Open Grave [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Cinedigm
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (25th August 2014).
The Film

One benefit to the continuing zombie film craze is that it’s forcing filmmakers to get more creative with how they tell the stories. No longer can someone put out a film featuring a routine group of survivors attempting to navigate a cannibalistic wasteland and expect it to be met with anything but disdain. That movie has been made a million times. Because of this, we get movies like “The Battery” (2012) and “Open Grave”; pictures that focus more on characters and less on flesh ripping. While the former has been garnering a lot of acclaim from horror fans, the latter hasn’t been met with much buzz at all. That is probably because it’s not very good. This is where making an atypical zombie film gets tricky – if you aren’t going to focus on gore & mayhem, you’d better make sure you’ve populated your universe with characters that connect with the audience. After all, without bloody eye candy (which, really, doesn’t go all that far) all viewers have to go on is strong characterization or, to a lesser degree, a very intriguing premise. “Open Grave” does feature some interesting narrative developments; the problem is they’re delivered too slowly. What takes an entire film to explain should have been wrapped up by the halfway mark because the mystery upon which everything is predicated isn’t very compelling.

A man (Sharlto Copley) awakens in a mass grave with no recollection of who he is or how he wound up there. Soon after, an unknown woman drops down a ladder, allowing him to escape. Once he’s back up top he makes his way to a nearby home, where he finds the woman along with four other occupants arguing amongst themselves. None of them remembers who they are, either. Tensions run high as everyone is accusing the others of having something to do with their current predicament, but eventually documents are found that identify each member other than the woman, who is a mute that doesn’t understand English. On a nearby calendar, the date of the 18th is circled, indicating something will happen in two days’ time. In the morning everyone decides to split up and explore the surrounding area. The man and one of the women, Sharon (Erin Richards), come across a young boy locked in a shed. The boy recognizes the man and calls to him by name – Jonah – but refuses to open the door for him out of fear. Back at the house, Michael (Max Wrottesley) hears screams coming from the field out back and goes to investigate. He finds a man trapped in a barbed wire fence, crying out in pain, but when he tries to free him the man attacks. Aside from the mute woman, the only person to stay behind is Lukas (Thomas Kretschmann), who finds a video camera down in the cellar that contains footage of Jonah performing experiments on the other members of the group.

Finally, some answers come to light as we learn Jonah was head of a medical team trying to stop a lethal virus. The problem is most of these answers come too late in the game. By now, we’ve spent over an hour wandering the woods and combing over the house, waiting for dribs and drabs of memory to slowly come back to our characters so they understand their place in this story. There are a couple decent scares to be found here, one of which occurs when Michael comes to the aid of the “distressed” man in the field. This film does take a slightly different approach to the zombies themselves. Instead of lumbering flesh eaters they’re more like the infected raging variety found in “28 Days Later...” (2002); they’re mostly harmless, shuffling around and even performing normal tasks (like chopping wood or comforting a child). Once disturbed, though, that’s when they break out into full adrenaline mode, chasing and chomping anyone in their path. The film keeps these moments to a minimum, allowing for increased tension following prolonged periods of silence. Zombie lore is kept to a minimum, too. Other than a bite infecting someone, no other traditional “rules” of zombie films are present.

Still, even with the spurts of violence the true meat of the story just sort of shambles along like the zombies of old. The mystery presented to viewers seems worthy of sticking around to watch unfold, however the process by which it delivers information is slow to the point of madness. Viewers are fed scraps before all is revealed, by which point you may be left wondering why it took so long to arrive at a conclusion that isn’t nearly as fascinating as the original mystery. Copley and Kretschmann are both solid actors to have in a cast, and nobody else here is much of a slouch either, but without strong material there simply isn’t much for them to sink their teeth into. “Open Grave” gets a commendation for thinking outside the box; it’s just too bad it doesn’t do so with a tighter story.

Video

Surprisingly enough, despite being a low-budget production the filmmakers ponied up to shoot on good ol’ fashioned film stock. It’s sad that that’s a novelty these days, but such is the current state of cinema. Expectedly, the 2.40:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image looks very filmic, with a healthy, fine layer of grain and appreciable depth to the image. The color palette here is very steely, with lots of greys and blues making up the visuals; at times it almost appears monochromatic. Contrast holds up well, whether the film is swathed in darkness or drenched in the baking sun. Detail is present but not terribly impressive, and some medium and wide shots look a little softer than they should. There aren’t many vibrant colors to deliver much pop on screen, but those that are represented here appear lifelike. Black levels look solid, though some detail is lost to shadows when things get truly dark.

Audio

The film’s English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track (48kHz/24-bit) does a more than adequate job of delivering the audio. The film’s atmosphere is immersive, thanks to some nicely balanced effects such as the roar of thunder or voices that call out from rear speakers. There are a number of discreet effects that play well in the mix, allowing for a wide range of action. Dialogue is a little thin at times, lacking presence, though for the most part things sound just fine. The score, by composer Juan Navazo, is moody and somber, even a bit moving, replicating the serious, sometimes melancholy tone on screen. An English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track is also included. Subtitles are available in English.

Extras

Not counting the bonus trailers, there is one lone extra feature here – a featurette.

“Behind the Scenes” (1080i) featurette runs for 3 minutes and 41 seconds. This brief piece provides some quick interviews with the cast & crew alongside some behind the scenes footage of the film being made.

The disc also includes some bonus trailers (1080p) for:

- “Resolution” runs for 1 minute and 51 seconds.
- “Grave Encounters 2” runs for 1 minute and 43 seconds.
- “The Facility” runs for 2 minutes and 2 seconds.

Packaging

The single disc comes housed in a Blu-ray keep case. A slip-cover is included with first pressings.

Overall

“Open Grave” gets a modicum of credit for attempting to steer the traditional narrative of a zombie film away from constant bloodshed and more toward characters on a journey of self-discovery. If only the trip was worth it because the reveals aren’t nearly as impactful as they should have been.

The Film: C+ Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: C- Overall: C+

 


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