Valentine’s Day is soon upon us. You (might) know what that means.
Bloody Hearts has come. Let us mock . . . Open Grave.
A man wakes up in a pit full of dead bodies with no idea of who he is or what he’s doing there. He and a handful of other amnesiacs try to figure out what’s going on.
1. Open Grave starts out well. Waking up in a pile of dead bodies? Always creepy. It’s pretty hard to go wrong with that kind of opener. Also, there’s this weird bone-cracking thing the amnesiacs do when they wake up . . . it’s unsettling and kind of awesome. For a few minutes, I even wondered if we had accidentally picked up a good horror movie by mistake.
2. Thankfully, that was not the case.
The movie’s biggest problem is that the characters are all mind-bogglingly stupid. Even for a horror movie, where characters are frequently logic-impaired, these people make no godamned sense. Their investigative technique primarily consists of random yelling. They refuse to thoroughly search shit, and when they do explore, they mostly go off on their own in clearly dangerous situations.
Like, once you’ve found the dead dude who’s missing part of his skull and has been tied to a tree . . . this is when you stop running around by yourself, okay?
And if we can briefly touch back on their appalling investigative skills? One member of the group — and this is not much of a spoiler because you find out in the first ten minutes — does not have amnesia; therefore, she knows why men who are missing part of their skulls have been tied to trees. Unfortunately, she doesn’t read, write, or speak English, which, sure, can be hard to work with. After all, Picard and Dathon didn’t reach Tamarian/Sumerian mythological understanding in an hour.
But apparently these characters have never played Charades or Pictionary before because there is almost no legitimate attempt to get answers out of this woman. One guy screams in her face about needing answers . . . before abruptly walking away without actually trying to get them. Another guy gets uncomfortably close to the woman and spouts a bunch of nonsense about feeling a shared connection . . . but otherwise makes no serious attempt to communicate in any way she might be able to actually understand.
If we saw this movie from her POV — like, if we stayed close on her story and switched up everyone else’s language to something the audience couldn’t translate — this movie might be genuinely frightening because we’d be primarily sympathizing with a woman who appears to be entirely surrounded by crazy people.
3. John Doe (Sharlto Copley) — otherwise known as the man in a pit of dead bodies — is particularly terrible at getting anything done.
He seems more interested in learning his last name (and deciding if he’s dating the pretty blonde) than figuring out what the hell’s going on with all the dead people lying around. Also, his primary method of investigation, apparently, is to find small children hiding behind padlocked doors, scream, “DO YOU RECOGNIZE ME!” at the top of his lungs, and then shoot at them in a manic frenzy when they refuse to cooperate.
Yeah. Our protagonist is kind of an asshole.
4. And unfortunately, Copley’s accent doesn’t help any.
There are no American actors in Open Grave. None of the characters need to be American for any particular plot reason. And yet a handful of the actors have American accents anyway, and while Joseph Morgan’s isn’t actually bad, Sharlto Copley’s is terrible. His voice is grating to the point where it’s kind of hard to listen to him. I liked him well enough in The A-Team — where his accent was less southern than cuh-razy — and I know he’s supposed to be amazing in movies like District 9, but . . . maybe he needs his South African accent for any serious work because his deliveries here are . . . not good.
5. The worst of the acting, though, is done by Erin Richards — previously known as the pretty blonde.
It is possible that Richards is a better actress than Open Grave allows her to demonstrate because — in fairness to her — her role is utterly useless. Still, she rarely changes facial expressions and all of her line deliveries are hideously flat. She is easily outacted by the Asian woman who never says anything at all.
6. Of course, the prettiest blond in the whole movie is actually Nathan (Joseph Morgan).
The funniest thing about Nathan: maybe halfway through the movie, he’s running around the woods on his own — naturally — and comes across a pair of glasses. He puts the glasses on and, lo and behold, begins to see glimpses of his memories through the lenses — because there’s nothing like a good pair of Flashback Glasses to give your audience clues to the plot. Mind you, Nathan has not appeared at all visually impaired up until this point. Even assuming the glasses are primarily for reading . . . Nathan is one of the few characters who has actually spent some time looking at books prior to his romp through the woods, and he didn’t seem to have any difficulty with the letters then, no matter what language they were in.
Still. Joseph Morgan’s a good looking man, and he looks kind of sexy in his Flashback Glasses, so. I’ll allow it.
There’s a limit to how much I can talk about this movie without going into spoilers — and a limit to how much time I want to waste writing about this movie at all — so let’s just get down to it, shall we?
It turns out that Jonah — formerly known as John Doe, formerly known as the man in a pit of dead bodies, formerly known as oh my God, you are NOT American — and Flashback Glasses are brothers. (This is of no surprise because Nathan instinctually feels close to Jonah — there’s a lot of instinctual ‘I trust you’ in this movie, and not a lot of fun repercussions when that trust turns out to be misplaced.) Jonah and Nathan are also doctors, and they’re here in the ass end of nowhere to save people from the Great Zombie Virus. (Okay, they’re not exactly zombies — I mean, they’re alive and all — but please. They are totally zombies.)
Our amnesiac strangers discover the zombies relatively early on, but no one ever says the zed-word or even seems particularly troubled by their existence. I mean, they’re scared of them, sure, but no one’s like, “Dude, did you see that woman in the shed? She’s, like, all messed up. We should talk about that.”
Anyway, the doctors are doing good work, helping cure the local zombie people, but Nathan fucks up somehow . . . I think he might forget to lock up, or something, and a few of the crazy people get out to infect everyone else? Doctor Jonah tells Doctor Nathan and Blondie . . . Doctor Blondie? She appears to have some kind of medical training, but I was never sure if she was supposed to be a doctor herself or possibly a nurse. Well, let’s say doctor. In fact, I could call her Doctor Sharon but I refuse to do that because she doesn’t have enough character to warrant a name. She is married to Doctor Jonah and will thus be known as Doctor Love Interest because, really, that’s all she’s there for.
Anyway, Doctor Jonah tells Doctor Nathan and Doctor Love Interest to inject themselves with the Great Zombie Antidote. Unfortunately, the Great Zombie Antidote causes temporary memory loss and there’s, apparently, not enough time to write a note explaining the barebones of the situation. In Doctor Jonah’s defense, a zombie is currently pushing him into a pit of dead people, so he really doesn’t have much time. I’m not convinced Doctor Nathan and Doctor Love Interest couldn’t have scribbled a quick ‘zombie virus/meds caused temp amnesia/army coming to kill you all’ on a Post-It or something.
Oh, and the antidote, by the way, is basically the Asian Woman’s Magical Blood.
She’s immune to the Great Zombie Virus, see. We never do learn Asian Woman’s name, but she’s referred to as ‘Brown Eyes’ on IMDb — because that totally makes her casting less problematic. (It might not be so terrible, having a literally inscrutable Asian woman as the miracle cure, if she wasn’t the only non-white person in the entire cast.)
Anyway, so that brings us back to the beginning of the movie when Dr. Jonah wakes up in his pit of dead people, and Magic Blood — which is clearly a better name than Brown Eyes — helps him out with a rope. (This will happen twice more in the movie. Dr. Jonah really loves his corpse pit.) She scampers off, and he eventually finds his way to the house of amnesiacs. There are two other guys there — one is killed early on by a barb wire fence zombie, and the other is an antagonistic bastard who doesn’t trust Dr. Jonah and is slowly turning into a crazy zombie guy himself.
Antagonistic Bastard is mostly there to yell at things and chase Magic Blood around, and I’m sure he eventually dies . . . I’m just having trouble remembering how. I think someone might bash his brain in? But who? It’s weird, how quickly I’ve forgotten some of this.
And . . . yeah. After a strong opening, the story basically breaks down into characters randomly running around, doing things that make no sense. Like, they go on a quest to find their cars — presumably to get the fuck out of there — but when they do find their cars, they just . . . go back to the house. (I mean, there’s an argument on why the cars are a bad idea. But then . . . why go look for them at all? Why not have that argument back at the house, where there are no dead people?) And the script itself is terribly repetitive at points — I’m convinced that at least a quarter of the dialogue is made up of lines like this:
“Do you recognize me?”
“Do you know my name?”
“I think I know you.”
And so on and so forth. Of course, these are perfectly natural things to say in a mystery starring amnesiac characters, but it’s almost all these guys ever say. It’s a little infuriating.
Eventually, everyone regains their memories. Dr. Love Interest and Dr. Nathan are together in the house, which is surrounded by zombies. Dr. L.I. writes a letter to Dr. Jonah in case she and Nate die and Dr. Jonah’s forced to wipe his brain again, or something. (Gee, how oddly prescient of her.) The army comes and shoots the shit out of the plague zombies, and Dr. Nathan remembers why today is such an important day — it’s the Army Comes and Rescues Us Day. Because Dr. Nathan has never seen a movie before.
Dr. Nathan goes running out into the woods, calling for the army to come. When he realizes that they aren’t here to help, he puts away his glasses, you know, so he can die like a man. And then he does, indeed, die. (Almost certainly as a punishment for fucking up in the first place. Can’t let the screw-ups survive.)
Dr. Love Interest and Dr. Jonah run away, but one of the zombie patients stabs Dr. L.I. With the army coming after them, the two run and fall into the zombie pit. Dr. L.I. is dying and gives Dr. Jonah the letter. Dr. Jonah shoots them up with the Great Zombie Antidote so that they’ll look dead when the army comes. I wish the army set the entire pit of corpses on fire — like they totally would — but instead they just leave. Boo.
Dr. Jonah wakes up later, but oh noes! The letter blows away as he stands up. (Dr. L.I. doesn’t stir, but I’m not sure if that’s because she’s truly dead, or if she’s just going to wake up later with no one to help her out of the corpse pit.) Thankfully, Magic Blood is still around, and she helps Dr. Jonah out for the third time this movie. We get to hear the letter as a voiceover, telling us all about the zombie apocalypse and Magic Blood and whatnot, and . . . well, that’s about the end of the movie.
This movie is particularly frustrating because of all the wasted potential. I love the idea of a story featuring a bunch of characters trying to figure out who they are and what’s going on, but it never seems to work out to my satisfaction. One idea that might help, at least a little: make this movie a true ensemble piece with no one protagonist. If there’s one main dude, the focus is very much on if he’s a good guy or a bad guy, and it’s not usually too hard to figure out which one is the truth. Like, when Dr. Jonah’s acting all crazy and having vaguely sinister flashbacks and such . . . it’s pretty obvious the movie’s trying to fake us out into thinking this guy is a villain, and that’s kind of boring. But if everyone is having sinister flashbacks, well, it’s a little less obvious.
And, of course, it would help if the characters would make even a little bit of sense.
Good start, pretty much bad everything else
Joseph Morgan. But that’s probably mostly because he’s pretty — I think Josie Ho and Thomas Kretschmann do an equally acceptable job in pretty lackluster roles. They can all share gold.
The most important thing is to know who you are. Figuring out why your memory is missing, why dead people are tied to trees, and why a mute woman is taking care of a crazy, zombie-like person tied up in a shack is interesting, sure, but as long as you know your full name, you’re going to be okay.