Open Grave (18)
Directed by: Gonzalo López-Gallego
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Thomas Kretschmann & Josie Ho
Running time: 102 min
A man wakes up in a pit of dead bodies with no memory of who he is or how he got there. Fleeing the scene, he breaks into a nearby house and is met at gunpoint by a group of terrified strangers, all suffering from memory loss. Suspicion gives way to violence as the group starts to piece together clues about their identities, but when they uncover a threat that’s more vicious – and hungry – than each other, they are forced to figure out what brought them all together – before it’s too late.
The horror market has been – and continues to be – saturated with amnesia-related films such as Hostel and Saw – creating set-ups that are saturated with a stoic inevitability of impending doom even before the first few frames are projected onto the screen. That’s all fine and dandy. It’s what the horror genre is all about: with mischief afoot, leading to a copious amass of toe-tagging and high body counts. The problem lays in the plot trajectory– which always seems far too predictable, creating the bare-knuckling fact that most of the time the audience has figured out the superficial plot of the film, the order that the characters are going to meet their demise and how it all wraps up before the film has even started. The point is; creativity is a pretty rare occurrence in the horror camp these days. So, it is quite refreshing to view a film that takes the genre into slightly unchartered territory; flexing the naturalistically inquisitive minds of bloodthirsty horror fans, with an extra injection of creative aptitude, and saying anymore would spoil the revitalizing take on–what seems like–regular genre affair.
It is a tough one to say anything about this movie when any kind of revelations regarding the plot, the characters, or structure could potentially ruin the movie, as it is best to go in blind. It is a nifty wee movie put together on a modest budget, with a meticulously planned out overarching narrative, that beckons the audience; it invites incessant analysis of characters’ motives, the constant eye-gazing for subtle clues, trying to solve the conundrum on a parallel level with the characters. This suspense is cleverly maintained for the most part of the movie. It is almost impossible to deny the immersion within the movie’s microcosmic analogy – basing fear on the unknown at the individual level and in the wider scope of things. The core theme of the movie is ultimately based on the philosophical challenge of what happens to individual identities when distinctive memories are taken away. In erasing one’s memories does one erase the distinct essence of who they are? It’s a terrifying conceptual analysis of one of the deeper existential questions of “the loss of self”. Also touching on the psychological apprehension of whether life is just a bland autopilot of schemas that could essentially become erased due to a multitude of reasons.
Open Grave explores how each of the different characters handle not knowing who they are, or why they are where they are with each individual resorting to their primitive coping strategies. The comprehension of the loss of retaining memories and experiences is enough of a nightmare on its own, never mind the other problems compounding the situation that the characters have found themselves in the unlucky position of being in.
The film stars Shartlo Copley, who has become something of a niched sci-fi/horror fan-favourite. His performance in both Neil Bloomkamp’s critically acclaimed directorial debut District 9, and his slightly more disappointing effort Elysium, have done more than enough to seal the deal of beckoning international stardom (topped off with his role in the A-Team). Copley’s performance as the leading man in Open Grave is good, but unfortunately any acting that surpasses good to reach heights of greatness, is eclipsed by the mere fact that his American accent isn’t very convincing – with his strong native accent constantly threatening to bleed through his put-on American accent. It takes away from the character he is portraying, and at times and it goes from slightly off-putting to excruciatingly grating. This is a shame as all of the actors do a good job in their roles respectively (weirdly enough, Copley’s American accent in the A-Team didn’t suffer from this unfortunate problem). The rest of the cast, including Thomas Kretschmann, Joseph Morgen and Erin Richards, pull in solid performances, with Max Wrottesly working competently with some pretty substandard dialogue and Josie Ho playing her part well – as it could have went horribly wrong.
Director Gonzalo López-Gallego handles the directing duties with an unrestrained finesse, creating particular shots and angles that really help in depicting a claustrophobic paranoia with a dichotomously vast scenic setting to great effect. Gonzalo throws in a couple of scares here and there, and some of the action sequences facilitate the steady pacing minus an over reliance on cheap scares. At times the script loses its way, with dialogue sounding slightly unnatural and forced, especially towards the latter half of the film. The confabulating towards the end could be for genuine effect to demonstrate how one with amnesia tries to put the pieces of the memory jigsaw back together– basically replacing gaps in one’s memory with falsification that they believe to be true – but it feels more like a patronising narration, undermining the intelligence of the audience.
All in all, despite its flaws, Open Grave is a well shot, competently scored, horror/thriller with an air of mystery that keeps the viewer engrossed in its original concept and execution. The flaws can be forgiven in lieu of the creative and original concept Gonzalo has injected into the horror genre – especially in this day and age with copious PG-13 releases and reboots that have become a homogenous affair, and the presumably terrible Scream series being produced by MTV, making it hard to distinguish between each release. While some of the ideas in Open Grave have been done to death, there is enough originality to compel until the credits role, bringing new light to a certain horror genre that has been suffering from monotony and becoming slightly tiring.
A solid taut horror/thriller that sticks with the viewer as an afterthought, managing not to desensitize and zombify its audience by subjecting them to ninety-minutes of amnesiac-induced gulfs of paranoia (figuratively, of course). It slipped by without anyone taking much notice of it due to poor marketing, but is deserving of a watch, particularly for fans of the horror genre.
3 out of 5 Nerds