It is hard as hell to do something new in the horror genre. In a field were most fans are willing to expand disbelief and forgive certain “plot holes” you think there would a vast sea of original creative films. Sadly this is not the case. Nowadays us as horror fans mostly get to choose from either a remake (or reissue or reimagining or whatever “it” phrase those suits in Hollywood are using) or a film that is cashing in on whatever new big thing is ( lately it’s zombies, thanks a lot Walking Dead). The best we can hope for is a film maker who is willing to try a new approach. Now I’m not saying that Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego has redefined the horror genre ( Most haven’t forgiving him for Apollo 18. Haters be damned I dug the flick!) but he does at try to take a fresh approach here. Question being: Does it work?
To review Open Grave I have to be as vague as possible. I honestly feel that knowing little to nothing going into it is the best approach when sitting down with it. So I’ll give the basic plot: John (Sharlto Copely) wakes up in a pit of dead bodies and absolutely no memory of how he got there. Making his way out thanks to a mute Asian chick he makes his way to a nearby farmhouse occupied by a group of people with a similar case of ‘Can’t Remember Shits’. All they know for sure is that one (if not all) are responsible for the pit of corpse’s and no one can be trusted….not even themselves. It’s best that I stop here and just say that figuring out whats going on with the characters is part of why I enjoyed it so much.
To say that Gallego goes for a slow burn is wrong. It’s more a slow unraveling. He takes his time and doesn’t ever trip himself up when he’s upping the stakes. He slowly adds new twists and turns that add to the mystery. This unravel is done with such ease you (just as the characters) don’t realize how far into the shit storm you are until it’s time to run for cover. Open Grave plays out like Memento meets 28 Days Later just not in reverse and no full frontal shot of Cilian Murphy. That would be so weird in this movie, mostly because Murphy isn’t in Open Graves.
The group doesn’t trust each other and has no reason to, but their appears to be an inherit group dynamic from the beginning. John and Lukas (Thomas Kretchsmann ) instantly but heads with a force that feels as if its been growing for a while. Even when the group learns that the most immediate threat might not be from within you still have doubts who can be trusted. Even our hero ( Or is he!?!?) John is never really sure of himself. Is he responsible for the pit of rotting bodies? Is this his farmhouse loaded with guns? Is the hot blonde related to him (We all know we would be hoping not or at least a distant cousin.). Just when I thought I had it figured out Gallego throws another curve and keeps me guessing.
Sharlto Copely was always on my radar ( District 9 secured that!) as an actor to watch out for and 2013 has placed him on my list of favorites. He has turned out some damn impressive performances ( Old Boy and Elysium) this year and Open Grave is another to add to this list. It’s always fun watching Copely go apeshit on the big screen, but he takes a different approach here. He handles John with a calm intensity of a man who doesn’t trust himself. When shit hits the fan (and it does) Copely handles it all with a cool badassness which plays well against Kretchsmann as the suspicious rival. Copely is slowly becoming one of my favorite actors and with performances like we have here, it’s easy to see why.
The premise of characters waking in a horrible place with no memory of how they got there is a staple in the horror world, but Gallego is able to make this more than another Saw knock off. It can be slow in parts, but thankfully strong performances from the actors help carry you through these lulls. I couldn’t think of a better way to close out the year than with a flick a like this. Maybe we could take it is an omen of what 2014 has to offer…. Shit I just remembered the new Paranormal Activity comes out next week…. I spoke to soon.