Rating: 5.2 Out of 10
Release Date: October 13, 2013
Director: Doug Bollinger
Writer: Billy Pepitone, Joseph Pepitone
Cast: Keith Collins, Brandon Ruckdashel, Theresa Galeani
Genres: Horror/Thriller

oveRVIEW – Gravedigger

Paul Homza stars as Paul, a gravedigger who finds a living being in the cemetery he tends – unaware that it’s created by Dr. Frankenstein.

Ahmed’s film features muted browns and turmeric yellows with bright springy flashes of green to convey an authentic world where struggle remains constant.
A Gravedigger (Paul Homza) Finds a Monster (Gisbert Heuer) in the Graveyard

Frankenstein’s monster has long been one of the most enduring literary characters, inspiring 177 TV and film adaptations since it first appeared. Erynn Dalton of Michigan-based playwright Infinite Abyss Productions used Wilton Theater Factory’s Wilton Theater Factory space, sharing it with other companies such as Island City Stage. Dalton and her team stripped seats and risers out, soundproofed walls with foam, and decorated rustic sets with recycled stage props such as hooks and fake knives for filming.

Ultimately, this led to a film that has the feel of a stage play rather than an actual film. Many times only one or two people appear in frame at any one time while most of the action occurs off camera. Furthermore, the lack of movement hinders its potential and the actors rarely look natural; an unfortunate thing considering their talent.

Gravedigger remains compelling and well told despite these shortcomings, with its tale of family struggle and love being an unforgettable story. Unlike many movies depicting social injustice, it does not resort to sentimentality or cliche but instead concentrates on portraying ordinary lives trying to survive in difficult circumstances.

Monster Jam fans will recognize one special treat in this film: a black Grave Digger truck driven by Dennis Anderson to numerous championship wins and that made its way through each Monster Jam World Finals event. It is owned by FELD Truck Company.

Even if you don’t follow sports, this movie is still well worth watching. The story is emotional and poignant while its special effects are outstanding. Unfortunately, however, this was not more popular with audiences; hopefully filmmakers can learn from this film and create something better next time around.
A Gravedigger’s Wife (Yasmin Warsame) Is Diagnosed with Kidney Disease

Director Khadar Ahmed’s debut feature film is an intimate, heartbreaking tale of family survival that draws comparisons to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Set on the fringes of Djibouti City, it employs simple building blocks to tell an unforgettable tale of love and desperation.

Guled (Omar Abdi) is a gravedigger who lives for his wife Nasra (Yasmin Warsame) and son Mahad. Though his work takes its toll physically – as evidenced by camera lingering on tense muscles – he finds immense satisfaction in doing what he loves – doting on family even as she suffers from terminal illness that he cannot afford treatment for.

The Western elements in The Gravedigger can be seen almost immediately when young boys wearing cardboard cowboy hats enter an abandoned train station wearing cardboard cowboy hats. Soon enough though, the movie quickly turns its focus toward poverty and deprivation as Guled travels with his fellow gravediggers to coastal town in search of bodies for burial – often leading to hard-nosed and often brutal narrative but always with an undertone of humor that keeps things lighthearted. Ahmed keeps this film moving at an impressively steady pace throughout its running time – keeping things lighthearted without ever becoming oppressive.

Gravediggers live a hard life, which becomes all the more challenging when their beloved spouse suffers from an incurable disease that they cannot afford to treat with meager wages and savings. Antibiotics will drain their funds quickly while an operation to save her would exceed their means.

Warsame brings forth the resilience and resilience of her character, even as her health declines, by gate-crashing a wedding with her son to make herself known. While her performance displays beauty in its own right, it also shows resilience of an individual refusing to accept their situation without fighting back against it.

The chemistry between the leads is palpable, and Ahmed deftly avoids dramatic situations to let emotions build naturally in their absence. Actor Warsame from Mogadishu-born Somali-Canadian model Warsame gives an impressive performance and debutant Kadar Abdoul-Aziz Ibrahim plays Mahad, as dovetailed well with them both in creating The Gravedigger’s powerful story that deserves wide recognition.
A Gravedigger’s Son (Khadar Abdoul-Aziz Ibrahim) Sees a Monster (Gisbert Heuer) in the Graveyard

Erynn Dalton and Joseph Zettelmaier attempted something different with The Gravedigger, yet its limited production budget and certain script, acting, and visual issues prevented it from realizing its full potential. Still, The Gravedigger remains an engaging watch.

The movie takes place in Djibouti and follows Guled, a gravedigger living with his wife Nasra (Somali-Canadian model Yasmin Warsame making her acting debut), and son Mahad. Early scenes of domestic routine and workplace chatter demonstrate Guled’s undemanding contentment despite his precarious existence; cinematographer Arttu Peltomaa uses warm browns, turmeric yellows and occasional flashes of green by way of cinematographer’s artfully minimalist style that captures his people caught between conflict and poverty.

As soon as a young boy discovers an unspeakable monster in his graveyard, it sets in motion an eventful chain of events that will alter everyone involved’s lives forever. The film unfolds much like a stage play with only limited sets and lots of talking (though bursts of action do appear). While watching can sometimes become tedious due to some issues with direction and performance issues, overall its visual style and performances make this movie worth seeing.

As the plot darkens and horror elements emerge, it becomes more enjoyable than intended. Additionally, this film boasts an outstanding supporting cast – with star Matt Rasmussen (American Cryptid 2021) making an outstanding impression as Gravedigger Dave. Occasionally his tendency to shout his name like a sportscaster becomes annoying but his captivating persona and sideways smile make up for any disappointments in his vocal delivery.

The Gravedigger offers an intriguing take on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein tale. While not completely following Shelley’s novel, some of its central themes are included and it features well-acted actors and beautiful direction. While not a classic movie by any stretch of the imagination, The Gravedigger should certainly be given its due by anyone interested in Mary Shelley or man-made monster movies in general.
A Gravedigger’s Wife (Yasmin Warsame) Sees a Monster (Gisbert Heuer) in the Graveyard

Filmmaking in Somalia has experienced long periods of discontinuity – yet The Gravedigger proves there’s still room for narrative flourishes even within this impoverished nation. Set in Dijibouti City’s contemporary locale and using familiar genres as building blocks to weave a story that resonates on multiple levels – while boasting undeniable cinematic flair.

Khadar Ayderus Ahmed (Tonight You’re Dead) has an impeccable understanding of what makes this story move, capturing every nuance with poetic detail. Initial scenes featuring Guled and Nasra bathing each other in the stream exude gentle tenderness despite their difficult lives; how their son Mahad makes them laugh about themselves is another subtle yet striking criticism against hubris.

As the story develops, tension increases as their financial situation worsens and they must decide between funding a medical procedure that would save their son or taking out debts owed by themselves – choices made all the more difficult when they discover that one of their hosts may actually be Frankenstein’s monster (Gisbert Heuer: Theater of Terror short 2018, American Cryptid 2021).

Guled goes to great lengths to find humanity in his shell of patchwork flesh, assisted by Nasra who belies her gentle exterior but hides a much harsher disposition. Ahmed plays this arc perfectly combining gritty social commentary and poignancy; performances are outstanding – Omar Abdi plays Guled with exquisite nuance while Somali-Canadian model Yasmin Warsame brings much-needed fresh air in her portrayal as Nasra – both performers give exemplary performances that deserve wider consideration.

The Gravedigger marks Ahmed’s outstanding feature debut, recalling both Aki Kaurismaki and Ken Loach with its elegant restraint and subtle pathos. This film’s blend of realistic realism with fantastical elements could have easily spiraled off into overblown melodrama; instead, it remains grounded thanks to outstanding acting talent and superior cinematography.

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