Pickin’ the Carcass: GRAVE ENCOUNTERS (2011)
PICKIN’ THE CARCASS: GRAVE ENCOUNTERS (2011)
DVD Review by Michael Arruda
All I can say is the 21st century is proving to be a gold mine when it comes to “found footage.”
GRAVE ENCOUNTERS (2011) is yet another in the growing line of “recently discovered footage” movies with documentary-style filmmaking, hand-held camera usage, and people running around screaming “Oh my God!” and “Did you hear that?” It fits right in with the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies, and films like CHRONICLE (2012) and THE LAST EXORCISM (2010).
This is not necessarily a bad thing, because I tend to like this style of filmmaking. It lends itself easily to eliciting scares.
The gimmick in GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is that a crew which films a reality TV show called “Grave Encounters,” a show about ghost specialists searching for ghosts inside houses and buildings, arranges to spend a night inside a former mental institution that is supposedly haunted.
The movie opens with the show’s producer introducing the footage, explaining how the show had held so much promise, and that all was great until the crew filmed the episode inside the institution. It would be their final episode. The producer goes on to say that the footage the audience is about to see is real, edited only for time. And thus the movie begins.
Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson), the host of the show, is busy with his small crew of camera and sound operators setting up for their latest gig. Preston interviews various people associated with the now-closed institution, and we see that Preston is not above paying people to give him phony answers. This is not a team that really believes in what they’re doing. Sure, they’d love to find evidence of real ghosts, but they don’t expect to. For Lance, it’s all about creating an entertaining show.
Their resident ghost expert, Houston Gray (Mackenzie Gray), is also a fraud. He’s seen on camera speaking about demons being present and how it’s not safe for them to be there too long, and as soon as the camera stops rolling, he laughs it up, wondering how good his performance was.
Preston and his crew are locked in at the institution for the night, and they’ve arranged for the doors to be unlocked at 6:30 am. They also can’t escape through the windows since, like a prison, the windows are all barred.
As you would imagine, as the night goes on, strange things begin to happen. Preston and his crew hear odd sounds, see mysterious apparitions, and eventually bad things begin to happen to them. Very bad things.
GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is not a bad little horror movie. I liked it for the most part, but if there’s one glaring weakness with this film, it’s that feeling of déjà vu that we’ve seen this all before. Because you know what? We have.
It’s PARANORMAL ACTIVITY in a mental institution. We know where this story is going to go. Plus, we’re told at the outset by the show’s producer that the crew doesn’t film any more episodes, and so the fate of our friendly TV crew never comes as much of a surprise.
To its credit, the movie does try to shake things up a bit. It has some weird things going on with both the building itself—doors aren’t where they once were, for example—and with the conditions outside the building. These ideas are welcome, but in the end, our TV crew is still hounded by ghosts, and their fate is nothing we haven’t seen before.
The movie works much better early on when things are creepy and eerie, and we’re not exactly sure what’s going on. Once we start seeing the actual ghosts, it doesn’t work as well. There are ghosts and shock scenes aplenty, but for some reason, these scenes just aren’t as scary as the subtle frights encountered earlier in the movie. As a result, the movie drags somewhat during its second half.
One thing I did like was the movie does a good job making its case that if ever there were a place for unhappy ghosts to haunt, it’d be a former mental institution. There are plenty of images in this movie showing what life was like for these mental patients, and because these patients were treated abysmally, it makes perfect sense that their pained spirits would be inside this building, still trying to make sense of it all, still striking back against people they viewed as their tormenters.
GRAVE ENCOUNTERS was written and directed by The Vicious Brothers. They sure have a nice name, but too bad this movie didn’t live up to it. It’s not so vicious.
That being said, I did enjoy GRAVE ENCOUNTERS better than John Carpenter’s THE WARD (2011), the movie I reviewed in my previous PICKIN’ THE CARCASS column, also about a mental institution. GRAVE ENCOUNTERS was scarier and did a better job showing the horrors of mental institutions from the past.
The cast is likeable enough. Sean Rogerson is believable as the driven host of the show, Lance Preston. He’s committed—heh, heh—to making the episode the best it can be, and once the ghostly hauntings begin, he’s the one who drives the rest of his crew to get this stuff on camera.
Mackenzie Gray also turns in a nice performance as the phony ghost expert Houston Gray.
For the most part, GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is creepy and enjoyable, but it doesn’t possess enough originality to lift it above the pack of “found footage” movies, except perhaps for the validity of its mental institution ghosts.
A mildly satisfying haunt, GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is okay, but it’s certainly nothing to be crazy about.
© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda