Grave Encounters (2011)
I had high hopes for Grave Encounters after I saw the Trailer on You Tube six years ago. It got quite a lot of attention online, due to it jumping on the found footage bandwagon and by cashing in on the popularity of supernatural reality TV. The movie poster takes great pains to reference that fact. Shows such as Ghost Hunters and Most Haunted still pull in big TV ratings. Even I've been guilty of watching them in the past. So the idea of a TV crew investigating the paranormal and genuinely encountering it sounded very promising. Alas, Grave Encounters fails to reach it's potential in my opinion, although my primary objection hinges on a very subjective preconception. One that other viewers may not share.
The first act sets the scene very well with the documentary crew arriving at the Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital where unexplained phenomena has been reported for years. Front man Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) is a self-obsessed individual and more than happy to contrive material just to make a good show. He bribes the caretaker to make false anecdotes and colludes with medium Houston Gray (Mackenzie Gray) to get the right shots and dialogue. After setting up their equipment and getting locked in for the night a series of progressively more disturbing events begin to unfold. At first these are the standard sort of ambiguous happening that are common place on these reality shows. Doors are slammed, object are moved and footsteps are heard. The movie works very well up to this point.
After an incident with EVP and the female crew member having her hair pulled, the team are genuinely startled. It is obvious that up to this point they have never truly believed in their work. So they decide to leave the building and are forced to break through the locked front doors. It is at this point in the plot that a perfectly adequate concept is abandoned for something much more ambitious. Instead of the finding the drive and grounds on the other side of the entrance, the crew finds yet more hospital corridors. The subsequent search reveals that the building is in some sort of Möbius loop and that despite the passage of time, it remains dark outside.
It is this very bold and possibly over reaching idea that I found to be the main problem with Grave Encounters. If this had been made as a traditional horror movie, shot from a third person perspective, then such a plot shift may well have been acceptable. Because Grave Encounters is shot as a faux documentary, such a major jump in the scope of the plot simply strains one’s sense of disbelief too much. If the movie had confined itself to just a single night with some low key supernatural encounters, it may well have been a superior piece of work. As it is, it jumps the shark within the idiom of the genre, offering predictable and clearly telegraphed shocks, culminating in a rather obvious ending that steps into the realms of the occult.
People have criticised Grave Encounters for its two-dimensional characters, bad dialogue and cheap digital FXs. I think this is somewhat missing the point because these have always been the mainstay of the horror genre over the last six decades. For me the film fails because it over reaches itself and ends up falling between two stools. One critic labelled it the "bastard child of The Blair Witch Project and House on Haunted Hill" which certainly sum ups what the film makers where trying to achieve. My advice is to only watch this movie if you are prepared to be forgiving. Grave Encounters in spite of its poster tagline, is neither one of the scariest or memorable movies of the year. It is adequate but flawed.