SciFridays: “Grave Encounters” (2011)

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Digital Interference Productions

Baddie – Reality television. Ooooooooh.

Lesson – Film crews always get the short stick. Always.

I’ll be the first one to admit that the movies I pick for this blog tend to be ‘creature’ flicks. Okay, almost always. The closest I’ve gotten to a haunt is American Horror Story. So here we go, a ghost story.

So far so good. Honestly, the casting, acting and dialogue doesn’t seem too far off base of the ‘ghost hunter’ type shows I’ve occasionally perused on SyFy. Actually, the acting is pretty decent in this thing throughout, until the second half. This particular film takes place in an abandoned asylum, and claims to be ‘found’ footage from a film crew, the television show Grave Encounters. 

Awwwwww yeah.

Digital Interference Productions
Awwwwww yeah.

Here’s the deal with most ‘haunted premises’ things. It’s slow. The first half takes forever, and they desperately try and keep your attention until the haunting bits start. Besides this, they’re attempting to build tension for up to 40 minutes straight. This is not an easy feat to accomplish. Unlike creature movies, haunting movies are allowed just the briefest whisper of what’s to come. Too much too fast ruins everything. To its credit, Grave Encounters did not move too fast. It held my attention and proved to be rather entertaining. Until the actual events start occurring.

Matt was pretty rad.

Digital Interference Productions
Matt was pretty rad.

Maybe it’s me. Creatures, while not more believable, are visceral and tangible. Ghosts just…aren’t. A door opening by itself is creepy, but not scary. Grave Encounters recognizes this, and plunges headfirst into crazy. There’s a lot of set up, of course, “This girl slit her writs in the bathtub,” or “Lobotomies all up and down the joint.”

I feel like I can’t really spoil much, but, I’m going to talk abut the second half, so, if you care deeply about ‘how’ everyone is terrified, then read with caution.

The premise is simple enough. The asylum is beyond just poltergeists and spookies, no, it’s a wormhole of straight-up Twilight Zone proportions. The front door no longer goes outside, time has no meaning. Food spoils within 24 hours. The corridors are twisting and winding, and there is no way out, because this is Escher’s wet dream.

Characters get picked off one by one, of course, but it’s pretty slow and doesn’t really follow standard horror trends, which I appreciated. The group dynamic is good in ghost movies because it lets everyone feed off of each other’s panic.

I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me.

Digital Interference Productions
I’m just a poor boy, nobody loves me.

grave-encounters

Digital Interference Productions

However, the second half is pretty dumb. The moments are predictable and rely on ‘AGHLOUDNOISE’ and a lot of Blair Witch-esque shooting. There are these moments, like when the team suddenly are all wearing hospital bracelets with their names on them, or raving about how they won’t be allowed out until they’re ‘better’, etc., that are cheesy. This is where the acting falters, and you can tell that the actors don’t really know how to process this particular aspect of the plot. Because it’s dumb.

See the above photo? Yeah, admittedly, coming at you in the dark, kinda alarming. Particularly through some Cloverfield-esque filming, alright, a little more alarming. But once the shock passes, it’s kinda ‘eh’.

My final verdict is something like this: If your movie relies on ‘cheap’ scares, like sudden movement and loud noises, use lots of them. If your movie relies on tension or suspense, then you should do everything in your power to flush that out. If you are making a movie about a group’s descent into madness, by all means have little breaks the entire time. If your movie is about the slow arrival of ghosts, include tiny clues in the background of the ‘footage’ the whole time. 

There is a Grave Encounters 2. It takes place in the same building, with a different team. They’re both on Netflix if the urge strikes.

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