Grave Encounters (2011)
Director: The Vicious Brothers (Collin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz)
Writers: The Vicious Brothers (Collin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz)
Starring: Sean Rogerson, Ashleigh Gryzko, Mackenzie Gray, and Merwin Mondesir

The Plot: In the world of our film, Grave Encounters was a reality television program that was destined for big things. The show starred Lance Preston who, along with his team of paranormal investigators, would go and snoop around supposedly haunted locations. For their fifth episode, which would never see the light of day, Preston and his crew decided to lock themselves inside of the Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital. Although this was seen as another day on the job with nothing to fear, Preston and his crew soon began to experience legitimate paranormal phenomena. Objects start to move on their own and some team members begin to actually feel the ghosts come into contact with them. As the group becomes increasingly freaked out, they try their best to escape the hospital but something will not allow them to leave. Corridors change, doors disappear, and soon they are at the mercy of whatever spirits haunt these halls.

The Review
Varied Celluloid has never been a website that is known for keeping its fingers on the pulse. Covering all of the latest crazes isn’t a part of our style and it doesn’t fit into our interests. However, on a whim, when I decided to pop on Grave Encounters with a friend, I thought I was discovering something entirely new. Released in 2011, I had seen the trailer for Grave Encounters, but didn’t think enough of it to actually make a note of it as something that I desperately wanted to search out. Yet, here it was on Netflix and the rating looked fairly solid, so we took a leap of faith. Thankfully, this was a leap of faith that was well rewarded. Apparently there was enough success from Grave Encounters to warrant a sequel, and so now this film that I am only just discovering today is already gearing up for the release of the second movie within its series. Does it ultimately matter? No, because I believe the hype that I want to deliver for Grave Encounters might far exceed what the mainstream press might have to say about the film. Impressing me at nearly every turn, I absolutely loved Grave Encounters. To be perfectly honest, my friend and I were both completely captivated while watching the movie. It sunk its claws in early and they went deep. Standing out as a great example of the “found footage” fomula done right, Grave Encounters shows the audience why imagination is so utterly important within this field.

There are two or three very big things that Grave Encounters does right, and when these things are done so overwhelmingly correct, the filmmakers are given a pass on some of the weaker areas within their film. For starters, these filmmakers know genre pacing. They know about the regular beats that all horror movies have, and they know that the audience is in on this as well. The first quarter of Grave Encounters is all about establishing the basis for our story. Every scene seems methodical and slightly humorous as well. The audience is with the movie at this point and knows what is going on when the door to this hospital is chained up, locking all of our characters inside. They know what to expect when the cameras begin capturing haunted footage while our cameramen happen to have their backs turned. After all of the establishing scenes and the horror movie cliches, how many times have we seen a “ghost hunter” or psychic who is in reality a cynic that doesn’t believe in the supernatural, the movie hits a detour that will leave the audience raising their eyebrows. When our characters discover that the hospital surrounding them is actually changing as they move around, the film becomes something entirely different. It stops being a generic haunted house movie where our characters must survive until morning… and it becomes something less predictable, and thus much more frightening.

From the outside looking in, with very little knowledge about the movie, Grave Encounters might look promising, but certainly not special. As far as spoofs of reality “ghost hunter” television shows go, the first half of this movie is pretty spot-on. We all know the “reality” behind these television shows, but it is funny seeing the filmmakers take glee in poking fun at these shows which intend to fleece their audience. So, after the first twenty minutes of the movie, I was happy to find myself laughing quite a bit. As a viewer, it is easy to be lulled into the movie under wrongful expectations, and those expectations are what made the second half of the movie so incredibly effective. The movie gradually moves from being a behind-the-scenes look at the televised ghost-hunting business, to being a pedal-to-the-floor piece of shocking horror. The only thing that I can think to compare to the second half of Grave Encounters would be the original Silent Hill videogame for the Playstation. This second half becomes a living nightmare where our lead characters are continually haunted by invisible foes, dark shadows, cruel jokes, and corridors that change more than the rooms in Cube. All logic is abandoned during the second half, and I’m not sure when the last time I saw a horror movie play games with its audience in the same way that Grave Encounters does.

Grave Encounters is far from a perfect movie. As much as I would like to hype it up, which seems hard to do since it is a year old at the point of writing this, there are certainly some issues that might turn off potential viewers. One of the most glaring negatives, one that is promoted in the trailer, is the CGI. Although there are few striking moments of poor computer graphics, when they do pop up, they are noticeable. The most notable one is a “ghost face” that is shown shortly after the movie begins its psychotic second half, and this poor CGI actually made it into the trailer which I fear may turn some viewers off. As far as jump scares go, it takes a bit more to make me jump out of my seat than a very cheesy and very easy effect that can be created in Adobe After Effects. There is also a certain level of predictability within the movie. We know right from the outset of the movie what fate awaits our main protagonists, so the movie ultimately starts to feel like a waiting game. This waiting game is helped by moments where our characters split up and walk in opposite directions despite fully knowing that it only gives opportunity for one of them to go missing. I also found there to be no central characters to attach to. The leads are all suitably strong within their roles, but aside from them being “human,” they have no other characteristics that stand out. At one point most of the lead characters were cynics, but after they are proven wrong they have very little else to go on. The viewer just waits and hopes for the best, but only because we identify them as non-villains. It would have been nice if the film were colored with more background information about our leads, and perhaps future events that they hoped for in order to root for their survival. Ultimately, these are meager complaints. This is a horror movie, and if it is nothing more than a simply horror movie, then it is strong because of the trickery it plays on the viewer.

The Conclusion
I highly recommend the movie, there is little else for me to say. Easily, it has been the biggest surprise for me this year. Although it rarely happens, Grave Encounters put a shiver in my spine. It has many problems and most viewers will not walk away with the same reaction that I had, but being that it is currently available on Netflix Instant – I see no reason not to give it a shot. For now, I give it a four out of five. If my opinion isn’t heavily changed over time, I could see this one slipping up the rankings and maybe becoming a five. Definitely search it out and see for yourself.

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