Open Grave banner

What’s Happening on the 18th?

Imagine waking up outside in the dead of night, and it’s pitch black except for brief flashes of lightning in the distance.  Your body is painfully stiff; you’ve been there for quite a while. The ground below you feels wrong, it’s too pliable, it’s squishy, and you hear the faint screams of someone in distress far away. You reach into your pocket and find a lighter which you flick desperately, hoping for that small illumination to show you what you’re now kneeling on and it comes to light. You’re surrounded by corpses, dozens, maybe hundreds, in the bottom of a very deep pit. Nausea hits you hard and you vomit onto them, terrified because you have no idea where you are, how you got there, or even who you are. You can’t remember anything. A woman’s face appears at the rim of the pit and you call to her for help, but she disappears. A moment later she’s back with a rope, and you’ve found a gun. This is the opening scene for a movie that never made it to the big screen in North America.

That scene puts the viewer in the character’s mind so completely that there’s no chance they’ll be walking away until they find out what happens to this amnesic man next. Written by Eddie and Chris Borey (Eddie previously wrote Dearly Beloved (2009) but this is Chris’s first major project), this film expertly keeps the viewer on their toes using a single plot device: no one knows what’s going on, not even the characters. 

Open Grave

Sharlto Copley plays the man in the pit and becomes the main character in a cast of amnesiacs after following his rescuer through the forest to a secluded house. The others know their names, but only because they found their driver’s licenses and passports.  When they search the house they discover stores of food and clothing, as well as medical books, notes, weapons and lab equipment. The only person who seems to know what’s going on is a mute woman who doesn’t understand English. A calendar hangs on the wall with the days crossed out, but there’s a big circle around the 18th. Something important is happening on the 18th. While the group looks for clues, they know that there is a threat somewhere, but not what or who it is. It could even be one of them. Reluctantly, they decide to go out into the woods to explore and realize they are not alone. More horrors are found in the trees surrounding their house and they’re going to have to choose to work together to survive, disregarding the roles they’ve forgotten or their immediate need to figure them out. 

Open Grave

While some characters experience unhelpful grainy flashbacks, others discover that they have exceptional weaponry skills or speak multiple languages. Nathan realizes that he understands medical terminology when he leafs through one of the many reference books piled around the house. As they try to figure out what is going on, it becomes more apparent that the mute (Josie Ho) knows what’s happening but can’t figure out how to explain it to them. 

Director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego excels at maintaining our confusion, volleying between vulnerable one-on-one conversations where characters display emotions while racking their minds for any memory, and horrific scenes of gory horror that call into question the motive of each person. While they all seem genuinely distressed and confused, they are also capable of being the secret bad guy. It’s psychological horror blended with something zombie-adjacent, but what is with the obviously dead corpses hanging from the trees?

Open Grave

A lot of creativity went into writing this story, blending traditional horror settings and tropes with a surprisingly smart premise to bring us something totally different. It’s unusual for a low-budget film to keep the audience guessing from start to finish, but this one does. Viewers are constantly reminded that nobody knows what’s going on, but every now and then the mute woman’s reactions betray that supposition. Maybe this isn’t just a horror flick about a group of people who have lost their memories during a zombie apocalypse, maybe it’s more. 

The pacing in Open Grave is excellent. The actions the characters take are reasonable given the limited information we know they have, as are their reactions to the unknown. The more they uncover, though, the weirder the story gets, and just when you think you’ve figured out the mystery, you haven’t. The premise for the movie is not new, we’ve seen amnesia before, but this one is done with enough skill that the viewer really doesn’t know what’s happening until the characters do, and the full truth is not revealed until the last few minutes of the film. 

Open Grave barely made a dent in the world when it was released in 2014, grossing less than half a million dollars worldwide. Filmed in Hungary, it was only ever played in Egypt, Italy, EAU, the Philippines, and Thailand, which is too bad because the film is really good. New viewers will find the plotline scarier than those who saw the film in 2014 but I can’t say why specifically without giving it away, and the movie relies on our inability to put the pieces together until the end to work.

It is not flawless; some people will have issues with the editing, but for a low-budget pre-pandemic film, it’s definitely worth a watch. Now streaming on Tubi.


More Film Reviews