It feels like we’ve been waiting a good long while for Open Grave, since District 9 star Sharlto Copley was confirmed to star back in May 2012. A lengthy delay and a direct-to-DVD UK release might not be the most promising start, but the end result is certainly stronger than those omens suggest.
The film starts with Copley’s character waking up in a mass grave. He’s got no memory of who he is or how he has come to be there, and when he’s helped out by a mute woman (Josie Ho) and shown to a large house full of people suffering the same case of amnesia, things only get more muddled.
What exactly are these people doing here, why can’t they remember anything, and why was only one of them left to rot in a pit full of corpses?
Gonzalo López-Gallego’s (Apollo 18) thriller follows the usual rules of the group-amnesia thriller. There’s very little trust on display, people are prone to shouting and waving guns around, and fragments of memory will almost certainly be misleading.
The setting helps raise the stakes a little higher than usual, however. Where we might usually find a character chained up, or an argument over a suitcase full of money, here we have mass graves and corpses strung up from the trees as some kind of terrifying warning.
As the film moves from its high-energy opening into the slower mid-section, Open Grave relies heavily on its cast to keep us interested. Copley invests the role of “John” with his usual level of energy, and he successfully keeps the character ambiguous enough that the group’s mistrust of him feels warranted.
He’s backed up by strong work from the ever-reliable genre veteran Thomas Kretschmann (NBC’s Dracula, The Pianist, King Kong), the under-used Ho (Contagion, the barking mad Hong Kong horror Dream Home), Gotham’s Erin Richards and The Originals‘ Joseph Morgan.
Despite the fact that the twist is fairly easy to spot, Open Grave strives for an emotional impact and occasionally succeeds. It’s a little overlong and there aren’t too many narrative surprises, but there are some well-constructed set-pieces, some gruesome shocks and a strong ensemble.
If you’re looking for a grim mystery thriller, there’s enough of merit here to recommend a rental.