In perfect honesty, I didn’t really want to like Grave Encounters. These last few years have shown me more found footage haunted horror than I was ever hoping to see, a fact that I worry sometimes puts me in such a pessimistic place when watching genuinely good independent films (Skew and The Feed among them). But since so many people with respectable opinions had been recommending The Vicious Brothers’ Grave Encounters and the siren of Instant Watch began to sing, it was time to drink that half full glass and try it out.
Quick Plot: A talking head interview has a reality TV producer (of such fare as Tornado Chasers) setting up the footage we are about to see. According to him, some years before the advent of Ghost Hunters, Lance Preston and his team had been working on a reality show called "Grave Encounters." Upon their sixth episode set in the vacant Collingwood Mental Institution, bad things happened…all of which was caught on video for our hungry eyes to see.
We switch point of views to that of the production team’s cameras. Wielding the equipment is cameraman T.C. (a very natural Merwin Mondesir), "occult specialist" Sasha, tech guy Matt, and faux medium Houston. Leading the team is Lance, the typical tool you’d find on these kinds of shows. Always camera-ready, Sean Rogerson’s Lance captures the perfect essence of a reality show host: well-spoken, falsely earnest, and at his heart, a true hack.
The first twenty minutes or so of Grave Encounters is spent exploring the quite creepy abandoned asylum, with town historians and caretakers providing its dark backstory. Like its predecessor Session 9, the film is able to generate plenty of eeriness from peeling paint and overturned gurneys. Thankfully, it also has a sense of humor.
See, despite some method acting and great camera angles, “Grave Encounters” (the show within the movie Grave Encounters) ain’t exactly real. Just as the intense preparation for a night in the asylum is ramping up to eye-rolling levels of earnestness, Lance & Co. reveal that deep down, most of the scares they capture are manufactured. Observe a very funny interview with a quiet new-on-the-job gardener who after a second take and $20 bill, can tell you ALL about the haunting of Collingwood based on, um, his ten-year career there.
Of course, once the sun sets and the doors are locked, “Grave Encounters” the TV show gets exactly what is always wanted: genuine ghosts.
I won’t spoil any more of this film, which is a surprisingly great way to spend 90 minutes of your streaming time. As a fairly vocal opponent of found footage horror, I had next to no expectations that I would actually like Grave Encounters. And yet, once doors started to close, furniture started to float and food went rotten, I was 100% on board with following the crew. Yes, some of the more blatant scares feel a tad derivative of other films, but most actually work, especially since each puts our characters through such a terrible limbo-like hell. The film starts out with tongue in cheek; it ends with one on a dirty hospital floor.
Lots of credit goes to the whole cast for being both natural in front of the (very close) cameras but still establishing their characters without anything forced. We never learn much about their personal lives, but each member of the team rings true and believable
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: naming characters after famous figures in and behind horror only works when it’s not obvious. Unless there really was a Dr. Arthur FRIEDKEN who performed lobotomies in the ‘60s…
With slow motion and music behind it, everything’s creepy
Ghosts generally don’t respond when you ask “Who’s there?”
When camping out in an abandoned mental asylum, consider packing Twinkies
What a refreshingly pleasant surprise Grave Encounters turned out to be. Sure, I could have used a little less shaky night-cam footage, but this is a film that is incredibly well-crafted and paced, with a great unique touch in terms of humor and scares. It’s a definite recommend and makes me anxious to see what The Vicious Brothers do next. Especially if it means changing their name. Because as much as I liked this film, I do not like typing “The Vicious Brothers.”
Yeah, I went there.