'Open Grave' Review: Sharlto Copley And A Pit Full Of Bodies Makes For A Disturbingly Satisfying Horror Experience

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'Open Grave' Review: Sharlto Copley And A Pit Full Of Bodies Makes For A Disturbingly Satisfying Horror Experience

By TK | Film Reviews | January 9, 2014 | Comments ()


It’s often said that some of the best horror films are not the ones that dominate the big screens of our multiplexes, but the smaller, lower budget and limited release films that are released at a staggering pace over the course of each year. Open Grave is one such film, one that may not make it to the multiplex, but that through a combination of strong performances, an innovative twist on a familiar theme, and outstanding atmosphere manages to overcome its small-time roots (and some pacing and scripting issues here and there) and become a thoroughly satisfying little horror-mystery.

The film stars Sharlto Copley (District 9, Elysium) as a man who wakes up, confused and terrified and with absolutely no memory of who he is, in a massive pit full of dead bodies, with nothing but the clothes on his back and a loaded handgun. It’s this opening scene that sets the tone for the film right off the bat, as it’s gruesome and horrific and absolutely beautifully shot. Amid the pounding rain, Copley’s opening minutes are in total silence, only to be interrupted by his horrified reaction to the carnage around him, and it’s that sense of dread and despair, of absolute confusion and terror that each character that we meet will display that makes the film’s mood work so well.

Copley’s character eventually finds his way to a large house with another five people inside, all of whom have also lost their memories. The group notably includes the extremely paranoid and distrustful Lukas (Thomas Kretschmann), a mute woman who only understands Chinese (Josie Ho), and Sharon (Erin Richards), who gamely attempts to play peacemaker. From there, the film takes a slow, agonizing journey to figure out just what the hell has happened to lead them all to this nightmare in the middle of nowhere. And a nightmare it is indeed — as the group tries to explore the surrounding area, they come across bodies displayed as horrific trophies, mindless and crazed people who attack them on sight, and other increasingly disturbing horrors.

It’s that ongoing sense of discovery that keeps the film rolling, along with an excellent depiction of what memory loss must really be like. Both of those processes are frequently fascinating, even if sometimes it occurs at a snail’s pace. Each of them inadvertently discovering things like other languages that they speak, or an innate understanding of firearms, all come as a part of a truly nifty revelation process, and the gradual discovery of who they might be is a curious and engaging one, filled with red herrings and misdirects, all of which work in the story’s favor. Director Gonzalo L√≥pez-Gallego — who unfortunately also directed the truly terrible Apollo 18 — learns from his missteps and conveys all of this in the midst of some truly horrible and grisly discoveries, which sparks suspicion throughout the group, makes the film a tense, stomach-churning experience.

It stumbles on more than one occasion, though — sometimes it feels like it doesn’t quite know what to do with its quieter moments, and there is a good bit of drag to the pacing. It often feels like there are interminably long stretches of them simply walking, purposeless and aimlessly, without any relevant or important dialogue, making it feel like simple filler. The saving grace for the slower scenes is some lovely cinematography and the surprises that inevitably follow those duller moments.

What will be most interesting about Open Grave is how viewers react to the ending, or the twist, if you will. The film ultimately ends up simply being an innovative twist on a relatively familiar trope, but it’s executed with a clever deftness that makes it seem like it’s breathing fresh air on a concept long-rendered stale. Despite its problems with pacing, thanks to its strong performances and some intense direction — not to mention sets and design that is at once both lush and terrifying — Open Grave ends up being a pleasantly surprising slice of horror.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Jezzer

    And then Willow's spell gets broken, and they all get their memories back. SEEN IT.

  • PDamian

    But -- what -- how have I not heard of this until just now? WANT!

  • kinoumenthe

    Sounds like my kind of horror movie. Will check.

  • TK

    Sorry folks, I meant to mention - Open Grave is available via iTunes and Amazon Instant Video.

  • Also, if you're not picky about the particular version of the film. I have several amateur recordings of waking up alone in a pit full of corpses. You know, for the discerning collector.

  • L.O.V.E.

    So you used to go on tour with Grateful Dead?

  • I was about to make the same joke, but using the Rolling Stones instead.

  • I'm pretty sure I figured out the twist when I first read about this movie, but it won't keep me from Sharlto.

  • crispin

    This movie is pretty bad. The acting, the story, the pacing... all dreadful. The end result of the "mystery" falls completely flat because 1) It's not very interesting or original and 2) By the time its revealed, you don't really care anymore.

    Please avoid.

  • BWeaves

    They did it! They did it!

    OK, I haven't seen the movie. I'm just guessing.

    OK, just went and read the spoilers. INTERESTING. Not my kind of movie, but at least it's a bit different.

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    You used the word "nifty". It's like I don't even know you any more.

  • L.O.V.E.

    This review is well done, but you forgot to tell us how much you charged the producers for use of your basement as a shooting location. And how many bodies did they have to Remove to fit the camera gear in there?

  • zeke_the_pig

    And where did they put the removed bodies? Is there a back-up basement? Is it basements all the way down?

  • I dislike most horror films but this sounds intriguing. It's available on VOD I take it?

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