OPEN GRAVE (2013)
Review by Paul McMahon – “The Distracted Critic”
“My attention span isn’t what it should be. As such, I rarely watch a movie from start to finish. If the action drags, if I start to feel antsy, I’ll pause it and walk away. I tally those “time outs” at the end of the column, so you know how often the movie is likely to bore you. That is, if you’re anything like me.” –The Distracted Critic
I found OPEN GRAVE (2013) while culling my “watch” list. I have no memory of adding it. Before deleting it, I pulled up the trailer on YouTube, fully expecting to jettison it from my list without a second thought.
Holy crap, was I wrong. The trailer not only left me breathing quicker, it saddled me with such a deep need to learn what was going on, that it felt like something writhing under my skin. I couldn’t possibly pass something like that up. Especially since I can’t recall ever hearing anyone talking about it.
The first image is a pair of staring eyes. We take them for the eyes of a corpse, until they blink. The man wakes in pain, his joints creaking and cracking as he forces his body to move. He sits up, pats his pockets, and comes up with car keys and a butane lighter. He discovers a bloody wound on his arm that hurts to touch. Following this, he looks around and realizes he’s woken in pit half-filled with dead bodies. Lightning reveals someone looking into the pit from above. Our guy discovers a revolver just as the person at the top throws down a rope.
Because he doesn’t know his name, we’ll call him “John Doe” (Sharlto Copley, DISTRICT 9, 2009, and ELYSIUM, 2013), which the other characters will dub him later on. John reaches the top of the pit, then follows a path through a wooded area and finds a house. He opens the door and enters, leading with the gun, making his way toward voices that have no clarity. When he turns a corner into the room, another man points a rifle at him. They have a standoff. Our guy with the revolver tells the small group he doesn’t remember his name, but he knows the Asian woman cowering on the far side of the room threw him the rope, and he wants to know why. The man with the rifle wants to know why John Doe killed all the people in the pit.
A body on the floor screams and writhes, joints cracking every time he moves. When he can speak, he reveals that he doesn’t know who he is, either. A redheaded woman tells John that none of them do. This leads them to search their pockets. Each of them discovers an ID, so now most of them know their names. John Doe and the Asian woman remain nameless, but she’s listed in the credits as Brown Eyes (Josie Ho, DREAM HOME, 2010, and CONTAGION, 2011).
The redhead, Sharon (Erin Richards, THE QUIET ONES, 2014 and Barbara Kean on TV’s GOTHAM), tells John that all of them woke up in the house half an hour before he showed up. The rifleman, Lukas (Thomas Kretschmann, KING KONG, 2005, and WANTED, 2008), confronts John to let him know that he doesn’t trust him. John assures Lukas the feeling’s mutual.
John moves to search the house, and the man who’s woken on the floor, Nathan (Joseph Morgan, who plays Klaus Mikaelson on two TV series, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES and THE ORIGINALS), goes with him. John goes into a pantry and finds a calendar showing the month of April. Every date has been x’ed off from the first to the sixteenth. The eighteenth is circled. John brings in Brown Eyes and points to the calendar. She nods excitedly and points to the calendar as well. Big help, that.
Soon after, Brown Eyes leaves the house. John, Lukas and Sharon follow her through the woods. They find bodies secured to trees with barbed wire. Other bodies are strewn about the sides of the path. Eventually, the trio comes across a run-down cabin. Inside, Brown Eyes is feeding a filthy woman chained to a post. She’s crazy, but she recognizes John and tries to attack him. The group’s suspicion of John grows.
In the woods, though, not all the bodies tied to trees are dead… and not all the bodies among the trees are incapacitated.
The script for OPEN GRAVE, by Eddie and Chris Borey, spent a number of years on Hollywood’s infamous “Blacklist.” This is a list of the best unmade scripts circulating among producers. It’s in good company, as quite a few memorable movies spent time languishing in this pre-discovery hell. Some of them, 2008’s IN BRUGES and THE WRESTLER, as well as 2010’s THE BOOK OF ELI, turned out quite good, while 2012’s ARGO (which I still haven’t seen) won the Best Picture Oscar.
Director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego (APOLLO 18, 2011) has made my watch list with OPEN GRAVE. It’s taut and fraught: taut with mystery and fraught with tension. While the characters sometimes seem to change their wants and needs at the slightest whim, it’s eventually revealed that their memories are coming back to them bits at a time, knocking their focus from question to question depending on what memories are surfacing at any given time. By the end, the questions all seem to be answered, but I have to admit I’m looking forward to revisiting it in a while. I felt like I’d missed a few things that will become clear upon a second viewing.
Extra kudos go to the writers for never once allowing the characters to speculate on where they are, which avoids the inevitable debate about whether they’re in heaven, hell, or purgatory. The characters never doubt that they are alive and on Earth, and as such we are allowed to follow the mystery without any threat of “divine intervention.”
I enjoyed this one a lot. It was fun to try and guess which way the plot would lead next, and though I started to figure out what was happening about halfway through, it didn’t really gel until the director wanted it to. There were even a few instances that surprised me. I recommend this one, definitely.
I give OPEN GRAVE three and a half knives…
…And one time out.
© Copyright 2017 by Paul McMahon