“Found-Footage” has become less of a cinematic style in recent years and more of a genre. Thanks to similar big budget films, this new genre has taken off giving small independent filmmakers a chance to make it. It doesn’t get more low-budget than a hand held and some practical effects and it doesn’t take that much to scare people this way either. Whether you’re talking about Paranormal Activity, REC, or Evil Things, they all have that certain element of unshakable creepiness. Found-Footage can be audience splitting as well, due to the shaky camera which can be nauseating. But paranormal found-footage in particular splits people because you will either find it scary or you won’t. So with that said, if you didn’t like the example films I gave then don’t bother seeing Grave Encounters. If you loved those films, you’ll of course love this, but if you were on the fence, this entry to the genre may change your mind.
This directorial debut from The Vicious Brothers has an original story that immediately lets us know that it’s not trying to rip off other paranormal films directly (maybe indirectly). The movie starts out with a television producer-of-sorts telling the viewer about how a man by the name of Lance Preston, created a paranormal reality show (entitled Grave Encounters) in which he (Lance) and a group of investigators enter supposedly “haunted” areas to catch ghosts on camera. They were 5 episodes into their season and Lance & company were going to film episode 6 in an abandoned insane asylum. The idea was to be locked in the place for 8 hours and see if they can catch any paranormal happenings. As they prepare to do scenes, and during down time, we discover that Lance and friends are pretty much just frauds, hiring actors to be psychics and paying off groundskeepers to make up stories. Well, as they begin to spend their 8 hours locked in an empty insane asylum, things start happening that they never would have expected.
I’m not going to beat around the bush, Grave Encounters operates just like any similarly related film in terms of how it’s going to scare you and how it’s going to pace itself. BUT! Grave Encounters does what its predecessors have already done, really well. All throughout the movie there is an underlying feeling of suspense creeping in the pit of your stomach, waiting for that next “OH SHIT” moment and when those come, you’re not ready for it. Jump scares are abundant but they never wear out their welcome and by staying evenly spaced, it feels fresh every time. Just when you thought that last “jump scare” was the climatic scare of the movie, there is one that is always twice as good waiting around the corner.
All the actors give great performances that feel real and their personalities are unique enough to their characters. Dialogue can be hard to get across in a movie in which most of the characters are just screaming and yelling, “What the fuck was that?” but Grave Encounters has a nice, natural flow of dialogue. The only problem I had with these characters, is that, even though we get to know them a bit through what they say, we are never fully introduced to them in the beginning. In a movie like Paranormal Activity or Evil Things, we get a nice development of who the impending victims are. I felt a little robbed that the only guy we really get to see into is Lance Preston, the shows host and creator. He’s a total dick, not that it’s a problem, it fact it adds depth but I wish that we didn’t only get intimate with the most horrible of characters (in terms of personality).
Another comment I would like to make, is that after some point, the scares become visual and that may turn some people off. I liked it and believe me, it gets really out of control. Visual scares can be hard to pull off in a film that is meant to creep you out psychologically but I think The Vicious Brothers were able to do it.
I can’t talk too much about the movie as a whole in fear of spoiling something because Grave Encounters works on scaring you with what you don’t know. I really enjoyed this movie, there’s something about these paranormal found-footage films that really get under my skin. I can’t properly articulate it either, it might be the un-Hollywood like quality about it or the “realism” that is presented. Whatever the case may be, Grave Encounters is a frightening film that is a push in the right direction for the genre. Though it might be a little similar to its predecessors at times, this film will still make you jump, scream, and cringe. What else do you want?