The new anthology film Grave Intentions bears a 2021 date, which I assume was when the wraparound segment directed by Brian and Jocelyn Rish (High Heels and Hoodoo) and featuring Madam Josephine (Joy Vandervort-Cobb, Army Wives) was shot. The short films that serve as its segments however date back as far as 2014. At least one of them, “The Disappearance of Willie Bingham” has recently turned up in another collection, A Night of Horror: Nightmare Radio.
Madame Josephine talks about the various magical items her customers purchase as an introduction to each segment. And comments on the, usually terminal, lesson they learned from their experience afterwards.
Grave Intentions’ first segment, “The Bridge Partner” (2015) was adapted from a story by Peter S. Beagle (The Last Unicorn) and directed by Gabriel Olson. Mattie (Beth Grant, Willy’s Wonderland, Child’s Play 2) is an avid, but not very good bridge player. For the latest tournament, she’s assigned a new partner Olivia (Sharon Lawrence, Bloodfist V: Human Target, NYPD Blue). During the match, she leans over and tells Mattie she’s going to kill her.
Featuring performances by Beagle, (his only appearance as an actor) as well as the late Robert Forster (Olympus Has Fallen, Medium Cool), this is a neat exercise in ambiguity and misdirection.
Also from 2015, “The Disappearance of Willie Bingham” by writer/director Matthew Richards is a much grimmer affair. In the near future, Willie Bingham (Kevin Dee, Wolf) kills a child while drunk and becomes the first person sentenced under a new Australian law to Progressive Amputation. He’s subjected to a series of dismemberments, witnessed by his victim’s family. In between amputations, he’s taken to schools as a warning to students.
This probably had more impact when it was made, before the Chinese government’s use of political prisoners for organ harvesting was revealed. It’s still fairly unnerving in its look at politics, sadism and their effects on all involved.
Also from Australia, Jaime Snyder’s “Violent Florence” (2014) was the most disturbing segment in Grave Intentions for me personally. Florence (Charly Thorn, Relic) comes across a group of teens tormenting a black cat. She saves the cat from them, but her intentions aren’t so pure either.
As someone who loves animals, especially cats, I found a segment based around animal abuse hard to watch. Snyder does do a good job of setting it up, but overall I just found it pointless and distasteful. And the final image, with its attempt to humanize the abuser, was flat-out disgusting. With so many excellent shorts going unseen I have to wonder why this was included.
“The Son, the Father” (2017) from writer/director/actor Lukas Hassel (Slapface, Art of the Dead) is a return to form. A birthday prank on young Luke (Lucas Oktay, The Parish) by his drunken mother makes him pee himself, much to the disgust of his father (Lukas Hassel). The fatal consequences are still being felt by Luke (Christopher Morson, Prospect, Z Nation) ten years later.
Short and effective, “The Son, the Father” feels like the opening of an 80s slasher film. It would be interesting to see it fleshed out to feature length.
Finally, “Marian” (2017), directed by Brian Patrick Lim who co-wrote it with Levi San Luis is another tale of abuse, this time the abuse of young Marian (Johanah Basanta) by her Aunt (Astarte Abraham). But she’s not the only violent creature in the house.
Set in a decaying and atmospheric old mansion and featuring a nasty looking, though obviously CGI spectre, “Marian” ends Grave Intentions’ segments on a strong note.
Madame Josephine gets the last word in, but honestly, her segments are so tangentially related to the shorts that Grave Intentions probably could have done without her.
Overall, the stories are, with the exception of “Violent Florence”, all solid. But as often happens with this sort of collection of shorts, there’s no cohesion or unifying theme and Grave Intentions feels disjointed and episodic. It would have been much better if the segments had shared a theme. And avoided trying to justify animal cruelty.