Open Grave uses mystery in lieu of creativity

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When people ask me where I find all the weird, obscure, messed up movies I watch, I usually reply with “they find me,” because I like to propagate the idea that I’m some kind of Schlock-wisperer, a sort of Cesar Millan for the oddities of the cinematic world.

But really, the truth is far less interesting. Normally I just find a director, actor or sub-genre that interests me, hit up IMDB and see what I can find.

Open Grave posterThis is the process that led me to Open Grave, a recent horror flick starring District 9 breakout Sharlto Copely. Ever since bursting onto the scene back in ’09, Copely’s been slowly appearing in more and more works, from the dumb but entertaining A-Team movie to that Oldboy remake I never got around to watching.

When I caught wind of Open Grave I felt inclined to take a gander, wondering at the same time why I’d never heard of it. Turns out it’s cause the movie is utter dog bollocks on a stick, but we’ll get to that.

Copely plays a man who opens the movie by waking up in a big open pit full of human corpses, without any memory of who he is or how he got there and, upon being rescued by a mysterious mute woman, finds himself alongside a group of similarly amnesiac horror movie stock characters.

There’s the opposing alpha male to disagree with everything Copely says, the girl who has no personality or characterization beyond being a girl, the panicky high-strung guy and the quiet intellectual, in addition to Mute-y McGee who helps him out at the beginning. The group are almost immediately beset by the kind of infighting and squabbling that’s been par for the course for horror movies like this since around the time central nervous systems were the hot new Fall accessory.

“I don’t trust you!” shouts one “I don’t trust YOU!” retorts the other in a piece of dialogue someone actually got paid to write. “We should find cars and run!” shouts someone “No, we should wait for help,” shouts someone else. You could practically set your watch to the first act, which plays out basically exactly as you’d expect, with the players stumbling around discovering mysterious things and yelling at each other like a heard of seals.

The film banks on the mystery element, teasing us with portents and clues, trying desperately to distract the audience from the fact that none of its characters has enough depth or complexity to interest us in any way. This isn’t helped by the fact that the acting is bland and uninteresting from start to finish.

Copely seems to spend the entire thing struggling to put on an American accent and failing, mostly sounding like the kind of thing you’d hear in a dubbed anime or a videogame, and for the most part seems too distracted with his accent to bring anything interesting to his character. One wonders why he wasn’t allowed to just sound South African, after all his co-star Thomas Kretschmann makes no effort to hide his German accent, but at the time I was more wondering why I was still watching this. Ironically, the only one who seems to put in a decent performance is Josie Ho as the mute woman, and when the best acting is by a member of the cast who never fucking talks, that should send up a red flag big enough to use as one of those tarps they drape over the top of a football stadium when it rains.

The only thing that kept me going was the hope that the solution to the mystery would be the kind of inventive, interesting twist that made horror movies like Time Crimes or High Tension stand out (and no, I don’t care what Roger Ebert said, the ending to High Tension makes sense if you pay attention). Well, the twist finally came, about a half hour after I became pretty sure what it was, and since you probably weren’t going to watch this anyway, let’s just spoil it.

Zombies.

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No really, that’s it. Turns out the characters were all scientists and guards at a research center devoted to curing a zombie plague, who dosed themselves with an experimental cure that has the side-effect of amnesia after an outbreak.

It was at this point that I realized that in a way, the film did have a certain amount of creativity, after all. It takes a unique mind to combine zombies and amnesia, a currently overused horror monster and a storytelling device that’s been overused for literally decades.

To be honest, I felt more than a little gypped afterwards. The fact that you just don’t tell me I’m watching a zombie movie for the first hour and 45 minutes of the film doesn’t do anything to make zombies more interesting. It’s just playing coy with something really boring and drab, like watching a dancer do an enticing fan dance, only to drop the fans to reveal she’s wearing a plain white t-shirt and baggy jeans.

If you’re going to pretend like there’s something interesting going on, don’t triumphantly draw the curtains back to reveal something that would only be interesting to someone who hasn’t watched a single horror movie since the early 2000s. Or at least offer me something new in the zombies themselves, rather than just have them run around screaming and biting things. Give them funny hats, make them all sound like Donald Duck, like the killer from The New York Ripper, anything!

Open Grave is a totally uninteresting, blandly made, unconvincingly acted, bottom barrel horror flick, but one with the utter gall to pretend otherwise. It’s a plain hamburger in a big box covered in question marks, like a pack-lunch left by The Riddler, using mystery in lieu of innovation, concealing just how boring and uninventive it is rather than actually doing something interesting and original.

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