Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A man wakes up in a pit full of dead bodies, not knowing how he got there. How did he get there? You’ll have to watch Gonzalo López-Gallego’s slow-burning thriller Open Grave to find out.
Then again, if you’re reasonably sentient, you may figure it out halfway through. Sharlto Copley (recently seen in Elysium and Oldboy) is Jonah, the man in the pit: As the movie opens, he’s just coming to, and shortly after he realizes he’s lying atop a bumpy carpet of corpses, he notices the gooey, bloody gash in his forearm. Might it be a bite mark? Just then, a half-glimpsed figure appears from above and lowers a rope; Jonah scrambles up and makes his way to a house in a wooded area where a handful of strangers — to themselves and to him — are standing around, trying to remember who they are and how they got there. (“I can speak French,” says one in a revelatory moment.) Among them are Lukas, the bossy one (Thomas Kretschmann); Michael, the unhinged one (Max Wrottesley); and Sharon, the pretty blonde one (Erin Richards). There’s also the mute, elfin waif (Josie Ho) who just may hold the secret to … everything.
No one on this grim Gilligan’s Island trusts anyone else, but Jonah, who instantly ruffles feathers by assuming leadership, is the most suspect of all. He thinks he may have done something very, very bad, but what? The road to the finale is littered with dead bodies and red herrings, but Open Grave is more notable for its laid-back approach to storytelling than for its plot twists. That’s a kind way of saying it’s sort of boring. But to his credit, López-Gallego, director of the 2011 lunar-terror thriller Apollo 18, takes a greater interest in moody, bleak atmospherics than in cheap scares. You’d expect a movie about a guy who wakes up in a pit to be rendered in shades of gray, and this one is. But López-Gallego and cinematographer José David Montero don’t go for the usual bleached-out, zombified tonalities, opting instead for crisp images rendered in suede-like shades of elephant and mole. They make even a bucketful of poop look classy. And Copley, looking appropriately gaunt and Jesusy, isn’t a terrible leading man. Haunted by the awful things he might have done, he’s remorseful one minute and resolute the next, shifting easily between the two. Jonah’s epiphany may not be all you hoped for, and it may be exactly what you expected. But Copley takes the getting-there so seriously, he almost makes you buy it.