When a group of ghost hunters who are filming for their reality TV series investigate an abandoned asylum, they get much more than they bargained for.
If you’re thinking that synopsis could apply to literally hundreds of horror movies, you’d be correct. Grave Encounters brings nothing new to either the genre or the found footage format. And yet, it’s one of the better attempts at both to come along in the last 10 years.
After a short introduction about the legitimacy of the tape presented in faux documentary, talking-head manner, the film begins with some awful acting and truly shoddy camera work -and that’s exactly the intention. Well, for the first half an hour or so, anyway. Led by an enthusiastic albeit cocky host named Lance Preston, the production crew treat the show their making as a big hoax. But when they realise the events occurring aren’t being artificially manufactured, their corny performances take an impressive turn and their fear becomes believable. A number of people I’ve spoken to about this film found it difficult to get past the first act due to its amateurish nature. But if you manage to get past this deliberate filming method, which in my opinion perfectly sums up how laughable the show its trying to be usually are, you’ll be rewarded with some genuinely creepy moments.
Utilizing a variety of cameras and positions, cameras cover a large area of the asylum. Some are static and have been set up to capture any movement (think Paranormal Activity), while others are carried around with the crew as they travel around the building. Both kinds create their own brand of tension, with the static cameras shots lingering on (mostly) empty hallways for what seems like an eternity, while the moving cameras, using night vision, carry a threat of a jump scare at any moment. It’s the former which makes Grave Encounters stand out from the rest though, as when the jolts arrive, all they seem to do is show how low the budget is by revealing unconvincing ghouls and disappointing demonic faces.
The groups lead, Lance Preston, is a huge factor in the success of the film too. He conveys an irritating host brilliantly, and frequently puts more effort into making a good show than caring about the wellbeing of his crew members. Speaking of which, no one else really makes that much of an impact but all suffice in their roles and effortlessly fall into their expected characterisations of screaming damsel, tough guy who isn’t as tough as he thinks he is, etc.
When the ‘real’ events begin, the film does lose a chunk of its appeal – the satirizing of the ridiculously fake ghost hunting shows add an unusual comedic edge. Once this has gone, it becomes a more generic affair with an admittedly unsatisfying explanation for the paranormal goings on.
Ultimately, Grave Encounters proudly, almost smugly, feeds you the same story of a haunted asylum that you’ve seen many times before complete with mostly expendable characters you’ve come to know and feel indifferent about. It’s madness is in its method, as long as you get on board early, you’re in for a hell of a ride.