31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN: GRAVE ENCOUNTERS (2011)
The characters in Grave Encounters work on one of those ghost hunting type shows that you see on constantly all over channels like Syfy and Discovery (or is it History?). Wherever they are I don't watch them. If any of these money grabbers were really ever to run into a ghost (or Bigfoot as one popular show strives for) we would know about it well before the episode aired. Until that happens, color me uninterested.
Because of this, despite the mostly positive word of mouth from the film, I was pretty much avoiding it. Then I read some early reviews of the sequel (which I believe was released on VOD this week), and for whatever reason that gave me the urge to watch this one.
I probably should have stuck to my initial instinct. This movie is by no means bad; it's actually kind of fun in parts. It's budget does constrain it quite a bit (even though this is usually a plus when you decide to go the Found Footage route), and the acting is not that great across the board. I could probably forgive the film for most of this or at least enough to give it a more positive review if it were even remotely creepy. Alas, it is not.
We are told in the film's opening that footage from the show's (it's called "Grave Encounters" if I forgot to mention that) 6th episode was found and was just too crazy and scary for us not to see. The episode is set at an abandoned mental hospital that is supposed to be haunted by former patients and medical personnel. I've never seen more than a few seconds of any of these types of shows so I assume they do a decent job of pulling this off. It seems fairly professional.
Since this is raw footage, we get to see a lot of what would be the outtakes I guess which are actually the most interesting parts of the film. The people involved in the show don't seem to believe in any of this nonsense and even hire a fake psychic (Mackenzie Gray) to make the show seem more legit. The few scenes involving the crew cracking up after a take of them spouting off some mumbo jumbo about feeling a "Dark Presence" and so on is a lot of fun. They even pay a gardener 20 bucks to say that he has seen some ghosts lurking around the hallways of the mental hospital.
Of course there does end up really being ghosts haunting the halls and the crew finds themselves in a predicament that they are not prepared for. It's a perfectly fine premise, and that alone gets you through the first half of the film with some effective tension building. Per usual when dealing with ghosts (and this is one thing that I have always found strange in movies about hauntings) they like to fuck around with you at first (one of the crew members has their hair played with, doors are opened and slammed, etc.) and then they want to kill every last one of you as brutally as possible. Why wouldn't the killing just start immediately if that is their plan all along?
Another thing that bugged me was a complete lack of any kind of payoff. I don't need everything explained to me in minute detail. I like the open ended nature of films like Blair Witch Project and even the first Paranormal Activity at least gives you some room for interpretation. But those films did not propose any crazy scenarios within the context of the world they established that gave us pause to question, or at least none that I can think of. The scene in Blair Witch where they come across what they think is a tree they had already passed hours before kept popping up in my head as an example. You don't really know if it's even the same tree, if it's the witch messing with them, or if they just suck at reading maps. And that's fine; that's exactly how a scene like that should come across. In Grave Encounters, however, we are not led to any of these kind of "Make Your Own Interpretation" scenarios. For instance, the hospital itself seems to be shifting; we see later in the film that the door they came in through from the outside just leads to a hallway the next time they open it; the food they bring in rots within a few hours of them being there; even though their watches say it's 10:00 AM it's still dark as hell outside. These are all very creepy notions, but they need some sort of explanation. You might as well have one character off screen shrugging his shoulders and saying something like "Fucking Ghosts!" because that's exactly how all of the mysteries the film proposes come off.
I probably am being a little harder on the film than I need to be. I enjoyed myself fine while watching it, and I've seen worse in this sub-genre (St. Francisville Experiment for instance). However, much like Mungo you just feel so much more could have been done with this premise and that becomes a little infuriating the more time you spend thinking about the film. I hope this doesn't become a trend this month.
Grave Encounters is available on Netflix Instant Streaming and is available on DVD and Blu Ray.