For much of the team at AndyErupts, receiving advance copies of DVDs in our mailbox is like Christmas morning re-visited. It is even sweeter for me when I obtain one of these exclusives as it allows me a brief reprieve from reviewing those seemingly inexhaustible turgid horror remakes
On this occasion it is a feature called Grave Encounters, written and directed by The Vicious Brothers. Until now I had never heard of The Vicious Brothers but I will certainly be keeping tabs on them from now on because, let’s face it, you don’t forget a name like the Vicious Brothers in a hurry.
A quick glance at the DVD cover brings my attention to some quotes from NY Press: “One of the scariest, most memorable films of the year.” and, rather excitedly, they also proclaim the movie as “Paranormal Activity on steroids.” Quite.
I don’t recall thinking during the sleepless night after my first viewing of that horror tour-de-force, that Oren Peli’s movie required “steroids”. But it was good to read that NY press enjoyed this one and offered some hope for the 90 minutes ahead.
Grave Encounters opens with a TV producer telling us that what we are about to witness is actual footage taken by a group of paranormal investigators from their last project, looking into strange activity at the abandoned Collingwood Pyschiatric Hospital.
The “found footage” method is over-used these days and is often derided but here I think it is used effectively. We are given an adequate explanation as to why the footage is here and we can understand why they are filming and why the cameras are kept on. The sheer volume of reality shows and the desperation in the fight for ratings is something we are well familiar with. While I wouldn’t exactly call the concept for Grave Encounters original – it is fundamentally House on Haunted Hill meets (REC)/Blair Witch Project – the premise of “found footage” in a ghost hunt, while satirising reality TV, is a good one.
Presenter Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) is the type of cheesy jackass you would expect to see presenting one of these shows but he is a likeable enough kind of guy. Perhaps not the smartest of ghost hunters but you have to appreciate his enthuasism as he tries to bring as entertaining a programme for its viewers as possible.
The early scenes allow us to get familiar with Lance and his team as they find their way around the premises. At this point the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously and there are some funny moments to be had. None more so than the gardener who is bribed 20 dollars to tell the camera (completely unconvincingly) that he has indeed seen a ghost during his time working there.
The remainder of the movie’s running time follows the team as they set up for the night in the hope they find some exciting footage, or even just footage that can be tampered with effectively enough to dupe the viewer. They soon find out that they get more than they bargained for. The movie then loses its way around the mid-section, as we have the usual in-fighting among the crew and the weariness of having to watch people wandering around in the dark shouting “What the fuck is that?”
What Grave Encounters really has going for it is a truly wonderful location. The Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital is not a place you would want to be walking through at night, even in a group. The long corridors and the creepy empty rooms are tinged with genuine menace. When we are following any character walking around this maze of a building there is a very eerie atmosphere surrounding them.
So let’s cut to the chase here – is Grave Encounters a frightening experience? For me, ultimately, I would have to say no. The “Brothers” have a wealth of ideas and try a range of scare tactics but it doesn’t possess the big scares that a movie like [REC] does. Specifically, I don’t think the location is used to as good effect as [REC] – where every spare inch of that infamous tenement block was used to provide chilling results.
It also lacks the sublety of Paranormal Activity, steroids or not. The demons seen here are just not terrifying enough and perhaps a less-is-more strategy would have been better employed.
However, the movie’s ending is executed well enough as the team becomes increasingly desperate to escape the premises. We also get a grisly insight into the history of Collingwood through a rather unpleasant photo album. Oh, and there is a nasty scene involving a rat.
Bonus features on the disc include a 10 minute featurette with The Vicious Brothers (who look like they should still be at school) giving an insight into the production and casting process for the movie. Also included is a trailer which shows too many of the “big” moments and should be avoided before watching the feature.
Grave Encounters is released 23rd April via Metrodome.