Editor’s Note: Open Grave is now open in limited release and on VOD
The term “cold open” seems especially apt for Open Grave’s introductory ten minutes, given the bracing chill that accompanies being tossed so unaccommodatingly in at the deep end. This is a film that appreciates the necessity of catching the audience’s eyes from the get-go; it’s telling that it should open on a pair, then, pulling back from their panic-ridden pupils to reveal the eponymous pit in which their owner lies, laden with dozens of bodies sporting gruesomely fatal injuries. “We’re all in the same boat here,” says one of the equally amnesiac characters we meet mere moments later, and it’s a sentiment that extends to the viewer too: Open Grave isn’t just an excitingly engaging action thriller here, it actively involves and engrosses us whether we care to be or not.
…much as the bedraggled figure on whom we open clambers his way out of this putrescent pit, so too must writers Chris and Eddie Borey approach the even ground of explanation, a firmer territory if a far less exciting one.
Perhaps its plight is inevitable then: much as the bedraggled figure on whom we open—played with wide-eyed wariness by a buff and bearded Sharlto Copley—clambers his way out of this putrescent pit, so too must writers Chris and Eddie Borey approach the even ground of explanation, a firmer territory if a far less exciting one. Exiting the exploitative arena where director Gonzalo López-Gallego has such sumptuous fun with gore, the movie leaves behind a certain edginess as it introduces new characters and clarifies the goals they share. It’s survival, namely: awoken alone in a sizeable house in the woods, seemingly far from any other civilisation, they know not whether they are hunter are hunted, whether each should fear or trust the others.
And there—however much creaky work from the brothers Borey in their debut feature script as a team might distract us—lies the lingering appeal of Open Grave: the unending uncertainty of it, casting us in the same role of moral difficulty and chaotic confusion as its characters. It’s familiar territory for López-Gallego, whose excellent effort King of the Mountain shared a minimalist set-up and quasi-horror tone; what it doesn’t share, to its detriment, is the same breakneck pace. More often here, time is taken by conversation, which given the necessarily ill-defined characters and more unnecessarily clunky dialogue, can’t but slow the pace and make the movie one simply less interesting than its premise deserves.
It’s familiar territory for López-Gallego, whose excellent effort King of the Mountain shared a minimalist set-up and quasi-horror tone; what it doesn’t share, to its detriment, is the same breakneck pace.
These problems only grow as the narrative trudges forward and fresh new discoveries are made as to identities and intentions. Especially egregious is the final third, which coats its overwrought revelations in an excess of slow-motion effects and soaring, sappy scoring. Here the storytelling issues have grown so significant as to overwhelm even the direction; appearing occasionally with a nasty set-piece—be it a barely-living body draped over barbed wire or a collection of corpses strapped to trees—that reminds us just how effectively gruesome that intro was, López-Gallego fights firmly but futilely to keep things more interesting than not. And yet wherever else the movie might falter, these grotesque images refuse to ever allow us to entirely disengage
He is, alas, the Sisyphus to the rock that is the script, coming so close to pushing it up over the edge only to have it roll right back and leave him flattened every time. It’s difficult not to feel for the fellow as the final reveal comes, retrospectively rendering the movie less a neat little thriller title of its own than a low-rent B-side alternate on one of last year’s big blockbusters. What a shame it is, to start with such potential and eventually aspire only to reside in the shadow of something else; Open Grave has the curious effect of tossing us deep into a pit of death and decay, and eventually making us sorry to have left there.
[notification type="star"]52/100 ~ MEDIOCRE. Open Grave has the curious effect of tossing us deep into a pit of death and decay, and eventually making us sorry to have left there.[/notification]