Grieve movie poster


In theaters October 6, 2023


64 minutes

Directed by:

Starring: ,

Grieve (2023) is a morose and moody meditation on loss and depression that desperately wants to be a whole film.

Sam (Paris Peterson) has lost Sarah (Danielle Keaton) to some kind of accident and has become functionally useless. He says he needs to keep busy, but he doesn’t accomplish anything. He mopes and stares and is clearly looking for the exit.

On the advice of his mother, he takes a trip to their northern cabin, because if there’s one thing that’s good for depression, it’s long solitary nights in the woods surrounded by snow and deadfall. Sam believes he can hear Sarah everywhere in the house and in the woods, and thinks he can commune with her soul. We know Sam is Sad and we know that he is grieving, so when he runs into his friend Ralph (Jacob Nichols), we believe maybe here is a spark of joy, but with the amount of drugs they take, that’s not exactly a foregone conclusion. Everyone in Sam’s life is bent on giving him poor advice, and maybe for an underlying reason, that thing in the woods, for example, but that’s only conjecture on my part.

We never find out.

The synopsis for Grieve says Sam is “unaware that an age-old entity, one that feeds on sadness and twists fragile minds into psychedelic hellscapes, dwells in those woods, hungry and waiting.” Frankly we’re unaware of it, too. Creaky cabins, whispering voices, and the glimpse of a figure made of twigs and skulls don’t exactly create the spooky dread of impending doom all by themselves.

There are long – very long – stretches of stillness where you might briefly wonder if your stream is buffering or maybe your cat stepped on the pause button, and that visual conceit makes up the bulk of Grieve. There are also voice overs in French, which breaking up some of these scenes of stillness, but add zero context to the film. It inches into French ­ poetry or like watching Andy Warhol’s Sleep (1964) – the anticipation of something happening eventually dies a lonely death.

Themes are not stories and Grieve is a several themes in a very thin trenchcoat.

Writer director Robbie Smith Is likely going for a rural gothic aesthetic but without a folklore foundation or even an ancient legend to give a crumb of context, most of Grieve is a few concepts held together by a score. It did not help that the sound mixing was uneven so most of the dialog was muffled or distorted. As screeners don’t often come with subtitles, any dialog was impossible to follow – except for the subtitled French, which just made no sense.  Perhaps this was intentional, and I can fully concede that this was intentional and meant to be an art piece, in which case, maybe this just wasn’t the movie for me.

Speaking of the score by Michael Armendariz, Nick Reinhart, and Jay Gambit, it provides the only consistent direction throughout the film. The score creates moments of tension that otherwise would not exist because nothing actually happens. The score shapes much of what is perceived to be happening, and that’s a lot to ask of a composer.

For the few moments that could be considered “horror”, there isn’t enough of “Grieve” to provide the psychological punch necessary to make them scary. For horror to work, there needs to be a story the audience can believe and a challenge for the main character to either succumb to or overcome. The ending is a foregone conclusion, so if you stick around for the post-credits scene, you’ll also realize this could have been a 20-minute edit and far more satisfying.

Grieve (2023) is unrated but we’ll call it PG-13 for forest creatures, long moments of reflection, hands being ground up, bleeding eyes, people self-canceling, and a few incidents behind the wheel of a car.

Grieve is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: MontiLee Stormer
MontiLee Stormer is a writer of horror, dark and urban fantasy. She’s also is a troublemaker, concocting acts of mayhem and despair for her own selfish pleasure. An avid movie watcher, she prefers horror but will see just about anything if you're buying. Poltergeist (1982) is her favorite movie and she actively hates The Shining (1980) due to its racism, misogyny, the butchering of the source material. She could host a TEDtalk on this single subject. Writing about herself in the third person is just a bonus.

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