A man (Sharlto Copley) wakes up in a hole in the ground filled with corpses, with no memory of who he is or how he got there – or how the dead people around him met their grisly fate. Helped out of the hole by a mysterious mute Asian woman, he makes his way to a house in the woods, where he finds a group of men and women also suffering from amnesia. Some have ID (so they know their names), some have suffered wounds and bruises, but none of them know how they came to be there – or what the hell is going on. Deeply suspicious of each other, and unable to contact anyone in the outside world, they explore the house they find themselves in, finding a calendar with a ring around a certain date (two days away), a cupboard full of guns and ammunition, and a library full of books about human anatomy. Looking for answers, they increase the scope of their search to the surrounding forest, where they discover more dead bodies, bound to trees by rope, and a haggard female – alive, but barely – chained up in a barn, raving incoherently. What is going on? What’s going to happen in two days? Who or what is responsible for the dead an injured? Who are the heroes, and who are the villains? And more importantly, since we’re about to commit 100 minutes of our lives to finding out, should we care?
The good news is that Open Grave, like Spanish director Gonzalo López-Gallego’sprevious film,Apollo 18, is a suspenseful, compelling thriller-slash-horror film, beautifully shot and with laudably committed performances from Copley, Welshman Joseph Morgan (Klaus from The Vampire Diariesand its spin-off The Originals) and German Thomas Kretschmann (whom you may recognise fromKing Kong, Downfall, or perhaps TV’s found footage horror show The River). No one has really used Copley to best advantage since the South African actor’s breakthrough performance in District 9; he was fun in The A-Team and largely wasted in Elysium. Here, lank-haired and bearded (a dead ringer for Joel from The Last of Us), he gives another outstanding performance (despite a somewhat over-the-top American accent), which elevates Open Grave above other examples of this particular horror subgenre – which one, we can’t comfortably say without spoilers – and it would be worth watching for his performance alone, were it not for López-Gallego’s skillful direction, which wrings every ounce of tension out of the script by brothers Eddie and Chris Borey. Although the screenplay contains not one but two phrases (“It’s too quiet” and “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”) which should be on any screenwriter’s no-fly list, it does a decent job of teasing out the mystery over the entire course of the film, in the manner of a pilot for a thrilling new FX series, rather than a feature film. The result is that at the end of 100 minutes, we are left wanting to see more of these characters in action – and better use of Copley in films equally worthy of his considerable talents.
David Hughes (@DavidHughesTwit)
OPEN GRAVE is available to stream or download NOW at http://thehorrorshow.tv/movie-display/open-grave-2013