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Grave Encounters

by

Jeff Nelson

If the execution was better, this could have been a terrifying piece of cinema.

Grave Encounters
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Ever since The Blair Witch Project was released back in 1999, a large number of independent horror filmmakers have decided to create his or her own found footage features. However, in 2007, Paranormal Activity began premiering at film festivals and that became the next big thing. It's perfect for the independent movie makers since these type of movies are pretty cheap to make and unknown cast members are actually encouraged to make the found footage feel authentic. I'm not sure how long the feature Grave Encounters has been circling the film festivals, but it's been a while now. After the success at those screenings, the film was picked up and put on video-on-demand. I've heard nothing but good buzz about this as many moviegoers were stating that this is one of the most terrifying movies to come out in quite some time. Well, a good indicator regarding the quality of the movie lies within the self-given name of the directors--The Vicious Brothers.

The stars of a paranormal-investigation TV show spend the night in a worn down psychiatric hospital, hoping to uncover what's been going bump in the night. As their cameras roll, they find themselves trapped and hunted. We've all seen or at least heard of those incredibly cheesy television shows where a group of people investigate a 'haunted building.' They actors are always so over the top and everything is so clearly fake. Well, that's what Grave Encounters is mocking. The formula of the overall pacing is very similar to The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. Before any of the hauntings truly take place, we're given a backstory of the building and what type of paranormal things have been occurring. This portion of the movie goes by slowly and it doesn't start to pick up until much later in the picture. From early on, we can tell that all of these characters are absolute tools. Therefore, we're actually cheering for them to be taken out instead of wanting to see them make it alive out of the psychiatric hospital. Once the movie really gets into it, there are moments where I found myself tensing up a bit. However, the majority of what's seen here is laughable. There are so many giant plot holes here that you could drive a truck through them. The ending is sure to make you look at your buddy with a vexed expression and laugh from the insane amount of unbelievability that takes place. The entire point of having a found footage-type feature is to make it feel like it actually happened, therefore making it feel as if it could happen to the audience. Sure, there are some eerie moments of the movie, but a lot of it is so far fetched that it comes off as tacky. The IQ levels of these characters must be in the single digits because you'll find yourself wanting to yell at screen from becoming so irritated with them. It's a shame that there weren't very many of those sequences that simply pull us in and make us feel a bit creeped out. One of which involves a bathtub filled with blood from a patient who killed herself. Instead of entire portions of the movie being decent, there are only a few moments. Such small periods of time aren't enough to pull this movie through.

One of the greatest benefits to making a found footage movie is being able to choose actors nobody knows to make it more believable. This definitely cuts down on the cost for actors. Well, Grave Encounters has an entire cast of actors who struggle on screen. The Blair Witch Project surprised many viewers that the actors were doing a lot of improv and not very much of it was scripted. Some of the acting was over-the-top, but some of the monologues felt rather convincing, such as when Heather is speaking to the camera late at night about how she misses home and is afraid to close her eyes as well as to open them. We have no such gems here. The movie stars Sean Rogerson, Juan Riedinger, Ashleigh Gryzko, Mackenzie Gray, and Merwin Mondesir. Not that any of that matters because none of these actors are anybody you're going to recognize. Perhaps the best performance seen here is by Juan Riedinger as Matt White. I don't want to spoil it for those of you who are still going to see this, but towards the end of the movie he sells the character. The two most irritating of the bunch are Ashleigh Gryzko as Sasha Parker and Mackenzie Gray as Houston Gray. Gryzko provides exactly what you'd expect, just a lot of crying and screaming, most of which feeling fake. Gray's role is very annoying as it is, but on top of that, his delivery is very cheesy. I don't expect great acting from a feature such as Grave Encounters, but I at least expect to not be laughing when they're supposed to be delivering serious dialogue. I found myself laughing quite a bit.

There aren't any surprises when it comes to the camera work. It's handheld, but fortunately isn't too shaky. A lot of people complained about how shaky the camera work is in Cloverfield. You won't have to experience any of that as the cameras are actually held fairly steady for the feature. Of course, when the characters get frantic and begin to run, there's some shaking, but it isn't too bad. The biggest tool Grave Encounters has is the psychiatric hospital itself. Even though the movie itself isn't scary, the setting most certainly is. The Vicious Brothers selected a marvelous location and have captured the rooms to pure perfection. As the characters are roaming the halls, simply exploring the place, viewers will get feelings of dread and might even have a chill or two run down his or her spine. The filmmakers have definitely used the setting to their advantage. This isn't quite like Paranormal Activity or The Blair Witch Project where nothing is really shown of what's trying to harm them. Instead, we're essentially hit in the face over and over with these ghosts. They're juming towards the camera and everything. I believe that not showing the ghosts so much would have worked to The Vicious Brothers's advantage. Instead, we have a lot of ghosts that look at the screen and drop their jaws, and have very fake looking demonic faces. I learned this trick within the first few days at film camp. If they wanted to show these ghosts so badly, perhaps they should have put more effort into the appearances of them. Grave Encounters doesn't have a tool stronger than the powerful and disturbing setting.

I'm left wondering whether or not I watched a different movie than everybody at these film festivals. Grave Encounters isn't scary. Its attempt at slow-burn horror fails in the beginning. Once the film kicks into full gear, a lot of the acting is laughable, as well as the effects with the ghosts. I like the original concept for the movie, but it simply wasn't executed correctly here. If you're looking for the next Paranormal Activity, you aren't going to find that here, although if you're looking for a flick to watch and make fun of with a group of friends, this might be a good choice. I usually am able to brush off plot holes without much of a problem, but they are so gaping here that it's impossible to ignore them. For a movie that's supposed to make us believe it actually happened, it sure feels fake. The reason why I gave this 2 out of 5 stars and not 1.5 is due to the fact that there are some moments where it's successful in being eerie and the utterly creepy setting. If the execution was better, this could have been a terrifying piece of cinema. Grave Encounters doesn't live up to the hype, however the psychiatric hospital itself is quite chilling.

My Rating = Two Stars

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