Found footage films must be tricky. The acting can’t resemble the Hollywood standard we have all become used to, and the performances have to come as close as real life as possible. That means the dialog can’t be too witty, the actors should mumble and repeat themselves, and the writing should be uneven, but yet entertaining: just like real life. Now, trying to capture true-to-life reactions to a haunted insane asylum must be exceedingly difficult for most people haven’t had that particular paranormal pleasure.
“Grave Encounters” adopts the concept of other paranormal reality shows like “Ghost Hunters” and “Ghost Adventures” but adds the twist of actually making it paranormal. The reality show they’re filming is called “Grave Encounters” and they tour the U.S. to hunt for ghosts in allegedly haunted areas. If you have not ever seen a show like this, they usually don’t find anything more than a sound that could be anything and a photo of an orb they claim to be a spirit.
Keep in mind that the movie “Grave Encounters” is not an episode of “Grave Encounters.” The film opens with a producer stating that the footage you’re about to see is not doctored in any way and has only been edited to document the significant events that happen to the crew of “Grave Encounters.” So we get to see behind the scenes footage of the crew. They reveal staged performances and genuine disappointment when there is nothing paranormal occurring.
There’s Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) as the host, Morgan Turner (Shawn MacDonald) as a technician, Sasha Parker (Ashleigh Gryzko) as a videographer, Houston Gray (Mackenzie Gray) as their Medium/actor, and T.C. Gibson (Merwin Mondesir) as an additional videographer and the voice of reason who eventually gets killed. They walk around the abandoned Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital where the ghost of the mad Dr. Friedkin allegedly haunts the halls, searching for patients to lobotomize.
For an extended period of time the crew finds nothing paranormal at all and are about to call it a wrap. Then, little by little, they notice subtle things. Doors are open or closed that weren’t before, chairs move inches on their own, and Sasha’s hair is pulled by an unseen force. The crew is ecstatic about the hair gesture, and they consider it to be the first credible documentation of the paranormal. To me, this is the scariest part of the film. The subtle things that are barely noticed scare me way more than a zombie jumping out from around the corner. The chairs magically becoming stacked in “Poltergeist” terrifies me far more than the clown under the bed. I have a lot of experience with chairs. I have none with zombies.
Anyway, the crew’s excitement dwindles as the paranormal events gradually become more frequent and violent. People are pushed down stairways, Morgan goes missing, and equipment is destroyed. As Lance’s excitement swells at the idea of world-changing material T.C. uses his better judgment and wants to get the fuck out of there. Here’s where the film crosses over from gradual scares to life threatening scares. T.C. ends up breaking down the doors and discovers that all the exits lead to other hallways. There seems to be no escape from the hospital and it’s perpetually night outside. They are literally trapped inside for days.
What’s usually needed in a haunted house movie is a motive. Ghosts usually don’t haunt folks for no reason. They either want something, try to inform the haunted, or try to aid Halle Joel Osment (where is he by the way?). The ghosts in “Grave Encounters” don’t seem
to have a motive. It was an insane asylum. They may just be crazy. They do try to wrap up a motive at the end of the film, but it leaves more questions than answers. The ghosts also seem to be aware of the camera. They hide and preventively prepare themselves for the scariest reveals they can muster. They are not shy about killing though, and that’s a fairly nice reprieve from the scaring-for-scaring-sake-ghosts.
“Grave Encounters” is not really inventive enough to feel unique and not quality enough to float to the top. It’s not bad by any means, it’s just somewhere in the middle of the pack. It did give me an eerie feeling from time to time, and it took me an extra five minutes to fall asleep. I was never bored and I had fun overall. If you’re a fan of ghost stories and abandoned factories, by all means, rent this movie. Watch it in a basement with a few friends at midnight. It’s a haunted hayride of a movie.
SPOILERS THAT I WANT TO TALK ABOUT DUE TO ITS AWKWARDNESS
Lance is the only remaining member of the crew. The others have
died off or vanished in some half thought of camera trick. Attempting to escape, Lance has found his way into the basement and is attempting to walk through the corridors to a separate building. As he loses his sanity he realizes there’s no chance of escape. Then a door appears. He walks in and finds the hidden laboratory of Dr. Friedkin along with photos of his friends being lobotomized.
Lance eventually finds satanic pictographs and a journal written in a satanic language. He then turns around to see a demonic Dr. Friedkin. Lance is dragged off camera and pleads for his sanity. The camera then cuts to a lobotomized Lance claiming that he is cured and signs off. End of movie. So we were dealing with demons and not ghosts and that can explain the gravity towards torture and murder? What I want to know is who collected this footage? Did they find the other crew members and did someone find Dr. Friedkin’s evil Satan lab? How would the world react to evidence of the afterlife?