Grave Encounters is a frustratingly familiar yet surprisingly interesting addition to the found-footage horror catalogue. Taking a leaf from TV shows such as Ghost Hunters and Most Haunted, the film is apparently footage cobbled together from the never-aired sixth episode of paranormal investigative show Grave Encounters. Hoping to prove or debunk the supposed haunting of the abandoned Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital, the team, lead by ghost hunter Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson), lock themselves in for the night. Then bad things start to happen. Very bad things.
For all intents and purposes, the odds are immediately against Grave Encounters. In a market that is saturated with found-footage horror films, the illusion of whether or not the film is legit (remember: many thought Blair Witch was real upon release) has been well and truly sunk. Others have opted to transfer the technique to different genres (see Chronicle from earlier this year) but, in every case, these films purport to be a recording of something distressing found after the participants have either died or disappeared, with the surviving footage detailing their last harrowing moments.
Had Grave Encounters been released ten years ago, it’d be a flawed but interesting film. For what it’s worth, it does what it does rather well. For the majority of the film the sense of immediacy found with the best of this troupe is present, helped in no small part by an effective element of suggestion and lack of any discernible light source (90% of the film is lit purely by camera mounted bulbs). It also benefits from being set in a legitimately creepy location, the camera spotlights glaring down decrepit hallways that beg for all manner of night frights to run screaming into shot (which, on a number of occasions, is exactly what happens).
Yet, despite all of its plus points, (a decent pace and some good acting also help), there is not a single ounce of originality to be found, which is a shame as directors The Vicious Brothers (yes, really) demonstrate a talent of making the familiar work. However, with the likes of Paranormal Activity and Rec still doing big business, there is little room for straight to DVD titles like Grave Encounters.
Whilst it does nothing new, the film reminds us that, when done well, there are still scares to be had from an overdone sub-genre. It’s criminal that a movie like this should be relegated to DVD when The Devil Inside makes millions at the box office.
Best scare 1: The bath of blood. Sure, it’s a jump moment but the imagery still gives shivers.
Best scare 2: Our protagonists wake to find the word ‘hello’ carved on a crew member’s back.