Movie Review: “Open Grave”

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  • Air Date: 12/24/2013
  • Release Date: 1/4/2014
  • Running Time: 102 minutes
  • Written By: Chris Borey, Eddie Borey
  • Directed By: Gonzalo López-Gallego
  • Starring: Sharlto Copley, Joseph Morgan, Thomas Kretschmann, Erin Richards, Josie Ho, Max Wrottesley

Movie Review: “Open Grave”

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Since bursting onto the scene in DISTRICT 9, Sharlto Copley has found a niche in sci-fi and genre work. This past year, not only was he an integral part of the excellent, under-seen EUROPA REPORT, but he was also the best part of the mediocre ELYSIUM. So it’s impressive when I say that OPEN GRAVE is the best movie he was a part of in 2013, a horror mystery from APOLLO 18 director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego that’s just now making it to theaters to kick off 2014.

Sharlto Copley’s crackling presence is literal in OPEN GRAVE from the opening moments, as the grizzled and angular leading man seemingly awakens from the dead, his bones creaking, his joints snapping into place, as the cacophonous storm adds to the dreary FRANKENSTEIN-ian mood. The man clambers through a pile of corpses in the wide open pit of the film’s title, finding a lighter, keys and more ominously, a gun.

A woman drops a rope down to him, and he climbs out of his watery sepulcher, trampling through the dark woods, soon arriving at a house, with a group of people whispering, clearly talking about him. John (for John Doe) arrives, waving his gun, demanding answers, but everyone is equally perplexed by the situation: like John, none of them have recollection of who they are, why they’re here, and if they know each other. They all know one thing: they don’t trust one another, and it certainly doesn’t help John’s cause that he woke up among dead bodies, painting him as the sadistic mastermind. Lukas (DRACULA’s Thomas Kretschmann) is ready to banish John from the group altogether when another man crackles to life: Nathan (THE ORIGINALS’ Joseph Morgan). They all have ID’s, save John, to give them (and us) a first name to go on.

While each know nothing of their past or themselves, they quickly learn what they’re good at. Nathan may be the homeowner, and he has a knack for languages, as he can read Latin, French and several others. Michael (Max Wrottesley) knows his way around guns. Sharon (Erin Richards) certainly has nurse or doctor-like instincts, and might be John’s girlfriend. Or Nathan’s. Or Lukas’. Lukas has a high-minded opinion of himself, and quickly takes point, but also has constant headaches and may be the most unstable of all of them. Then there’s a mute Asian woman, who predictably doesn’t speak English, called Brown Eyes. She clearly knows more than anyone else, with no way to get that point across.

The group investigate their surroundings, and it’s soon clear they’re not alone. Barbed wire fences surround the homestead, with mangled, creepy dead bodies tied up to trees and fences. They’re in an isolated location…but certainly have their share of company, as they happen upon several diseased, manic zombie-like individuals, who still have motor functions and the ability to speak…only making them more unsettling, as Michael finds out when investigating one screaming for help.

Along the way, John gets disturbing flashes of the past, seeming to doom him as the villain, and perhaps the reason they all find themselves in this predicament. It all works so wonderfully, thanks to the slick concept, and the mystery never ceases to be interesting. Did John create these monsters? Was John experimenting on these people? Was someone else? What’s happening outside the fences, in the outside world? What’s coming on April 18th, a date of foreboding circled in red on the calendar in the kitchen? Who’s watching these people, or does one of them know better? While I wouldn’t say the end result is shocking, the journey is definitely more than worthwhile, thanks to a great ensemble. They tackle their amnesia with gusto, likely finding it freeing and making characterization a whole lot more interesting than one would expect from a low budget horror film. While John finds himself in an open grave in this film, it’s quite clear that each and every one of these poor bastards woke up to find themselves in a world that has become an open grave.

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