Grave Encounters (2012)

So, it seems that every other horror release these days falls under the umbrella of found footage, shaky cam, faux documentary nonsense. Grave Encounters is no exception, using the guise of a fictional Most Haunted-esque TV show under which to operate. What separates it from the slew of films treading familiar ghostly ground is that it’s actually a pretty solid addition to the genre with some exceptionally well executed jump scares, a handful of good performances and a more unique setting than most.

Grave Encounters is not only the name of the film, it’s also the name of the fake reality show, fronted by our fearless host Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) and staffed by a rag-tag crew including goth camera-woman Sasha (Ashleigh Gryzko) and ‘medium’ Houston Gray (Mackenzie Gray, playing the Derek Acorah role in all but name). The gang are tasked with staying the night in a long abandoned psychiatric hospital where rumours of paranormal activity (see what I did there?) abound and it’s not long before they find what they were looking for. After being shown around the place and given a brief history of the abuse the patients received at the hands of an evil doctor, before taking their revenge and killing him (can you say Dr. Vannacutt?), our crew sets up their equipment and waits for nightfall. Once the cameras start rolling, the ghosts come out to play.

Found footage horror movies are a very mixed bag. Arguably starting with Cannibal Holocaust in 1980 and going strong all the way through to 2012 with some peaks and troughs in between, some are great and hugely inventive, but others are riding the trend in a rather lazy manner, being churned out simply to make money. Grave Encounters falls somewhere in the middle, occasionally hitting on some memorable, extremely well put together scenes but suffering from the fact that, for the most part, it’s all been done before. For every [REC] there is a Zombie Diaries, for every Troll Hunter there is a Devil Inside and for every Paranormal Activity there’s a Paranormal Activity 3, just waiting to scare you witless in the most derivative fashion possible.

Instantly we are aware that the cast and crew of Grave Encounters will meet an untimely end as the film starts with a Producer explaining that what we are about to see is the sixth and final episode of the show. You could argue that this robs the film of some of its tension but the apprehension here doesn’t come from whether its characters will die, rather how and when they will die, and it certainly does get tense in places.

Without wanting to ruin any of the surprises there are several scenes that had me jumping in my seat and making indecipherable noises at the TV. Because found footage movies are all filmed in the first person, that affords them a certain immediacy that is absent in other films, turning the audience into a character and placing them right into the action. This works particularly well in Grave Encounters and it’s easy to lose yourself in the events on screen and imagine you’re sharing the protagonists nightmare. Not only does Grave Encounters excel in making you feel like an extra character, it also does really well at making the abandoned hospital, in effect, an extra character too. It almost feels like the building is alive at times and it’s disorienting never being sure whether what’s happening is real or whether the long night and ghostly activity is playing tricks on our characters minds.

As far as the pacing goes, Grave Encounters suffers a little from a slightly saggy middle area but mostly, the action skips along as it should, with one criticism being that perhaps there could have been about five or ten minutes shaved from the running time and it would not have affected the story at all.

Grave Encounters covers familiar territory but it does it in a much more self aware and restrained way than most of its peers, never blowing its wad too soon in an effort to shock. It’s a wonderfully old fashioned ghost story told through very modern means and contains enough effective scares to please almost any horror fan. It’s not a perfect film by any means; some of the acting can veer towards hackneyed at times and it’s not quite fresh enough to deserve a remarkably wide audience but it’s an entertaining enough way to spend 90 minutes if you’re not already tired of the gamut of similar movies. Give it a shot.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

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