Friday, December 20, 2013

Grave Encounters (2011)(Spoiler Review)

**This review contains spoilers**

Paranormal investigator Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) leads his team to Collingwood, an abandoned psychiatric hospital with a dark past, for another adventure. As the host of Grave Encounters, a paranormal reality show, Lance receives support from his team to film the latest groundbreaking episode. Sasha Parker (Ashleigh Gryzko) is the occult specialist, Matt White (Juan Riedinger) is the equipment tech, T.C. Gibson (Merwin Mondesir) is the cameraman, and Houston Gray (Mackenzie Gray) is the psychic medium. As the executive producer, Jerry Hartfield (Ben Wilkinson) anxiously awaits the footage from “Episode 6.”

The crew benefits from Kenny Sandavol’s (Bob Rathie) guidance as a caretaker, and Lance learns more about the history surroduning Collingwood with some help from Morgan Turner (Shawn Macdonald), a historian, who’s the most reliable expert on all things Collingwood.

The team prepaers to film Episode 6, and Lance wants to capture a strong sense of realism for the new episode, so Sandoval agrees to an eight hour lockdown during the night with no interruptions. During the early stages of filming, Lance’s mission to uncover the secrets behind Collingwood’s hauntings is just another a harmless and routine episode of Grave Encounters, but as the hours pass, open windows and blocked exits point to signs of a bigger problem: the crew is not alone in Collingwood. Evil forces lurking in the quiet hallways will stop at nothing to eliminate the entire crew one by one, and Lance is forced to come up with an escape plan before it’s too late.

Decent enough cast, but two unlikable characters annoyed me. He changes towards the end, but during the first half of the film, Lance is a smug douchebag, who walks around this inflated (and undeserved) ego. Houston Gray? He’s a pompous nitwit (Gray is actually a trained actor in real life), you can sense the phoniness from his persona as a “professional” psychic, and Gray‘s tacky emo look doesn‘t help anything. T.C. is the most annoying character here, because he’s always whining about everything, and it‘s not fair to judge Wilkinson‘s Hartfield. You’ll see Wilkinson during the intro, and that’s it.

Another found-footage horror film that relies on the route formula of a paranormal reality show crew investigating an abandoned and haunted building? Seriously? And of course, the crew tries to stage all the scares, but everyone freaks out, when the REAL ghosts show up. Ugh. I won’t go on another one of my long rants here, but it feels like I’ve seen the same movie fifty times or more.

Anyway, Grave Encounters deserves credit for staying true to the documentary POV. Faces are blurred during interviews, the one on one interviews feel natural (i.e. Lance interviewing Gary Crawford, a contractor, who witnessed an unexplainable attack on one of his employees), and there’s a nice intro featuring Lance, Sasha, and Matt to set up Grave Encounters. Also, Grave Encounters opens the window for a “breaking the fourth wall” dynamic. Lance bribes a local gardener named Javier Ortega, so he can lie about a fake ghost sighting, and Lance devises his fair share of strategies to catch the best shots, so he can stage the best scares.

The stupid stuff is kept to a minimum here, because after a series of attacks, Lance realizes escape is the only option for survival (initially, Lance was determined to stay no matter what, because he wanted to capture all the chaos within the asylum). Still, Grave Encounters succumbs to familiar found-footage horror tropes. You’ll see the shaky cam stuff, for the most part, predictable jump scares that are easy to telegraph, and Lance refuses to leave the cameras behind, because Lance is motivated by a moral duty to show the public the footage.

Truth be told, I was ready to trash Grave Encounters with no mercy, but the spooky stuff kicks in around the thirty-three minute mark. The crew finds a petrified Matt in a room full of bathtubs (Matt mysteriously disappeared earlier), and he’s wearing a hospital gown. The crew rescues Matt, but T.C. is pulled into a bathtub full of blood by a girl, who slit her wrist in the same tub years ago. The crew dumps all of the blood out of the tub, but T.C. disappears with the girl.

After a while, the crew realizes there’s no clear path for escape from Collingwood. Exits are blocked by moving concrete walls, and jumping out of the window isn’t an option, because the fall will kill anyone, who tries. And there’s a creepy scene, where Lance spots a bloody tongue on the floor. Lance looks up, and there’s a tongueless demon perched in the far corner of the ceiling. Good stuff.

For the finale, Lance and Sasha are the only remaining survivors, but Sasha is showing signs (vomiting blood) of an unknown illness, and Sasha disappears in a cloud of steam. Lance is alone, and he accidentally  discovers a hidden room in the tunnels. Evidence (a skull, candles, evil scriptures, etc.) suggests the room was used to perform satanic rituals, and a team of ghostly surgeons catch Lance. They perform a lobotomy on him, and to close out the film, Lance, with fresh blood running out of his eyes, signs off as the host of Grave Encounters.

Strange. During the first half of Grave Encounters, I almost fell asleep a few times, because the boredom was too much. But Grave Encounters hits you with a strong mule kick, when the evil forces show up. Although, I can’t ignore the stupidity of trusting Matt. CLEARLY there’s something wrong with him. The guy is in a hospital gown, he’s talking to himself, and Matt is visibly disturbed. During the search for an exit, Matt is just dead weight, and he’s obeying orders from the evil forces. In the end, Matt commits suicide by jumping down an elevator shaft. Matt’s suicide provides a jaw-dropping moment, but it’s frustrating to sit back and watch the rest of the team trust Matt, when they know something is wrong with him.

Is Grave Encounters perfect? No. It’s not. Grave Encounters isn’t a groundbreaking film at all, and you won’t see any freighting jump scares here. So if you’re expecting something “different,” you should look for another film.

Still, when you compare it to other found-footage horror abominations (i.e. The Devil Inside), Grave Encounters is a respectable entry in the crowded sub-genre. The cast is decent enough, you’ll some genuine gross-out moments here (the aftermath of Matt’s suicide, a deranged Lance eating a rat, the tongueless demon with a bloody mouth, Sasha vomiting blood, etc.), and when all hell breaks loose, Grave Encounters delivers a good amount of suspense and eerie tension. On top of that, the finale is a real nail-biter, and Grave Encounters ends with a nice cliffhanger, because the tantalizing unanswered questions will leave you wanting more.

Rating: 6/10

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