Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Grave Encounters (2011)
Another in a line of recent films that I've been hotly anticipating, Grave Encounters seeks to put a bit of a spin on the found footage sub genre. How exactly do you say? Well for starters, it's a bit of a mockumentary at the onset. Not really Spinal Tap levels of silliness but its not too far off. After a television exec gives a bit of background around a group who were shooting a pilot for a new paranormal investigation show, we are shown a video which we're told has 'not been doctored in any way.' The beginning introduces us to our cast of characters and they're all what you'd expect, characters ripped straight from Syfy and Travel channel's finest and most hokiest: a female occult expert, a psychic, a tech guy and a cameraman. The team is rounded out by Lance Preston, the lead investigator. He's not too far off from the douchebaggery that is this dude:
Lance begins talking about Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital, the site of mass lobotomies perpetrated by the resident doctor and the location of their most haunted shoot to date. They go through the routine of setting up their equipment and listening to the stories of caretakers and kids who are squatting in the facility. But when the camera stops rolling after a particular segment we see that the whole lot of them are basically full of shit. The girl isn't really a hardcore occultist, the psychic puts on this elaborate act when entering the building and walking through rooms, and our lead doesn't really seem all that committed to capturing real paranormal occurrences. Rather it seems that he's more focused on selling the idea of his show.
As you can imagine, the tables get turned and our group really comes across a horror far greater than any simple bumps and thumps in the night. But before that happens, they get locked in for the evening by the caretaker and he's told to come back at 6am sharp. They spend a significant amount of time surveying the area with Lance completely in character, his hokey, spaced out, William Shatner-like dramatically paused delivery in full effect. You're just waiting for something to happen but nothing does. This is where the filmmakers (dubbed The Vicious Brothers) do a commendable job drawing everything out and creating a bit of a slow burn. They know, that to give you the goods immediately, would ruin the film and render actions completely pointless. For the film truly to be effective, we need to see this hokey, halfheartedly believing group really break down emotionally and come to realize they aren't getting out alive.
Our investigation is in full swing when supernatural occurrences start off pretty tame: a moving wheelchair, a closing door, a brush of someone's hair. But things soon get more violent and our crew comes face to face with some of the institution's lingering residents. The first batch of scares are really effective and you are just waiting for the tipping point where this group just completely melts down and loses all hope and rational thought.
But this is where the film ultimately fails. Yes the characters 'freak out' but you don't really feel like they are breaking down and really away all that much from character. Even Lance is more concerned with capturing everything on camera. It's not until the fateful end that we really see him breaking down. For it to break away from the hokey nature it set out with you'd really need to be sold on the fear of the group with their mental faculties just completely breaking down. That never really happens. What would have worked to great effect is if the group actually had more infighting or even more terrifying than that, so determined with his footage, Lance lashes out at one of the group members and causes mortal harm. Something, anything to convey that some or all had completely lost it would have worked wonders. Instead, what we're left with are some effective scares and essentially a long episode of Ghost Adventures.
A tough balancing act and transition for sure, but one that ultimately needed to happen. Unfortunately, the film as a whole just doesn't work. I do appreciate the attempt here at doing something different. And I'll definitely keep tabs on what the meanly moniker-ed Vicious Brothers do in the future. I do think there is enough talent here to pull of something really great.
Cortez the Killer