There is no worse thing than waking up with no memory of what happened to you, even worse if you are in a pit full of corpses like the protagonist of this 2013 movie, Open Grave.
For convenience, we will call this man John, who gets help from a strange woman who does not speak his language, making his way out of this pit.
Not far away, he reaches a house where some people look familiar to him, even though they receive him by pointing guns in his face.
John also found a gun among the corpses, so no one trusts anyone because none of the guests in this house remember anything before their awakening.
Having no choice, John and the others decide to cooperate, and the next day, they venture out to explore the surroundings of the house in a vast forest where it appears no one lives.
However, they find corpses tied to trees and others hanging like macabre scarecrows as if to scare someone or something.
Meanwhile, those who had stayed home found the remains of a strange laboratory and some people still alive, tied up like animals in fences.
They initially want to release them, but these people act violently and appear to have completely lost their sanity, transforming into monsters.
When the group comes together, they all realize that before their mental blackout, they were part of the same scientific team and conducted the same mysterious experiment together.
The only question is whether these experiments succeeded or whether something traps them in those woods forever, making them fight for their lives even though they no longer remember why.
A Mysterious Journey of Isolation
Although the horror and thriller community responded differently to Open Grave, director Gonzalo López-Gallego deftly creates an atmosphere that immediately draws audiences to this 2013 movie.
Setting the story amid bleak landscapes shot in a minimalist style, Gallego enhances Eddie and Chris Borey‘s solid screenplay, which develops intriguingly backward.
Using the usual device of the protagonist suffering from amnesia, this is expanded by applying it to each character, and since we viewers are also in the dark, this technique enhances immersion and identification immensely.
The story wastes no time creating background but goes straight to the core of the mystery, always maintaining forward momentum and adding clues that unfold into progressively disturbing, terrifying, and suspenseful scenes.
Fortunately, the special effects do not rely too heavily on CGI, and the results are more convincing and enjoyable, with the infected looking like zombies but still able to communicate and reason.
The idea of the classic world pandemic envisioned by George Romero comes to mind, which many filmmakers often use as a starting point for creating their terrifying visions or discussing their favorite topics.
What issues does Open Grave address? It explores different forms of isolation, not just the medical lockdown isolation implied by the story, broadening the viewpoint to the sense of isolation and separation felt by people as close as these characters are but emotionally distant from each other.
They might be friends, siblings, or lovers, but no one knows anything about the other, and this sense of ambiguity lives on constantly until the dramatic denouement, which allows us to see for the first time the dramatic backdrop beyond the forest boundary.
Deep Woods, Deeper Mysteries
As mentioned above, excellent character portrayal by the cast, which is the heart and soul of Open Grave, brings this 2013 movie to life, aside from the mystery/horror suspense.
Of course, standing out above them all is Sharlto Copley, a South African-born actor who rose to prominence for his personality and talent in Neill Blomkamp‘s superb District 9 and Elysium, as well as later voicing the sentient android in Chappie.
In this film, he plays a character who, not surprisingly, has the cryptic name John Doe and whom we quickly discover is a very bright and dangerous person.
John is a strong, independent man who does not like to be told what to do by others and who, at times, finds himself in trouble because of his stubbornness; nevertheless, he turns out to be an excellent anti-hero, ideal for a multifaceted plot of the genre.
Not surprisingly, he soon discovers his main enemy, the equally strange Lukas, played by a superb Thomas Kretschmann, who manages to wonderfully emphasize this character’s mental disorder.
Nathan, a man of culture who speaks a plethora of languages, on the other hand, has the face of actor Joseph Morgan, perhaps a bit too young, but nonetheless convincing and more than suitable for the character.
Then, among the other visitors stranded in the woods is the silent Josie Ho, an Asian actress who does not say a word throughout the film but manages to convey the most genuine and profound feelings with her eyes and gaze alone.
Finally, we complete the circle of these survivors (or maybe not?) with the beautiful Erin Richards as Sharon, a woman whom we immediately sense has a secret she is hiding but which we will have to wait for the final revelation to fully understand.