In general, the horror anthology is a devastatingly underrated genre. Brian and Jocelyn Rish’s Grave Intentions is a great example of how entertaining this format can be when done right.
Grave Intentions opens on Madame Josephine (Joy Vandervort-Cobb), the owner of a magic shop, as she explains the importance of intention in working various charms and spells. During this “wraparound” segment, directed by the Rish siblings, Madame Josephine also informs us that the protagonists in each of the chilling short films are her former customers, their fates are the direct result of their odious intentions. While the link between each short and the theme of intention is tenuous and requires a bit of a stretch of imagination on the part of the audience, Madame Josephine’s scenes do offer a nice reprieve from the intensity of the films themselves and lend a sense of cohesion to what are otherwise completely unrelated stories.
That there are no weak segments speaks to the care and thought that went into curating this anthology. The first segment, “The Bridge Partner”, is a tense psychological thriller about a timid housewife (Beth Grant of Willy’s Wonderland) who starts to question her sanity after her new bridge partner threatens her life. Directed by Gabriel Olson, and staring the late Robert Forster in his final role, “The Bridge Partner” is exemplary of the sophistication and polish of the films in this anthology. While not the most frightening story, this is the kind of film that you keep thinking about long after it is over. Director Matthew Richards’ “The Disappearance of Willie Bingham” is similarly light on the scares, but still manages a sort of Twilight Zone-esque creepiness. The segment featuring sharp editing and a memorable performance from Kevin Dee as the titular Willie Bingham, a prisoner who is forced to undergo a series of surgical procedures as payment for his crime.
Both “Violent Florence”, directed by Jaime Snyder, and “The Son, The Father”, directed by Lukas Hassel, play with the viewer’s sympathies and sense of innocence in surprising ways. While I didn’t love “Violent Florence” as much as some of the other segments in this anthology, it has a feverish energy that is missing from the other films. Positioned roughly halfway through the anthology, “Violent Florence” offers a welcome change of pace and acts as a transition from the first two segments, both of which are mature and restrained films that focus on adults and social structures, and the final segments, “The Son, The Father” and “Marian”, which deal mostly with children and family dynamics.
For an anthology ostensibly centered around Madame Josephine’s magical practice, the segments are surprisingly void of supernatural elements. The first four shorts are clearly grounded in the real world and focus on very human concerns like greed, revenge, and envy. Even in director Brian Patrick Lim’s stunning gothic “Marian”, the story is focused on a child’s world and experiences. Nothing that happens to Marian is outlandish or unbelievable, and the supernatural elements of the story serve only to enhance the segment’s core themes of trauma and violence.
Overall, this is a fun anthology that offers a taste of everything from body horror to hauntings without taking itself too seriously.
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