The Vicious Brothers (Collin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz)
Sean Rogerson - Lance Preston
Ashleigh Gryzko - Sasha Parker
Merwin Mondesir - T.C. Gibson
Mackenzie Gray - Houston Grey
Juan Riedinger - Matt White
Arthur Corber - Dr. Arthur Friedkin
Genre - Horror/Supernatural/Ghosts/Found Footage
Running Time - 95 Minutes
A very popular ghost hunting show [called "Grave Encounters"] has had something terrible happen during its production, with the crew never being heard from again. Luckily, there's video footage of the final night the crew was known to exist - shown to audiences b the show's producer who claims the footage is unedited and uncensored. We're shown Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson), the host of "Grave Encounters", and the rest of his crew filming inside a Maryland asylum with a creepy history of doctors being murdered by their patients when they learned of the lobotomies the doctors had performed frequently. While Lance and his crew plan on falsifying certain aspects of the story for ratings, they soon learn that the asylum is indeed haunted - locking them overnight and proving to them that ghosts are very real.
As many of you know, I'm not a big fan of found footage films. Some of them have their place and use the concept well. Others are made just because they don't cost much to make and it's used as a business strategy to make an easy profit. Usually, I tend to avoid found footage films because they all feel the same and kind of insult me as a viewer. But surprise surprise - 2011's GRAVE ENCOUNTERS [which I watched since it was expiring on Netflix Instant at the time] kept my interest as a pretty decent found footage movie that, while derivative, used the medium to its advantage.
I think it's clever to use the whole 'paranormal hunting show' as the background to a found footage film. I've never really been interested in any of these kind of shows, pretty much feeling that most of them are fabricated to create tension and drama for ratings. I do believe ghosts exist, but not on any of these paranormal shows. GRAVE ENCOUNTERS isn't the first to use this concept, but it's one of the few that does it right for the most part. The script never tries to fool us in believing that the crew of Grave Encounters are legit. The host pretty much confirms that most of the stuff shown are things the crew has planted to create interest. Hell, the psychic in their group is proven to be an actor. When things go awry, host Lance Preston thinks the cast and crew are trying to scare him for the viewer's sake, not realizing that they really did stumble into a haunted asylum that doesn't play games with trespassers.
The only real issue I have with the script is that the characters aren't exactly fleshed out all that much. Lance gets development since we're following him through this ordeal for most of the running time, but the others just feel like token archetypes that every horror film must fill to exist. While better characterization would have created more sympathy, drama, or tension, GRAVE ENCOUNTERS isn't really about the characters. It's about the situation they're in and how their "fooling the audience" tactics have turned on them when they're dealing with some angry spirits. The story is really about the loss of skepticism and believing in things once it's too late. The ride is seeing these characters pay for their ignorance one by one until the end, which honestly isn't all that great and feels ripped off by other found footage films. It just doesn't really add anything new to the sub-genre, with the last half hitting every single beat you'd expect from a film like this. But you're still curious as to how all will pan out, which is more than I can say for other found footage movies.
My issue with found footage flicks is that the concept is usually unwarranted - only being done in order to make a low budget film for a higher profit. There's no heart and soul with these kind of films. But GRAVE ENCOUNTERS has that because Minihan and Ortiz have style, a sense of location and presentation, and a desire to create a genuinely creepy movie through cheap camera work. And for the most part, it works.
The acting is pretty solid for the most part. I thought Sean Rogerson as Lance Preston was the glue that held the film together. He does a great job playing a paranormal host who is immediately presented as a fake from the start, turning into a terrified believer by the end of the film. Honestly, he's the only actor in the film that really has a fleshed out character to play around with. The other actors play certain archetypes - the silly camera guys, the fake psychic who plays a real one on television, some cute girls - but none of them really stand out as much as Rogerson. But they all play their parts well enough. Nothing in this department will wow anyone, but it's competent considering the material.
THE FINAL HOWL