Director: Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego
Writer: Eddie Borey, Chris Borey
Producer: William Green, Aaron L. Ginsburg, Michael B. Wunderman
Stars: Sharlto Copley, Thomas Kretschmann, Josie Ho, Joseph Morgan, Erin Richards, Max Wrottesley
Six amnesiacs wake at an isolated cabin surrounded by corpses and a mass grave with no recollection of who they are.
Missing memory plot devices rarely live up to the premise’s full potential. In theory, the idea makes for a tantalizing mystery whether it is the full-on memory loss featured in “Modus Anomali” or the more selective amnesia of something like “Identity.” In practice, the ultimate revelation has a hard time equaling any of the several dozen threads spun in a viewer’s imagination during the course of the runtime. Sometimes, the script in such a situation just cannot avoid running into a “wait, that’s it?” reaction.
“Open Grave” drops down a similar vertical tunnel of promising starting point, yet so-so big picture. The fall lands it in that same category of other confused character thrillers that can be regarded as good, though still short of great.
Sharlto Copley is a John Doe who wakes in a rain-soaked pit surrounded by corpses to find himself missing all knowledge of how he got there and who he even is. A mute woman helps him out of the open grave and into the shelter of a nearby cabin where four other perfect strangers share his plight. Unsure of whom to trust, the six of them work to determine what their situation is with the hope of finding a way out of it, too.
In addition to the mass grave in the backyard, a perimeter search of the surrounding forest uncovers more bodies tied to trees and trapped in barbed wire fences. Not all of them are fully dead. The predicament that the amnesic sextet finds themselves in the middle of soon starts resembling a George A. Romero movie instead of an Agatha Christie novel.
At 105 minutes, “Open Grave” is in the neighborhood of 15 minutes or so too loose to run scot-free from having to answer for ongoing contrivances used to propel the story forward. A tighter clip would afford less time for the audience to catch up so quickly to noticing every deus ex machina littering the story like so many corpses in the forest.
A character randomly throwing rocks into trees conveniently hits a pair of cars hidden under camouflage netting. That same character later steps just as randomly on a pair of his old glasses that fell to the forest floor pre-blackout. Donning the frames triggers a key recollection.
A falling tree blocks the road at precisely the right moment to stop a passing car. Copley is dropped back into the pit loaded with dozens of bodies, yet falls directly on top of the exposed tattoo from a foggy memory suddenly filling in more blanks. And not only does he drop his keys at the most inopportune time possible, but the infected person confronted at that moment somehow has the wherewithal to swallow said keys.
Getting away with one or two of these cheats to add drama is excusable, even expected, but “Open Grave” needs one at virtually every scene change. The whole notion of everyone having amnesia in the first place already stretches willing disbelief thin. It is a pattern of overreliance on logic leaps that is disappointing for a movie otherwise more initially intriguing than other horror thrillers.
Overlooking such exposed warts enables an improved view of the entertaining epidermis underneath, even if digesting the entirety of “Open Grave” leaves a hunger pang of unfulfilled satisfaction. The movie’s overall value is improved greatly by superb technical efforts from director of photography Jose David Montero and composer Juan Navazo, not to mention the actors and their director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego. In parts, “Open Grave” is nearly too polished cinematically. Heavy doses of rainstorm lightning flashes and production design that occasionally borders dangerously close to obvious staging almost undoes portions of the false reality.
“Open Grave” might score lower if the genre had stiffer competition filled with more worthwhile alternatives. As it is, the film still has intrigue to offer, no matter how fleeting it might be once all of the cards are exposed on the table. The concept is more novel than the complete package is, but there is enough tragedy and desperation on display to keep captivation as a chief player in the guessing game at the movie’s core.
Review Score: 75