'Grave Encounters' Review: This is Lance Preston, Signing Off
For the final film review of our Horrortober special here at Kulture Shocked, I was given the task of writing up a treatise on the film Grave Encounters. It's tough to decide how to talk about the film, as describing real details would ruin what value does lie in watching the piece, and the visual choices are fairly simple to describe. However, I'll try to make this a review worthy of being the capstone of the month.
Grave Encounters is a film that follows the adventure of a group of reality TV ghost hunters. It opens with a network exec sitting in a chair, explaining that the footage we're about to see has only been modified to edit it down to a viewable amount. This is evident by the fact that, when we get to see the main characters, the camera constantly zooms back and forth and back again for no discernible reason from the perspective of a student in an RTVF program. Sean Rogerson, a relatively unknown actor, plays Lance Preston, leader of the crew of Grave Encounters. They're filming their sixth episode of the show, and they've lined up a showing at a supposedly haunted insane asylum. The stories from the historians and caretakers they get are the usual for a Ghost Hunters-style show, a suicide, strange sounds, eerie presences, what have you. They set up a few static cameras, and each of them carries one of their own, and they lock themselves in, supposedly for eight hours, and that's when things get weird.
The first twenty minutes of the movie are standard fare for what you might see on a poorly made parody of Ghost Adventures. The cast make intentionally gimmicky poses for tag shots, they bribe a gardener to come up with a ghost story. They admit, on camera, that all they really want is to scare the viewer, and that none of them believe in ghosts. It feels like it's supposed to be a comedy, but it fails to cross the threshold in to real humor, instead painting the characters as rather petty, fake archetypes of entertainment business people. Once the doors close though, the film loses all sense of humor, and quickly becomes the entirely serious found footage one might expect from a "horror" film. It has a few deliciously creepy, subtle bits. The crew fall asleep and find patient Ids with their correct info wrapped around their wrists. The way the movie builds the unnavigable maze that is the hospital hallways in to a terror device in and of itself is particularly entertaining. Unfortunately, there are far more bits that are blatant and poorly handled. One character gets punted down a hallway toward the camera amidst a a flash of light, and then they are never seen again. Multiple ghosts are seen from behind before they quickly turn to the camera screaming with dislocated jaws.
The production values of the film are mildly interesting, but simple. Classic found footage visuals such as shots of the ground as the characters run, night vision green globs, flashlights as the only source of lighting, etc. Combine that with the almost entirely non-existence soundtrack and the film is almost successful in making you feel as if your senses have been altered right along with the actors. Unfortunately it also falls in to many of the same traps as standard found footage films. In order to get the shots necessary to drive the plot as characters slowly disappear, static cameras exist that shouldn't as is convenient for the story. Characters turn the cameras on to themselves for no real reason. Night vision turns on and off with startling frequency, characters "document everything for posterity" after they've been locked away in an insane asylum and assaulted by ghosts for what feels like days to them. Characters have aggressive arguments about why they're filming to try and explain it, but all it really does is draw attention to the absurdity.
All things considered, if you're a fan of the found footage genre, this is a good example. If you like Paranormal Activity, this is a better version. If you like those supernatural investigator shows, this is an interesting what if scenario. Otherwise, it's not really worth the trouble.
Final Say: Skip It (Unless you liked Paranormal Activity, in which case you've probably already seen this one.)