Thursday, December 4, 2014

Grave Encounters

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion, that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! The movies is the only place where ghost hunting shows are actually interesting and things actually happen that aren't the product of an overactive imagination.

Grave Encounters –3 out of 5

It’s a rare day that I find a “found footage” film to be a decent or even a good film but, like a unicorn that shits ice cream cones, sometimes the impossible happens and I find something from this subgenre that actually works, has decent acting, and actually has a bit of intelligence working for it.
Shhh...the ghost hunter is sleeping.

The film opens with a man named Jerry Hartfield (Ben Wilkinson) and he tells us that everything we are about to see is real (but it's not really) and was collected from a closed down psychiatric hospital that is believed to be haunted (Wow, so this film actually shows the “found” part of “found footage?”). 
"We also found a whole host of celebrity sex tapes in that hospital for some reason."

What the tapes show is a man named Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) who is hosting one of SyFy’s favorite bits of programming; the ghost hunting show.  Together with his crew and a fake psychic, they venture into an asylum that has long believed to be the source of hauntings.  Despite their jokes and clear skepticism, they soon learn the horrifying truth…something is with them in the dark halls and patients’ rooms and it won’t let them leave. 
I don't know what the big deal is, the ghost clearly can't even get in the hospital.
The role of the caretaker for the hospital was played
by Kris Kristofferson's stand-in.
Pretty much every “found footage” film fails to really adequately explain why the filming is happening beyond the false belief that everyone loves filming themselves at all times.  Usually, when the “found footage” films is a mockumentary the filming makes absolute perfect sense and when it is done under the pretense of ghost hunting, filming everything makes 100% sense and that’s something Grave Encounters did perfectly.  They never have to sit and explain why they are filming this instead of getting the fuck out of the situation because their sole reason for being in the situation is for filming.  These aren’t people who put a camera in their bedroom to capture a ghost rather than get the hell out of the house like any normal person would do.  These are entertainers out to make a show and there was absolutely no point did I find myself asking, “Why are they filming this?”  Even when the shit hits the fan and ghouls are chasing them, it still makes sense why they are filming because isn’t the whole point of ghost hunting is to document ghosts?  Hell, even when they are being chased by a ghost, it comes off more believable than other “found footage” films because it doesn’t look like they are being chased and somehow keeping the camera at eye level but rather they are letting it hang lower and actually running.  Sure, the film is still mindful about keeping the ghosts and plot points in focus and in frame so they won’t make the film completely incomprehensible but, compared to other “found footage” films, Grave Encounters felt a little more authentic.
Big deal...I have that same thing spray-painted on my own front door.

Another thing that had me with this film was the fact it wasn’t afraid to have some fun.  Terrible moments that were, on paper, to be meant for comedy—like one of your unlikable hauntees asking the other hauntee to use the camera meant to capture their boring haunting for a sex tape—aren’t here.  Instead, you get a group of characters who aren’t afraid to parody the more douche-y characters seen in some ghost hunting shows and are really not afraid to show that not all on these shows actually believe in the supernatural and will lie, cheat, and bribe people to get stories and try to collect some sort of fame. 
Actually, these people are far less douche-y than almost all ghost hunting shows.

There’s a very amusing moment where Preston gives 20 bucks to a groundskeeper and asks him to lie about a ghost and another when it is revealed that the psychic is just pretending and making up “feelings” and stories from “ghosts” in order to help make the show have thrills and spectacle.  This made the film a little more human and not afraid to have some fun with the entire thing.
The groundskeeper is either frozen with fear over his lie or thinking about how
many items he can get at McDonald's with that 20 he just got.

This is how Republicans see Obamacare.
Okay, so having a little fun with your ghost story isn’t a bad thing and the movie really balanced that out so it didn’t accidentally become a dark comedy but, at the end of it all, it’s still a horror movie.  So, is Grave Encounters scary?  Short answer, no.  Granted, it has a great setting that is creepy and it provides a lot of jump scares; however, the jump scares are far too predictable and, like most “found footage” films, it wastes all its potential to have some chilling spooks taking place in the background.  I also wish the film did a lot more with ghosts because the film often relies too heavily on its surroundings for creeps and the fact that hospital keeps changing in order to prevent the people from leaving.  However, the fact that it really didn’t scare me shouldn’t be taken as a bad thing.  The atmosphere is still really strong in the film and it is still spooky…just not scary.
I'm not a psychic myself but I see this psychic likes to spend his off time at
the tanning salon.

Hmm...the psychic appears to be floating above the
floor...I'm sure he's fine and nothing sinister is
One thing I really enjoyed about this film was the added element to the story of how the hauntings in the hospital were preventing the people from simply walking out the front door.  This is always the answer that a lot of characters in “found footage” for some reason ignore and it only makes the characters feel less realistic and takes me out of a subgenre that is sold on being “real.”  The characters to this ghost hunting show are locked in by the caretaker and that, in and of itself, would be enough to explain why they aren’t just tossing the cameras and running away while their pants fill with excrement—HOWEVER, the film does one better and shows them breaking down the door that is chained from the outside…only to find another hallway in the hospital behind it.  Exit doors will become walls, turns in the hallway will lead the crew to another level of the building and no two ways through a hallway will lead to the same area.  Additionally, time is travelling at a different speed in the hospital and the crew soon learn that was suppose to be a single night in the hospital has become much longer as time is moving at a different speed.  It felt very House of Leaves-y to me and I really enjoyed this unique element thrown into a stereotypical haunting.
Here's some more night-vision shit.

"In our hunt, I will make a ghost pull my finger."
Lastly, let’s talk about the actors and their acting.  I’m not going to say the cast is loaded with stellar acting but none of them are terrible at all.  For the characters they are playing, they are all doing their jobs perfectly acceptably and never did any of them really throw me out of the story with subpar acting.  I’ll admit that I was worried that I was going to be groaning over Sean Rogerson’s douche-y presentation of his character Lance Preston but that was what his character was meant to be and Rogerson played him without making him unbearable.  In fact, he is actually quite enjoyable as you watch him go from an overconfident, arrogant show host to a man who is in over-his-head and is fighting for his life against restless and vengeful spirits.
That wasn't from the haunting...he made the mistake of getting in someone's
way at the buffet line at Golden Corral.

Grave Encounters might not be an overly frightening scary movie but it’s a fair and decently well made “found footage" film.  The acting works, the setting is unsettling, and the jump scares can be effective if you are a fan of jump scares.  However, the true thing this film does very well is having a very solid story and unique elements that you don’t see in horror or “found footage” films.  I wish it was a little scarier but it’s still a damn good movie.

I did mention there is a lot of night-vision work, right?

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