Director: Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Thomas Kretschmann, Erin Richards, Joseph Morgan, Josie Ho, Max Wrottesley
Plot: A man (Copley) makes up in a pit full of dead bodies with no memories and needs to figure out what happened.
Open Grave could be criticised for taking two of the biggest tropes in cinema and building a story off the back of films before it. One of them is amnesia, Hollywood’s favourite mental illness. We can open with a character (or in this case, characters), who is a blank slate, much like the audience member. It is easy to follow and that lack of memory often means that screenwriters everywhere rub their hands with glee at the amount of twists they can come up with. The second trope I will keep secret, as the less said about Open Grave the better you will appreciate it. It is another ‘roll your eyes’ the moment you realise where the film is going, but as long as you don’t close your mind totally to this plot development, you realise that Open Grave does try to do something new with this genre piece. Unlike a lot of movies that copy better films to set up their story, Open Grave is interesting enough to be forgiven.
Its biggest strength is the mystery element. Sharlto Copley wakes up with no memory, surrounded by dead people. He climbs from the pit and ends up at a house, crammed with people who have also lost their memory. They instantly don’t trust this newcomer. One, he woke up in a pit full of dead bodies and two, photographs around them suggest that this group is tight-knit, whereas Copley is the odd one out. The movie slowly unravels the mystery, feeding us clues here and there which answer little, but pique our curiosity even more. One of the group speaks Latin and French, a scholar of some sorts. One of the group believes he might own the house they are stranded in. One girl seems to know more than she is letting on, but is a mute and unable to convey what is going on (admittedly this is the film’s biggest plot hole – there are ways around this, but the mute girl just seems frustratingly uncooperative). Then there is the 18th circled around the house, as if they are trying to remind themselves of something happening on that date, before their memories were wiped. But what is going to happen?
Open Grave hasn’t been overly liked by movie critics anywhere. Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic pretty much slated this film, as a good mystery that has no control over its story. Good reviews are often little more than muted appreciation. I can see where the bad reviews are coming from. There is that mystery second trope that could dissuade some viewers, especially when the writers never fully embrace the concept. I think the main drawback is simply an anti-climactic finish. There is a pretty decent twist and one that I didn’t see coming. However, while the story is strong, one longs for a little more action. When you keep your movie claustrophobic and minimal for a long running time, you want the last twenty minutes to be a little more focused on adrenaline. It isn’t as though the movie doesn’t have the means to do so; if the ending turned into a bloody action set-piece, it wouldn’t look laughably out of place. But the writers put the story first and, as a result, Open Grave isn’t much more than quite good. Saying that, this doesn’t make it as the waste of time, other critics have made it out to be. The cast are strong (Copley puts on a good accent – something I don’t get to say much in this blog!), and the characters are grounded in reality. No one is afraid to explore the darker side of their characters, meaning that the lines between heroes and villains are blurred.
Final Verdict: A gripping thriller that lacks a kick at the end, but is still worthy of a watch by anyone that likes a good mystery with a promising twist.