I’ve never watched any of those Most Haunted type shows but I enjoy a good ghost story, Creepypasta, or shaky cam horror movie as much as anyone, and I’ll forgive any budget, acting, or other concerns if the movie does what it is supposed to – scare. Grave Encounters has a number of issues to be concerned about, but it also has good jump scares, creates some high moments of tension, and is overall a fun time.
If you’ve seen any films like this before then you’ll know the basic formula. A group of people, armed with audio and video (or digital) equipment set out to capture proof of X. A few bizarre and slight events occur at the offset exciting the group, but these events soon escalate until each member is fighting for their life. Grave Encounters is no different in that respect, but it harnesses the ripe for satire nature of the aforementioned Most Haunted shows – shows where self-important and deluded people manipulate themselves and the audience for views. Within this movie, Grave Encounters was one such show; Only five episodes were aired, showing presenter Lance Preston going around various supposedly haunted sites in the USA. Episode 6, we are told, was to focus on the famous Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital (in reality Riverview Hospital – which you’ll recognise from a host of shows and movies). Collingwood has been closed for decades and has always faced rumours and stories about being the most haunted place in America. We meet the crew – mostly charlatans or typical crew members just going about their job as anyone would. After a brief tour and some interviews, the crew are locked in the hospital by the caretaker as night falls.
Early thrills are by the numbers – doors and windows opening and closing, creepy wheelchairs moving by themselves, strange sounds emanating from the dark corridors. Things soon ramp up when the occult expert Sasha has a brush with something on camera. Freaking out, the group decides to wait for dawn in one room together. Dawn comes and goes, but outside it is perpetual night and all attempts at escape simply lead back to the hospital. It’s at this point where the Vicious Brothers tighten the noose, throwing some inventive scares at us. Many of these are similar to what have been experience on Paranormal Activity but with a greater emphasis on effects and energy. By the film’s end there are some events which hint at time looping upon itself or becoming uncertain, and we get the sense that no-one is getting out.
I had a lot of fun with Grave Encounters; it’s a perfect popcorn horror movie, best experience in a screaming crowd. That said, much of it has been seen and done before and aside from Sean Rogerson as Lance, the cast is interchangeable and unremarkable. Those CG face effects are pretty ropey the first time you see them and you know they’re going to look rapidly more ridiculous as time marches one. But the film has a big bag of tricks which the directors are more than happy to tear open and lob at you as if they are clearing a nursery of grenades. I appreciate the attempt at explanation which hints at a wider story, but the film could have been just as effective with no explanation at all. This is all explored more in the sequel – as are some of the tricks which the hospital or its inhabitants play on those unfortunate enough to enter. I do enjoy films which trick the viewer into thinking there is an obvious escape or solution, only to make it clear to us that the world of the film isn’t playing by our rules – opening a door to find a brick wall behind it, or the rewinding of the camera in Funny Games come to mind. Grave Encounters experiments with these ideas and makes the movie that bit more interesting.
Horror fans should recommend this as one of the better found footage movies of the recent million or so – it’s entertaining, has a good premise, decent execution, and some interesting ideas. The films moves swiftly, the scares and excitement come thick and fast, and the story leaves room for discussion and further entries. Let us know in the comments if you have seen Grave Encounters and what you thought of it!