Originally released in 2008, Grave Mistake more than lives up to its name. It’s a shame, really, as this low-budget zombie movie was made in none other than Albuquerque and Rio Rancho, New Mexico! Sadly, the movie captures none of the spice offered by the Land of Enchantment. Moreover, as a zombie movie, few horror fans will successfully manage to sit through even half of it before turning it off or reaching for the fast-forward button.
Shawn Darling is Grave Mistake’s director, writer, editor, and music creator. His little brother Seth Darling stars as Alex King, a poor kid who is abused by his father, Karl (played to the hilt by Stephen W. Eckles), who is also a racist, sexist, and wife abuser (but all in funny way, trust me). Alex likes to go hang out at the local mechanic shop, where a simpleton works with head mechanic, Mike Shaw (James Blackburn). It turns out that the simpleton is a zombie expert, and he has written a book on how to survive a zombie epidemic.
While Mark works on the car of a woman named Monica (Wendy Andrews), who has a son, the simpleton and Alex discuss zombies. Monica’s son grows bored and walks over and listens to the zombie talk, which he finds a little weird. In the meantime, there are several people who have gathered out in the middle of nowhere to LARP (live-action role play) as knights and damsels.
And so it begins. The plot is straightforward. Zombies begin to attack both groups, killing off some of them while the rest elect to make their way to the local National Guard Armory, where they can secure better weapons. Eventually, both groups come together, with an armored knight taking center stage to battle the zombies with his long sword while Wendy uses an electronic hedge trimmer and Mike uses a pipe and revolver. It’s all cool, as Mike is a former Navy Seal with post-traumatic stress syndrome (see, he blew up his commanders by accident—it’s supposed to be funny).
I cannot be certain, but filmmaker Shawn Darling is probably a young man, given this movie’s juvenile script and direction. The plot’s love story feels like something a teen (maybe even pre-teen) would imagine, and the hints of sexuality and humor are also juvenile.
The acting in Grave Mistake is poor, although some of the actors (Blackburn and Eckles) show promise. The principal fault with lackluster performances is with the director and the scriptwriter, as the approach here is on the weird and the oddly humorous. Special effects rely on makeup (not bad) and CGI (poor execution).
And then there’s the storyline, which must be experienced, as words fail to truly describe the dementia found here. There are some pretty good sequences (the knight that battles the zombies is a nice touch, given that the zombies cannot bite through his armor). However, the bulk of this movie is unwatchable. Yes, it really is that bad.
It’s a shame that this film fails so badly. As a native New Mexican, I can tell you that there is a lot of quirkiness in this state that could have benefited Grave Mistake. I would have like to have seen some New Mexico elements in this film. Can you imagine some cholo ass-kicker as one of the characters? Or maybe a Native American shaman who can turn the dead? How about a crazy zombie woman wearing turquoise jewelry from head to toe? At the very least, Darling should have taken advantage of New Mexico’s rich landscapes, intriguing traditions, and eccentric personalities. Instead, he resorts to conventional clichés.
Grave Mistake is bottom-of-the-barrel filmmaking. Indeed, the filmmakers did not even bother to block scenes, so there are some in which you can see evening commuters headed home (their headlights on) while one of the characters supposedly wanders through an abandoned area of the city. There is even one scene in which the zombies are attacking some of the characters and off in the distance there are other people going about their daily business!
Grave Mistake is a grave mistake. Do not bother with it, even if you live in New Mexico (although the Caustic Lye music during the end credits does rock!).