Grave Encounters (2011)

AUGUST 12, 2011

GENRE: HAUNTED HOUSE, MOCKUMENTARY
SOURCE: DVD (SCREENER)

A frequently requested “non canon” review round these parts is Session 9, and eventually it’s going to get to the point where it qualifies for one of those “been so long I can’t remember anything about it” regular reviews. But I remember enough to know that the makers of Grave Encounters must have seen it, as not only does it involve an abandoned asylum infamous for its radical treatments (i.e. lobotomies), but at one point they seem to even directly reference the film, as a blue collar supporting character talks about a team that was hired to renovate the place, which is exactly what the main characters in Brad Anderson’s film were doing.

And while it’s nice that they have seen the (underrated/underseen) film, it unfortunately just reminded me of its existence and also that it was a lot better. Encounters isn’t a bad film, but it leaves no impact; I just finished watching and I can already sense it slipping from my memory (I’m already blanking on a few of the character names). Much like Paranormal Activity 2, it functions as a perfectly acceptable “funhouse ride” of a movie, offering a few jolts and creepy images, but it lacks that unnerving quality that keeps me coming back to movies like Blair Witch or the original Paranormal.

Ironically, the thing that kind of kept it “at bay” was also one of its more original ideas – the fact that they are not only trapped inside the building (the caretaker has locked them in while they do their investigation – more on that later), but also “lost”, in that the main door that should open to the outside world now leads to another hallway, and the very concept of time seems to be abandoned; it’s supposedly 8 am but it’s still dark outside, their food has become rotten even though they haven’t even been there for 24 hours, etc. Unfortunately, this potentially exciting/scary idea is not only never explained (the film really could use a “real world” epilogue, i.e. the caretaker returning in the morning), but it also kept me from getting caught up in the events of the film, because I had no real world experience with such a thing.

In Blair Witch there’s the whole “it’s the same log!” bit that suggests (but does not PROVE) that they have somehow been going in circles. It’s left up to your interpretation – maybe they’re just shitty at walking in a straight line. Here, there’s no such gray area – we see the door that they entered at the beginning of the movie is now another hallway, and later they find that a staircase to the roof simply leads nowhere. This makes it harder to buy into the reality of their situation; it actually worked better when they were simply having trouble telling hallways apart. To me, the further a found footage movie drifts from known reality, the harder it is to buy it as a “real” thing. Even a ridiculous idea like a giant monster in Cloverfield worked better, because everything else was grounded in reality - but here, there’s nothing to latch on to.

I was also baffled why the caretaker actually locked them in, as we learn early on that the folks on the ghost hunting team are a bunch of frauds, faking back-stories and even personas (the psychic guy who’s really just some hammy asshole). Seems to me that they wouldn’t have actually gone to the trouble of really being locked in if they weren’t legitimate hunters (and this being their 6th episode, they’re obviously used to nothing happening). Indeed, my favorite thing about the movie was not only how well they recreated the tone of these terrible ghost hunting shows that are all over basic cable (I’m not a big fan, if you haven’t been able to tell yet), but also that they make such a mockery out of them. Early on, the douchey host pays a groundskeeper to make up a ghost sighting - a funny sequence that is probably the most realistic scene in the film. But it’s a missed opportunity to draw out the tension a bit; we know that they’ve probably staged some events in their other episodes, however they quickly come to the conclusion that the things they are seeing are real. There’s a quick “are you guys screwing with me?” conversation, but it’s only about a half hour into the movie that the shit hits the fan and they all know they’re in real danger, which means that the rest of the movie is just a bunch of running around and yelling. I think having one skeptical character could have helped keep up the tension a bit, as well as make it more terrifying when even they couldn’t deny that they were truly fucked.

But again, it’s a fun enough spook-fest, with surprisingly good CGI ghouls that work much better than that awful thing at the end of the new/worst Paranormal Activity ending adding a bit of flavor. I also was impressed by the acting across the board; Sean Rogerson in particular is terrific as the arrogant host, perfectly nailing the persona of guys like the schmuck on Paranormal State (one of the most insufferable people I’ve ever had to listen to in my life, at a Q&A a few years back where State was previewing during a film festival). Ashleigh Gryzko and Merwin Mondesir are also believable as the most freaked out of the group, though their primarily “oh shit” based dialogue can get a bit grating after a while. Nothing can kill one of these movies easier than bad acting (or familiar actors), so if nothing else the filmmakers (dubbed The Vicious Brothers for some reason, as if living in a world where we already had The Butcher Brothers wasn’t obnoxious enough) have excelled in this area.

The film will be released via VOD and that sort of nonsense on August 26th, as well as (I think just) two theatrical bookings, one in NY and the other in LA. I think it would be a fun movie to watch with a crowd, since it doesn't take long to start with the jump scares and such, so if you dig these sort of movies I'd definitely recommend seeing it that way. If that's not an option, it will make a great rental, since it's not the sort of thing you'd want to watch over and over anyway. It's well made, but since it doesn't offer up anything new (well, this is the only one in which someone eats a rat, I think) or a really strong hook, I think it will just get lost in the shuffle, with so many other (better/meatier) found footage movies as of late. But I think the duo has some promise; hopefully their next project finds them in less well-traveled territory.

What say you?

10 comments:

  1. I like your blog a lot, and obviously this is a matter of taste, but your complaints about a lack of grounding in reality actually made me considerably more interested in seeing this one. I really like it when a movie's central mysteries remain unsolved/unsolvable to a point that borders on surrealism. In my opinion, that's a big part of why Calvaire was so awesome (was very glad to see that you liked that one).

    However, I'm aware that much of the time our tastes simply differ in that regard; I loved Cemetery Man and Antichrist for this reason, and find David Lynch's more "out-there" work scarier than a lot of straight-ahead genre fare. In fact, I often find myself frustrated with endings that neatly explain away a film's more bizarre elements.

    Not to say I think your opinions are somehow wrong, just pointing out that some of us dig that stuff.

    P.S. You are the primary reason I watched Insidious, Bloody Birthday, and Shocker. So, thank you. Those movies rule.

    P.P.S. For some reason I can't post in your recommendations thread, so forgive me for putting this here, but I think you'd very much like Tormented (a British slasher from 2009, unrelated to the older flick you've already reviewed). In addition to being funny and rather bleak, it sports a premise that feels like it's been waiting to happen since the dawn of the slasher--or at least since a decade ago when the media became obsessed with teen bullying and suicide.

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  2. I just finished this one, and you nailed every issue that I had with it. I found it to be pretty enjoyable, but it could have been so much more...

    The actors were great, and even though I've admittedly only seen previews of Ghost Adventures, I imagine this is exactly what's going on behind-the-scenes when they "investigate" a location. I loved that Seth Rogerson was really only an Affliction shirt away from the douchebag host of the show. The "Vicious Brothers" (ugh) did a great job of having these actors give it their all, and they had me so convinced that I almost shut it off early on, because it felt like a shitty, generic ghost-hunting show. I had to remind myself that it was a horror film, and that impressed me. Once things started rolling, though, I kept going from completely impressed to shaking my head in disbelief.

    Some of the scares were great, but by the midway point they were happening so often that it just killed the suspense. Something really eerie would take place (hysterical laughter flooding the hallways) then something really cheesy (the black arms coming from the walls and ceiling), and that sort of just kept repeating until the credits rolled. I loved the host's quick descent into madness near the end, but the final scene was just generic. I was shocked, but only in disbelief at the lack of an epilogue. I at least wanted an explanation by the producer.

    All in all, I was satisfied, but I don't think it's anything I need to watch again. I'm not a huge fan of the "found footage" sub-genre and didn't go in expecting much, but was pleasantly surprised. If everyone goes in with a mindset like that, it'll be pretty easy to have a good time with Grave Encounters. Once it gets released, I'm curious to see what others have to say about it.

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  3. Pretty decent write up, I respect the site as well but the movie was a complete letdown! I've waited for a few months to see this film and a few scares and CGI faces are the only highlights from this over hyped flick. I would encourage also a view at a theater with a nice sized crowd, you may have a better time than I did.

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  4. good write up man. I just watched this yesterday and enjoyed it. Wasn't fantastic, but wasn't bad either. I agree with you in that it makes a good rental, but not a purchase. Keep up the good work man.

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  5. Hey BC - liked ur thoughts on the film, cuz I felt the same way for the most part -its fun, and a good watch - but it didn't rivet me like it did my girl. That being said, I would recommend it without a doubt, cuz it will kick amateur's asses - but veterans of the genre may find it slightly monotonous. I saw it with Tribeca and it was more fun in a crowd. I LOVE VOD as I have a home theater system and I like seeing new releases at home in that environment instead of a theater. But yeah - better with a crowd and a brew. The rookie mistakes get smoothed over better that way.

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  6. Potentially it could've been great, but by the time they break down the front door and it leads to more halls (as opposed to the outside world) the whole movie is set up to fail. GREAT first half. EXCEEDINGLY HORRENDOUS (not in a good way either) second half.

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  7. Pretty spot on with your view bud although you probably found a bit more of interest in than I did. The reality twist I wasn't sure on. Part of me liked the ambition and imagination of it whilst the other holds the same opinion as you do. This highlights to me that the actual reality is the film wasn't interesting enough for me to even consider the question again until I read your review :)

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  8. I just saw the movie today. It was a pretty decent horror flick. It had some good visuals, nice scares, and believable acting. It's the kind of film you watch around Halloween for fun. Is it the best/scariest horror film I've ever seen? No. But it was entertaining, and that is all that matters.

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  9. I love these kind of ''ammeture immitation'' films, where most of the filming is done by a camera which is hand held by the actors. The second half of the film was a bit of a let down, found the part where the girl disapears into the mist incredibly cheesy. This movie could of been epic, instead I would call it good, however in saying this, it was the vicious brothers first release and I think they will produce some AMAZING movies as they have shown what they can already do!

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  10. I actually thought the movie was amazing LOL My bestfriend got me it on DVD and I watch it like everyday.

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