Horror movies have found a new style meant to instill terror and give the viewer a feeling of ‘reality’ with the first person cinematography or otherwise more known as the handheld camera gimmick in “The Blair Witch Project”, the Spanish blockbuster “[REC]” and the more recent “Paranormal Activity” franchise. Sure, there are some imitators such as “Cloverfield” and the “The Last Exorcism“. I rather thought that the handheld had overstayed its welcome with “The Devil Inside” and that it had finally burned out its charm, I thought that was it for the genre....that is until I saw the Vicious brothers’ “Grave Encounters”.
The film takes the premise of a TV show called “Grave Encounters” that appears to rely on trickery, editing and suggestive elements to gain ratings. It is doubtful that they had really encountered something truly paranormal. The film begins with its producer having an interview. He narrates that his crew was shooting episode 6 in an abandoned Collingwood Psychiatric hospital where this “footage” was found. Much like the real paranormal show “Ghost Adventures”, the crew led by Lance Preston is locked down until dawn at the site so that they could collect evidence of the paranormal. Everything seems alright, and the crew appears to be having fun. That is until it all turns out more than they bargained for…just what happens when paranormal shows really do stumble on something truly, horrifically real?
One thing popped into my head when I saw this film, Anthony Hopkins' line in the 2011 horror film "The Rite": “The problem with skeptics is that they always demand proof; But they never thought of what they would do once they do have that proof.” -Father Lucas (played by Anthony Hopkins).
Totally unrelated to the film, but in many ways, that line accurately describes what this film is all about.
Being an American-Canadian production, the film starts off something that is very similar to shows such as “Ghost Hunters” and “Ghost Adventures”. It takes a little while to get things going, as the direction and writing (by the Vicious Brothers) give the viewer a feel as to how it all happens with such shows. I am not sure, but it was almost as if they were poking fun at the supposed ‘gimmicky’ paranormal shows we see today. They use manipulation and editing to instill some thrills so that the TV followers can get what they want. I guess the filmmakers wanted to give us the idea that such things when toyed upon can happen. Seriously, I really don’t think anyone in these shows would really know what to do when faced with the real supernatural.
As I was saying, the film starts off pretty slow as we get to meet our characters. Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) appears eerily similar to a character of “Ghost Adventures”, and I always was skeptical of that show than anything on TV save for “Ghost Lab”. The crew is made up of two other stars (Ashleigh Gryzko and Juan Riedinger) and a cameraman named T.C. (Merwin Mondesir), and this time, there is a fake medium (McKenzie Gray) just so they could generate more suggestive scares. It is all for showmanship after all, but that is, the joke is on them. The acting was pretty decent for the most part, albeit I have to admit that some scenes appeared to play on a little longer than I would’ve liked. It wasn’t so much as those scenes were annoying, but the direction certainly took its time on some scenes. I realize that the direction was probably trying to initiate a ‘slow burn’, and yes, the film does pay off in the 3rd act.
Yes, “Grave Encounters” does manage to instill a feeling of terror and claustrophobia. It managed to come across as a cautionary tale for those who tempt the hand of the occult. In some ways, the characters can be said to have gotten what they deserved, but after you see just how screwed they really are, I tend to feel the desperation of their situation. There is a lot of handheld camera cinematography here, and they were pretty effective. I felt that I was really with the ‘crew’, as they run around trying to find a way out; I guess it plays almost like a “Ten Little Indians“ kind of deal, and while you know that something bad was going to happen, you are glued to see exactly how it would occur. This is not a normal haunted house theme after all, the qualities of the supernatural here are different, and bear similarities to stories about the Bermuda Triangle where time and direction are meaningless.
Now, as I’ve mentioned that this is almost like a slow burn, it draws you in with the usual gimmicks (being touched and pushed) but the third act really does take off. There are real ghosts in the area and they look rather real. Mild make up effects are enhanced by CGI to make them appear very intense and scary. The jump scares are credible and the set ups are very creepy. I mean, the set designs also aided the delivery of the scares. Some scenes use the simple style of an invisible attacker, while some entities are real and very visible. The direction managed to make the environment as eerie as possible, and you are glued to see what is out in the corner. I have to admit, the scares get more intense as the film went on, and the final sequence slowed things down as if it wanted to go back to its beginning. It was an expression of a climactic closure to what we've seen.
True, some scenes did appear a little forced when you think about it, but I guess I was engaged in the horror film that I chose to ignore those minor issues. The Vicious brothers did make a credible film that is made to look like ’actual footage’, it was raw, rough and edgy, and they knew when to cut a scene to make it more effective. It is hard to really review a film whose main ace in the hole is its unpredictability so I will have to stop here. Suffice it to say, “Grave Encounters” is pretty freaky and an effective horror film. Horror fans will have a ball with it, as long as a viewer accepts the fact that the script was never made to be intricate or deep; as with handheld cameras, it isn’t telling a story but rather showing an experience.
*** out of **** "Grave Encounters" is like the love child of "The Blair Witch Project" and "REC". No, there aren't any zombies - or "infected, if you will - as in the latter, but like both aforementioned films, this one utilizes the Found Footage stylistic; with handheld camerawork galore. If you're not a fan of this movement in the horror genre, walk away. Walk away and keep on walking. I say this because "Grave Encounters" does not intend to try and do anything new in regards … more