Jerry Hartfield, Producer: “I want to be clear about this: What you are about to see is not a movie.”
Grave Encounters is a Mockumentary Horror film that employees found-footage, interviews, and archival footage to create a close semblance of reality. It’s a response to the glut of Ghost-Hunter themed TV shows that clogged up the airways for a few years straight (thank God that fad is over).
I was never a big fan of paranormal themed reality shows (or reality TV in general) for one basic reason: They’re all fucking fake. This is not to suggest that I don’t believe in the supernatural (the jury is still out, but I like to keep an open mind), but if proof of the paranormal were captured on video, we wouldn’t be seeing it on some lame Lifetime or Discovery Chanel entertainment series—we’d see it on CNN or another reputable news source. To its credit, however, Grave Encounters knows that most Horror fans are skeptical of this type of programming, even making some humorous, self-deprecating comments in the intro.
Check out the rest of my review after the jump.
Official Synopsis: LANCE PRESTON (Sean Rogerson) and the crew of “Grave Encounters”, a ghost-hunting reality television show, are shooting an episode inside the abandoned Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital, where unexplained phenomena has been reported for years. All in the name of good television, they voluntarily lock themselves inside the building for the night and begin a paranormal investigation, capturing everything on camera. They quickly realize that the building is more than just haunted – it is alive – and it has no intention of ever letting them leave. They find themselves lost in a labyrinth maze of endless hallways and corridors, terrorized by the ghosts of the former patients. They soon begin to question their own sanity, slipping deeper and deeper into the depths of madness, ultimately discovering the truth behind the hospital’s dark past… and taping what will be their final episode.
Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) is the host of Grave Encounters, a fictitious reality TV show. He explains for the camera that he has been compelled to research paranormal phenomenon since growing up in a haunted house. When he’s out of character, however, Lance’s words and actions reveal that he is consciously pedaling bullshit. He’s just another shyster with good looks hoping to cash in on an en vogue TV trend. As far as the film goes, this is a good thing. It puts him on the same skeptical level as the viewers while setting us all up for the terrors that await. At this point, my inner critic is soothed (because Lance and I are of like mind) and I’m even ready to buy the film’s premise. I see parallels to The Last Exorcism: In both films, a charismatic charlatan inadvertently proves what he initially setout to debunk.
Knee-jerk comparisons to The Blair Witch Project and similar ilk cannot be avoided. What sets Grave Encounters apart is that proof of the paranormal is established concussively and in spades. Whereas your typical Found Footage offering relies on “slow burn” up until a frightening yet ambiguous conclusion, Grave Encounters let’s the scares out well before the halfway point, letting them fly fast and furious. And these aren’t little scares, like shadows or the sound of a door slamming—these are big-boy, grown-up, jump out of your seat scares. And they’re not cheap thrills either; no loud noises or startles. Rather, the scary moments are milked in a way few filmmakers have the talent to pull off. First, the hair stands up on the back of your neck; it’s like being outside during an electrical storm until, suddenly, BOOM—lightning!
If Grave Encounters can be faulted, it could be for biting off too much. True, the scares get more intense as the film progresses, but the supernatural element is so prominent that the film looses its credibility. If the current best photographic evidence of ghosts consists of shadows, orbs, and floating objects, the team of Grave Encounters gathers material that’s miles beyond what’s already convincing. The result is a Mockumentary that no one could ever really believe is truth.
But if you don’t mind genre films that descend into Horror Fantasy, Grave Encounters could be a sweet treat indeed. When the building itself begins to morph, producing phantom rooms and hallways, you can imagine that the crew has fallen into some Twilight-Zone version of reality or a parallel dimension. When the hours turn to days and the sun never rises, it certainly feels like they have left our plane of existence.
If this were my film, I would have found a way to shave off at least 10 minutes to keep it from dragging in the 3rd Act. I also might have tempered a last minute shift towards an entirely new direction. I found myself asking myself, “Who’s in charge here?” Are the paranormal antagonists former patients, former staff, or aspects of the building itself? And by what rules is this game being played? Without something concrete to wrap our minds around, the result is a supernatural free-for-all that delivers good scares along with a hefty does of befuddlement.
Grave Encounters isn’t a bad film or a great film, but it’s got excellent FX, impactful scares, and (for the most part) a strong cast. Continuity in the writing is the film’s biggest weakness, but it’s an offering that most Horror aficionados will appreciate.
A sequel to Grave Encounters was released in October of 2012, so I’ll probably give that one a spin as well.
3 out of 5 Skull Heads.
|Director||The Vicious Brothers|
|Writer||The Vicious Brothers|
|Starring||Sean Rogerson, Merwin Mondesir, Ashleigh Gryzko, Mackenzie Gray, Juan Riedinge|