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Movie Review: “Open Grave”

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If you took the DNA of Alfred Hitchcock and Christopher Nolan, placed it in a centrifuge, mixed it up to perfection, and left it in an incubator to grow, the results would be “Open Grave.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am NOT saying that this film is anywhere near the level of Nolan’s mind-blowing masterpiece “Memento,” nor am I decreeing that it should be spoken aloud in the same sentence amongst any of Hitchcock’s best works. I am simply stating that if the screenwriters’ (relative newcomers — I’m pretty sure, literally – Chris and Eddie Borey) goal was to create a film in which the narrative diabolically plays with the minds of moviegoers and the characters simultaneously, then they’ve successfully hit their mark.

Even when you think you have the plot all sewn up, it hits you with a new twist — and it’s not a gentle nudge either. This movie is filled with out-of-the-blue attacks that continuously smack you right on the noggin with the force of Prince Fielder, which is a good thing too. The staggering amount of instances in which you’re struggling to figure out where and when the next plot twist is coming causes enough of a distraction so that you never notice the plethora of plot HOLES throughout. Well played Borey boys… well played.

However, even if you have a keen eye for detail and happen to notice all or most of the plot holes, it doesn’t take away from the overall cinematic experience — if what you’re looking for is a murder mystery that somewhat starts at the end, slowly unravels, and keeps you guessing the entire time. If you’re looking for a taut psychological thriller and/or a dramatic, intellectual think-piece, then you should probably walk around this  “Open Grave.”

Oh… wait. Before you make your final decision, let me tell you about the zombies.

That’s right, ladies and gentleman. Somebody has made yet another film involving zombies — or at least

Sharlto Copley in "Open Grave"

The start of Sharlto Copley’s No Good, Very Bad Day…

in this case a vague version of zombies. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. As it stands, I happen to like zombie movies… when they’re done correctly that is. However, this does not happen very often during these sad days of undead drought. What I mean is, for every successful “World War Z” type of film, there’s always an awful, B-movie equivalent that follows it. You know, one of those horribly-bad, SyFy “Movies of the Week,” which come complete with horrible acting, an even worse script, and high school film project-level special effects. So, you’ll have to excuse me if I cringe whenever I see the word zombie attached to a film’s storyline. Now that I come to think about it, this is probably the reason why the synopsis of “Open Grave” made no mention of the “zed-word” within it.

That being said, the zombies (or whatever they are, considering they’re more like Danny Boyle’s “infected” zombies than George Romero’s “undead” zombies) play a very tiny part in the story and don’t actually appear until the film’s third act. Plus, by the time they do make their way into the proceedings you hardy even notice they’re there. This is due to all those aforementioned, headache-inducing plot twists that you’ll be dealing with, so there’s really no time for zombies.

The premise is simple. Leading man Sharlto Copley (of “District 9” “The A-Team,” “Elysium” and most recently “Oldboy” fame) plays a mysterious man who wakes up in a real-live nightmare. He’s cold, wet and alone. He’s trapped inside a deep, dark pit and lying amongst a prolific pile of rotting, decaying human beings; none of which looks the least bit familiar to him. If that’s not bad enough, he has no idea who he is or how he got there and to put the proverbial icing on the corpse-filled cake, he has a loaded gun in his pocket. So, now he thinks that HE might be responsible for filling this particular pit with dead people, which pretty much means that the audience is meant to come to this gruesome conclusion as well. So, let the murder mystery begin!

As the thunder crashes and the lightning flashes, further adding to the might-be murderer’s anxiety (not to mention, making him look much more menacing to moviegoers — unintentional alliteration!) a rope is lowered down to him from a shadowy, unknown woman — who stares at him as if she knows him, but who HE has no recollection of whatsoever. Ahhh… the plot thickens. However, it gets much thicker. In fact, it has just begun to congeal.

The woman just happens to be a Japanese mute. This means that not only is she completely unable to

Sharlto Copley looking good in "Open Grave"

Would you still be considered a narcissist, if you looked like this ?

communicate verbally to anyone, she is also unable to write down any of her thoughts in a language that anybody can understand. So the mute woman (played by “Contagion’s” Josie Ho) leads the dirty, nameless man who smells like corpses to a shady, isolated house, which lies in the middle of dense patch of creepy forest. This shady, isolated house is occupied by a equally frightened group of “amnesiacs” (played by Thomas Kretschmann, Joseph Morgan, Erin Richards and Max Wrottesley) who are “all in the same boat” (as one of them so aptly puts it), which means that not one of them has any idea as to who they are, why they’re there and how the hell they got there. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again — dun…dun…dunnnnnn!

From this point on, all of these questions get answered eventually, but that’s not the fun part. The fun part is trying to differentiate as to who the good guys and bad guys are, which is not so much of an easy task, believe me. The writers do a fantastic job with keeping the mystery fresh and exciting. Like I stated earlier, every time you think you have it figured out, something else is added to the mystery machine. Seriously though, if you want to create an atmosphere of ambiguity, there is no better way to do so than a tale in which all the main characters have amnesia. Therefore, every time THEY are given a clue as to who THEY are, WE receive that same clue. It’s like a whodunit in real time. I mean, it’s been done before AND it’s been done better (i.e. “Memento”), but still, “Open Grave” is a pretty solid effort overall.

Speaking of atmosphere, Spanish director Gonzalo-Lopez Gallego (who also helmed 2011′s surprise hit, “Apollo 18″) does a commendable job at creating a never-ending sense of impending doom. From the opening scene involving that nasty pit of dead bodies, everything goes downhill from there and that’s a hard environment to create. The series of events that follow this tense opening sequence is the equivalent to a jigsaw puzzle created by Clive Barker — every piece seems to fit with the next one, but you’re not really sure if you WANT to see the whole picture when it’s finished.

Now, I’m NOT going to divulge anymore of the storyline, because if I wrote down one more word about the plot, it would be considered to be in spoiler territory. That being said, I will  disclose one further notion, as I believe it will help you figure out whether or not you’ll want to watch this film or not..

‘OPEN GRAVE” IS NOT A “SAW” RIP-OFF.

There, I said it.  It does NOT follow the repetitive storyline of that particular franchise; where a group

Josie Ho and the rest of the cast of "Open Grave"

… among the fields of zombies.

of individuals wake up in an unknown location, only to slowly unravel the fact that some unknown individual (well, in the first one he was!) is messing with them. I know, I know. I’m a jerk. I might have totally ruined this film for some viewers. Well, if you’re the type of moviegoer that gets excited to see a “Saw” rip-off and then gets upset when this specific cinematic dream of yours is ruined, then you probably wouldn’t like a film like “Open Grave” anyway. So, in the end, I might’ve saved you a couple of bucks. You’re welcome.

If you are a fan of films that slowly unspool and present themselves in unique ways, then “Open Grave” is for you. Now, it may not be a groundbreaking film. In fact, many writers and directors have made superior thrillers revolving around the subject matter of amnesia (“Identity,” “Pandorum” and “Shutter Island” are recent films that come to mind, as well as the brilliant Playstation 3 game”The Last of Us”), but it’s been a while since I’ve seen a mystery that has utterly blindsided me as much as this film did. In other words, it has an ending that completely took me by surprise. Let me tell you what happened. Well, see, first the mysterious man went to… Nah, I’m just kidding. I’m not that big of a jerk.

Anyway, this is a film in which you end up caring about a group of well-developed characters who are placed right into the middle of an interesting and fleshed-out plot (although, not the most original), which is presented with a modern flare in an old school, Hitchcockian way.

Even if it does borrow heavily from the cinematic works of others, “Open Grave” uses a novel enough approach that it deserves respect and, at least, merits ten minutes of your time, so you can watch the opening sequence. If you’re not hooked within those ten minutes, I will personally shoulder all of the blame.

However, the ten spot you shelled out for OnDemand are on you. So, in the end, I guess I didn’t save you a couple of bucks. Maybe, you should’ve watched “Saw II” again instead.

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