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As J-horror remakes have petered out into 3rd-gen direct-to-DVD sequels and the inevitable move to other parts of 'The Orient', and '70s and '80s stateside reimaginings have begun to scrape the ridiculous bottom of the barrel, it's only natural to see cinematic recidivism light out for other territories. Up next appears to be a series of Australian-helmed remakes of Aussie exploitationers from those self-same '70s and '80s. First we have this fairly successful remake of eco-terror feature The Long Weekend, redubbed here as Nature's Grave.
Artfully staged by director Jamie Blanks and DP Karl Von Moller, with an eye for tension and foreshadowing, Nature's Grave starts out as Peter (Jim Caviezel) cruises home to pick up his wife Carla (Claudia Karvan) for a camping weekend with some friends. Our first tip that something might be amiss for this upcoming weekend is the fact that Peter can hardly get out of his fancy mid-size SUV without being throttled by all the overly verdant foliage around his house. When Peter picks a rifle out of the trunk, playfully pegging a 'shot' or two at his wife, that's our second clue. It's certainly emblematic of the show-it-don't-say-it ethos of the movie, an at times wordless adventure into the unnerving that will have you unable to look away, even though you'd certainly like to.
But this is no atrocity filled dare of a movie, in many ways it reads like a classic made-for-TV movie of the 1970s, all economy and PG-13 genre trappings. The reason it's so hard to watch is down to its characters. With essentially only two speaking roles, it's all riding on Caviezel and Karvan, a pair of actors who've been asked to play a spoiled brat kid and a cold shrew. Though Nature's Grave's conceit may be that nature rebels against a chump who cockily runs over wallabies, nearly sets forest fires with carelessly tossed-out cigarette butts, and basically spits in the face of Mother Earth, it's just as plausible that the animal kingdom just wants to split these two warring dorks apart - by any means possible.
Luckily, Blanks rides the ragged edge with relative ease, balancing Caviezel's truly unlikable man-child against stunning landscapes, sickly-languid set-pieces and creepy animal antics that would make most folks run for the hills. Though its admirable how thoroughly both ex-Christ Caviezel and Karvan throw themselves into their roles, the result of this fearless acting is a desire for them to just be gone. Yet when Peter sets out to escape life and his wife, he's often seen at a distance, slowly traversing a gorgeous beach, or swimming lazily in the bay, thus removing his jerky tendencies from the equation while grounding us with some love for the environment. It's hard to argue against these moody, gorgeous set pieces, especially as they also manage to firmly establish a feeling of detached unease.
Of course bolstering this queasy feeling are scenes of Peter and Carla bickering at camp. A drunken Peter orders Carla around, who in turn snipes rather harshly back at her husband. But just as we want them to shut the hell up, a shock scene of rotting chicken in a cooler jerks us back into woozy genre goodness, rendering this the type of picture which you used to salivate over during a Saturday night Movie of the Week. And then a buzzard or snake attacks, sealing the deal. But more subtle horrors wait, too, from a grievously wounded sea mammal to an eerily abandoned campsite, and before you know it, proceedings come to a startlingly violent end.
Though I haven't seen the original, The Long Weekend, it's clear that Nature's Grave stands strong in its own right, with powerful performances, (albeit portraying entirely unlikable characters) unhurried yet urgent pacing, and a few nicely disturbing sequences to root this firmly in the horror genre. Fans of '70s 'nature's revenge' type movies won't be disappointed by Nature's Grave.
Nature's Grave comes in 2.35:1 widescreen ratio, (enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs) with a pretty exceptional picture. Lots of rich, nicely saturated and natural-looking color, with decent black levels, and clear sharp images make this a satisfying DVD edition. Little in the way of compression artifacts or film grain is evident - maybe a little posterizing during some of the darker night scenes with bright light sources like flashlights, and some watery looking shots at the beginning - but that's about the worst of it.
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound sports a nice dynamic range, good balance between dialog and the evocative score, and good placement of many 'nature sounds', which set the mood for the story.
Only a few Trailers accompany this DVD.
If you haven't seen the original Australian eco-shocker The Long Weekend, (as this reviewer hasn't) then Nature's Grave will stand up quite nicely on its own as a moody, despairing look at two former lovers at odds with themselves and the great outdoors. Though the characters are wholly unlikable, their scratchy idyll in the land down under will beguile and disturb you with lush scenery and a nasty attitude. However, as an extras-free effort, we can only dole out an enthusiastic Rent It for this stylish throwback to '70s cinema.