What if the producers behind the enigmatic Lost and the cannibalistic The Walking Dead joined forces for an indie horror film? The end result might look a lot like Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego’s Open Grave.
The open grave of the title is where John (Sharlto Copley) wakes up – muddied, near paralyzed, surrounded by corpses but holding a gun. A stranger tosses our disheveled protagonist a rope, and the movie begins… but stalls almost immediately. John encounters an angry group on the surface. Nathan (Joseph Morgan) and Lukas (Thomas Kretschmann) assume the Alpha Dog roles. Sharon (Erin Richards) tries to keep every calm. The main problem is that everyone on the outside of the open grave suffers from amnesia, and they can’t recall how they got to this wooded area or why they are in each other’s company.
Amnesia strikes me as the laziest of all plot devices, so shackling multiple characters with the convenient handicap nearly derails the otherwise tense and sporadically chilling Open Grave. If you’re willing to accept the mass-amnesia circumstances, you’ll find more to appreciate as Copley and his grungy castaways explore their dangerous surroundings. As the group branches out into the woods – unsure of whom they can trust, if they can trust anyone at all – they encounter mutilated bodies tied to trees and deranged people stalking the corners of Lopez-Gallego’s environments.
Wait, it’s zombies? Yes, it’s zombies.
The director employs visual cues on loan from AMC’s The Walking Dead and, of course, the undead canon of George A. Romero as he constructs Open Grave. And the movie becomes a bit of an endurance test for the audience. How long can you stay invested in this unraveling mystery as the stranded victims encounter enraged (and possibly infected) victims lurking in farmhouses or tied up in barbed-wire fences? The gore factor is surprisingly low for this horror chiller, as writer Chris and Eddie Borey try to feed the central mystery. Open Grave ends up merging Agatha Christie with The Last of Us, with varying degrees of success.
As Copley and his crew peel back the layers of the mystery, and the screaming creatures increase in number, you realize that Grave would have thrived had it come out years before the current onslaught of undead fare. Throw a rock in any direction nowadays and you are bound to strike a zombie project, from A-list vehicles like World War Z to platform gaming excursions like Last of Us. Given the choice, I’d prefer an immersive, interactive game like Us over a moderately executed but derivative effort most days of the week.