FEARNET Movie Review: 'Open Grave'


By now you're probably familiar with the "injured guy wakes up in a terrible place and struggles to figure out how he got there" horror film premise. Probably best known from Saw (Part 1, from way back in 2004), it's a clever storytelling gimmick that can (in theory) jam the viewer right into the horror with the central character. We get to discover clues as the lost, unhappy protagonist does, and this gives the viewer a vested interest in seeing how things turn out. Opening a thriller on an immediate mystery can help a movie find its feet in Act I -- or it can make a film's opening moments feel like a dreary and uneventful slog.

Fortunately the gritty new indie thriller Open Grave does have some decent payoffs for those who are interested in playing along (and are willing to contend with a few slow spots in the movie's mid-section) will find some novelty here. It doesn't hurt that the star of Open Grave is the always intriguing South African actor Sharlto Copley, who is considerably more sedate here than he's been in flicks like The A-Team and Elysium. Mr. Copley is fun when he runs a little wild, but he's good at playing a mild-mannered and clueless victim for a good percentage of Open Grave.
Chris and Eddie Borry's screenplay evokes some of the more familiar themes found in this type of story (Who am I? How did I get here? Can I trust anyone? Oh, and why am I half-buried in a pit filled with rotting corpses?!?!) but it also gets some mileage out of basic stalk, chase, escape, and fight material. Open Grave is not exactly a plot-heavy affair, so let's just say that after making his escape from the mass grave, our hero(?) discovers some very angry people close by. And these people think he's dead.
A marked improvement over Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego's previous film (that'd be the ill-fated Apollo 18), Open Grave works mainly because of Copley's compelling performance, but there'a also some solid support from Erin Richards and Thomas Kretschmann, a rough and sometimes gruesome demeanor, and even a few mild (if unpleasant) surprises along the way. Open Grave might not be the most unique horror film you'll see this year, but come on: how many unique horror films do you see each year, anyway?