OPEN GRAVE (USA, 2013)
Dir- Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego
Starring- Sharlto Copley, Thomas Kretschmann, Josie Ho, Joseph Morgan, Erin Richards, Max Wrottesley
Run Time – 102 Minutes
Out NOW on DVD in the UK from Signature Entertainment
Starting with a fantastic shot of a man seemingly waking up in a pit full of dead bodies, and lending an intriguing air of mystery thanks to the predicament of its characters OPEN GRAVE sounds like one of those films that on paper, would make a definite must see, and yes would have anyone reaching for the nearest DVD copy to view it. Though at the same time the film is marred by flaws which at times come close to knocking or wavering the viewers attention from the play out and eventual climax of it’s intriguing concept.
Directed by Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego, who previously helmed the pretty badly received found footage shot APOLLO 18, this US funded but shot in Hungary based feature opens up, as already mentioned, with a fantastic shot of a stranger (Copley) waking to be found lying in a pit of dead bodies. He has no idea why he’s there, or how he got there. A rope seemingly dropped down by a mute women (Josie Ho) grants him a chance to escape the putrid pit, on where he makes his way to a house to find four other strangers (Kretschmann, Morgan, Richards, Wrottesley) inside. Holding guns at each other they soon realise they all don’t know why there, and seemingly all have memory loss. It’s only during an uneasy truce between members of the group, that in the day they have to trek round the vast woodland area that they have found themselves in to try and piece what has happened. On the way they find corpses tied up to trees, and discover a women chained up in a shed, seemingly insane and acting like a rabid dog. Are they at the mercy of a twisted killer, and is it possible that one of them is the killer.
It’s only through further revelations about the characters skills, that they soon realise they already possess, and flashbacks that add to the intrigue and revelations. To reveal any further would be to give up too much and ruin the outcome of the story, which is what the makers have intended, by having our characters seemingly piece this nightmare they’ve woken up in, together, to keep the audience intrigued. The only setback of this is that overall it’s a fantastic idea, but at times OPEN GRAVES is let down by a some slow pacing and repetitive scenes that lessens the impact of the intriguing story. There’s also plot points and holes that seem to lapse and don’t seem to initially come together and ideas and other background characters that are a threat, but yet it doesn’t really offer a full explanation of how they got that way.
Though minor flaws aside there is a decent, gritty idea running throughout the picture to keep viewers hooked to the conclusion, and despite a swift conclusion that reveals a major twist too quickly, the film handles itself well, and also handles its characters nicely. Copley, is always a great actor to watch, since his début in DISTRICT 9, and even his brilliant turn as the villain in ELYSIUM. He handles himself well in the role, as the stranger who at first is viewed upon by the others with an air of mistrust only to slightly win them over until another revelation threatens to unbalance his character’s reliability, in both the other members of the group, and also the audience . Despite an accent that seems to slightly waver in parts from his native South African to American, he is great to watch in this role and adds a level of quality to the cast. Credit should go to the other members of the cast, including Kretschmann who comes off as the one who might be the leader of the group at first, yet his unpredictable actions and behaviour starts to throw his character off balance, and to possibly become a threat to the others. Lopez-Gallego also shows confidence in direction.
Admittedly I’ve yet to see APOLLO 18, though most reviews I’ve heard of it have not been favourable, but he did direct a very good film from 2007, THE KING OF THE HILL, which also featured characters coming into conflict with an unseen threat in an isolated wilderness, and much of OPEN GRAVE reminded me of that film, with its use of a vast woodland, and oppressive scenes of sudden violence that occur, as well as stylistic camerawork, and point of view shots, that present the flashbacks to the characters past memory’s. I was also very impressed with the opening shot of Copley’s character waking up in a darkened mass grave, which added an intense visual start to the story.
Although with a few flaws and some slow pacing, there is still an impressive film to be found in OPEN GRAVES, and for a mystery thriller-horror, it has a great concept to keep audiences hooked and no doubt people will stick it through to the end to at least discover the final character revelations and conclusions.