|Review by Rich Redman|
Open Grave (2014) is a mystery-horror-survival film that stars Sharlto Copley (The A-Team, District 9), Joseph Morgan (Alexander, The Immortals, The Vampire Diaries), Thomas Kretschmann (The River, Dracula, King Kong), Erin Richards (Breaking In, Being Human), Josie Ho (Contagion, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, House of Fury), and Max Wrottesley (sorry, Max).
It is difficult to review without giving too much away, but let me give you the set-up.
John (Copley) wakes up in a pit grave. It’s night time, and it’s raining. Brown Eyes (Ho) helps him get out. They walk through the woods and come to a farmhouse. Inside are Nathan (Morgan), Lukas (Kretschmann), and Sharon (Richards).
None of them knows who they are, how they got there, or who stocked the house with so much food, water, weapons, and ammunition.
For me, the first test of any amnesia movie is whether the characters behave in a way that I consider realistic.
If they ask questions that I might ask and try things that I might try, then I am along for the ride.
In Open Grave, the characters check their pockets and the living room of the house. They find a passport (Brown Eyes) and drivers’ licenses (everyone else). They made progress toward establishing their identities, if not their relationships or their reason for being where they are.
So I was along for the second test.
The second test of these movies is how the group splits into factions and starts looking for more information. In Open Grave, Lukas is paranoid and angry from the get-go. The rest of the group let him be in charge because they have no arguments for why someone else should be.
They search the house. When the sun comes up, they search the surrounding grounds. Nothing they find is conclusive, but the dead bodies tied to trees, or hanging from them, do not reassure them.
While one party is searching a wider radius, Michael (Wrottesley) hears moaning and cries for help.
He finds a man tangled in a barbed wire fence. When Michael tries to help the stranger, I realized that the movie had been stealthily increasing the tension so skillfully that 35 minutes had gone by without me noticing.
It definitely passed my second test.
Open Grave asks us to think about whether there is some core of identity in each of us, or if we are merely the sum of our experiences. The characters in the film have emotional reactions to events, and to each other, but they have no idea why they have the reactions they do. We, as the audience, have to decide afterward if they were truly blank slates or if they maintained some unconscious sense of self.
To me, that is the best kind of genre entertainment: The kind that poses questions about real life while telling a story about aliens, ghosts, or technology (none of those things are in Open Grave, by the way).
You can have fun genre entertainment without a big idea lurking under everything else, certainly, but Open Grave goes further and does it well.
The world of Open Grave is bleak and dark enough to warm the cockles of any nihilist’s heart. It is also fast-paced, smart, and entertaining.
If you like horror movies, give this one a viewing.