by Jason Coffman
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Ah, the remake. Bane of many film fans’ (and especially horror fans’) existence, there is no doubt that the remake is in no danger of disappearing any time soon. It seems like every day another old favorite is up for a do-over. When I recently read that a Candyman remake was being considered, I realized that the only way to deal with the remake is to make terms with it. After all, Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead proved that even a remake of an undisputed classic can be successful when taken on its own merits.
I mention this because Nature’s Grave is actually a remake of a much-revered Australian thriller called Long Weekend. I’m not sure why the title was changed, perhaps to distance it from those who automatically dismiss remakes out of hand. Perhaps also to distance it from the original, which in some circles is considered a modern classic in its own right. Fans of the original will probably roll their eyes at the idea of a remake starring Jim Caviezel— likely forever to be best remembered as Mel Gibson’s relentlessly tortured Jesus in The Passion of the Christ— and directed by Jamie Blanks. If Blanks’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he scored a hit back in 1998 when he directed Urban Legend.
There’s no doubt that Blanks brings a certain slickness to Nature’s Grave. The film opens with wide, sweeping shots of gorgeous Australian scenery before introducing Caviezel and Claudia Karvan as Peter and Carla, a rich married couple whose relationship is on unsteady ground. Peter’s planned a getaway to a remote beach for a long weekend in the hopes that the change of scenery will help give both partners a change of perspective. Unfortunately, Peter’s kind of an ass: before stopping at a seemingly arbitrary point in the middle of some dense forest, Peter’s managed to run over a kangaroo, probably start a forest fire with a cigarette tossed out a window, and annoy some locals who insist his beach destination doesn’t actually exist.
The bulk of Nature’s Grave is made up of Peter and Carla bickering while ominous happenings occur around them. Neither of the characters are particularly sympathetic, but Peter starts off as an annoying jackass and slowly slips into an out-and-out villain. Carla initially seems like a whiny victim, but as circumstances become more dire she starts to assert herself more effectively. The evolution of the characters is interesting when contrasted with their increasingly volatile surroundings, and as the source of the couple’s troubles moves closer to the surface the more dangerous their environment becomes. It’s more of a character study than a traditional thriller, and while the film is heavy on the dialogue, the performances carry it a long way.
Fans of the original will be glad to know that Nature’s Grave is not just a “nature gets action-packed revenge” film. Blanks lets the relationship drama drive the story and takes his time putting the building blocks in place for some chilling moments later in the film, and the deliberate pacing will put off anyone looking for a revamp of, say, Food of the Gods. It’s deadly serious without being overly pretentious, and Blanks was clearly invested in the project— in addition to directing, he edited, scored, and served as executive producer. The final product is something quite different from most modern mainstream horror, a slow burner punctuated with effective shocks and characterized by a surprising restraint. On its own terms, Nature’s Grave is a solid little thriller well worth a look. Shame about that title, though— anyone not put off by the concept of a remake of Long Weekend may be just as likely to pass by a film with a title as lurid as Nature’s Grave!
Nature’s Grave was released on DVD 4 August by Screen Media Films.
Jason Coffman is a film critic living in Chicago.
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