An Unquiet Grave. 2020.
Directed by Terence Krey. Screenplay by Krey & Christine Nyland.
Starring Jacob A. Ware & Christine Nyland.
Not Rated / 76 minutes
★★★ (out of ★★★★★)
The following essay contains SIGNIFICANT SPOILERS!
You’ve been warned.
A film doesn’t have to be perfect to be enjoyable or smart. Sometimes a story has enough good intention mixed with emotional intelligence to be effective without managing to be great. An Unquiet Grave may not be a five-star film, but that isn’t to say it’s not excellent on a couple different levels. Director Terence Krey—from a screenplay by one of the film’s stars, Christine Nyland— tells a tale of love, loss, and male control.
Jamie (Jacob A. Ware) lost his wife Jules a year ago. He’s still grieving, and he’s found a way to stop. He involves his sister-in-law Ava (Nyland) in a plan to resurrect his dead wife. She goes along, hoping it’ll bring back her beloved sister. Rather than the plan achieving success, it goes terribly wrong. Or, is there another part of Jamie’s plan Ava doesn’t know about?
An Unquiet Grave is a deeply emotional view of grief, and wonderfully macabre. More than that, the story’s a complex look at patriarchal male control, whether by society or the individual. Nyland and Krey make use of occultism to bring the dead back to life, which comes to represent a man’s abuse of power in relation to the bodies and lives of women. Jamie’s quest to bring his wife back from the dead works as an allegory for male refusal to respect consent and the bodily autonomy of women, wives or otherwise.
Sigmund Freud’s concept of the Uncanny plays into An Unquiet Grave, specifically regarding the grief over losing a loved one. We come to understand Ava is Jules’s twin sister, the living echo of Jules. The Uncanny double here becomes an image of grief. The Uncanny takes on a specifically Gothic form later when a headstone appears in the backyard— the dead wife returning as a Gothic echo of her living sister. Later, Jamie must literally unearth the Gothic Uncanny to fix his original mistake. Though the ending’s not clear on whether the trouble’s actually over.
The film posits resurrection as an act going against nature, against the natural order of life moving from birth to death. Jamie plays biological God by way of occultism. This concept in An Unquiet Grave asks larger questions about resurrection, similar to the questions Mary Shelley was asking about playing God to create life in her groundbreaking novel Frankenstein. Can we bring back the person as they were, or do we merely bring back their physical body void of personality, of emotion, and, more importantly, morality? Not only that, does a person want to come back? Are we just serving our own emotions by resurrecting the dead, an unwilling participant in the act? This further leads to a large theme in the screenplay involving patriarchal male control of women and their bodies.
“You always have to fix everything”
An Unquiet Grave takes on misogyny and sexism in a unique supernatural way. Jamie’s patriarchal male control is exemplified by a refusal to let his wife Jules stay dead. He suffers from male saviour syndrome, needing to rescue his wife’s so bad he’ll resurrect her from the dead. Jamie can’t let his wife rest after she clearly suffered before passing away. As per Ava in one scene, we hear that Jules couldn’t actually tell her husband until a while after she fell ill because she knew her husband was so desperate to be the saviour he’d try to fix her when that literally wasn’t possible. Jamie, even inadvertently, holds an eternal controlling grip on his wife.
The most clear example of Jamie’s patriarchal control and sinister use of the female body comes from the revelation that he’s tricked Ava into swapping bodies with her sister; all so he can have more time with his wife. This shows how Jamie entirely disregards the concept of consent, bypassing Ava and effectively using her body by force. We could view his actions as the equivalent of an occult, spiritual rape that obliterates Ava’s identity to allow Jules to regain her own.
The ending feels unresolved to me. It clocks in at 76 minutes and could’ve easily used an extra 20, if only to make the finale seem more decisive than it does. I love ambiguity, when called for—this doesn’t feel like ambiguity, it feels like a piece of the puzzle is missing for the film to be great. Compelling themes are built up throughout and all but fizzle out due to the way the film closes. Nyland and Krey’s screenplay still has a lot going for it. And Nyland’s performance is intensely engaging, carrying much of the film.
An Unquiet Grave is a good story, and regardless of any flaws the film explores especially relevant ideas that aren’t only of the moment, they’re timeless. Our world suffers in endless ways due to the patriarchal male control of society as a whole and men as individuals. Jamie represents a section of men in society who seek to control women and their bodies, by any and all means possible; the film takes this to the horrific point of occult resurrection. Ava, as well as Jules, each symbolise the women who seek to take back that control, no matter the sacrifice. The film never comes to a real resolution, so we’re left to wonder whether Ava truly escapes a man’s grip, or if she’s just destined to remain under Jamie’s thumb.