Review: Open Grave
PLOT: A man wakes up in a giant grave filled with corpses; after escaping, he realizes that he has no memory of who or where he is. Soon he also discovers that there are several other people in the same predicament.
REVIEW: Here's a rather twisty, unusual thriller that isn't just the same old thing. OPEN GRAVE begins with a rather familiar scenario - several strangers wake up with amnesia in a strange location and must unravel the mystery of their circumstances - and throws enough curveballs and creepy ideas into the mix to elevate it to a superior level. With a brooding, unnerving atmosphere and tense direction by its director, OPEN GRAVE is a step above your standard horror fare because it engages your brain as well as your gag reflex.
Sharlto Copley stars as a man who finds himself in an unenviable position when we meet him. Waking up in a mass grave, "John" has neither the knowledge of who he is or how he wound up in this predicament. He's aided out of the pit by a silent woman (Josie Ho), who eventually leads him to a large house in the wilderness. There, he encounters a bickering assortment of individuals who, like him, do not remember the events leading up to this nightmare. It is, of course, clear that there is some connection between them, but the trick is figuring out just what that connection might be.
It gets worse for these folks. There were some nefarious deeds afoot at their location (naturally, the mass grave already gave that away) - there are bodies tied to trees throughout the forest like warning signs, and evidence of strange scientific experiment is prevalent in various sheds and kennels. There are other people too, scattered about, although their problem isn't memory loss but full-fledged mania; they resemble escapees from an institution. Is our group part of whatever it is that has been going on here, or are they just more victims slowly descending into madness?
OPEN GRAVE is one of those movies you can't describe too fully (indeed, you shouldn't even watch the trailer); part of the fun of the film is finding out just what the hell is going on as the discoveries become more grisly. The film has the confidence of a good horror/mystery novel, giving us scant clues and disorienting revelations while never playing its full hand until the time is right. And while the climax borders on being a letdown, the overall experience is aided by the fact that the journey is tantalizing and brimming with creepy moments and weird visuals. (The barbed wire fence sequence is a great one, as is the one with the axe-wielding fellows.) Director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego shows he's extremely capable when it comes to drawing out tension and delivering startling payoffs, which you wouldn't have expected after the dreadful APOLLO 18.
Sharlto Copley makes for an engaging hero, playing along the more strong-silent-type lines as opposed to going insanely over-the-top as he's apt to do. The actor relays palpable agony as his confidence in his own identity and morality crumbles steadily. Imagine not knowing if you're a monster or not; how would you handle that? The rest of the cast is fine without actually being very memorable: Thomas Kretschmann as an untrustworthy alpha-male and Josie Ho as a mute woman who might have more answers than she lets on are stand-outs, but no one is really in Copley's league. The same can be said for their characters, who aren't nearly as interesting as the enigmas surrounding them. That's okay, though: Copley and Lopez-Gallego ensure OPEN GRAVE leaves a strong impression all the same.