adds to the excellent tone of the film; ghostly piano notes waft over low hums that put a subtle menace behind the story. It’s minimalist music for a minimalist film – An Unquiet Grave only features the two actors, takes place almost entirely within a single night, and is heavy on dialogue and contemplation rather than direct scares or action. The slower approach works well and, with a crisp 72 minute runtime, never overextends itself, allowing for the focus on the feelings and mindsets of the two characters to shine. The couple of occasions that the film does suddenly ramp things up with shocking bits of horror imagery also benefit from this, as the moments are able to genuinely surprise and leave the desired impact.
As Jamie and Ava get their strange ritual underway – which involves a blindfold, some wine, and a bit of bloodshed – it becomes clear that Jamie hasn’t fully let on to everything. But as things progress in increasingly petrifying ways, it’s also obvious that he hasn’t thought things through. Unable to move on and driven to the brink of madness by shame and grief, Jamie has dragged Ava into a nightmare where nothing goes quite as planned, and there’s a price that both of them will have to pay before the night is through.
There’s a lot of discussion about loss and the difficulties of acceptance throughout An Unquiet Grave. Jamie and Ava laugh as they share happy memories of Julia on their way to the dark and cursed deed they’re doomed to carry out in her name, but they also make painful confessions about how their lives have changed since she passed. The lesson of how unprocessed grief can lead to harmful decisions isn’t new or particularly insightful, but the film more than makes up for it with a truly disquieting atmosphere and terrific performances. There’s a melancholy that goes with the menace, making for a movie that supplies scares with a interestingly tender touch.
‘An Unquiet Grave’ is streaming exclusively on Shudder June 24th.