Director: The Vicious Brothers
Running Time: 92 Minutes
“Manipulate my hair!”
– Lance Preston, Grave Encounters
My brother introduced me to this awful ghost hunting show, on the Travel Channel, called Ghost Adventures. I’ve never been a fan of reality TV or ghost hunting shows but this one was just too good to pass up. We didn’t watch it for the paranormal locations, we didn’t watch it for the compelling “evidence”, no… We watched it for one guy and his utter buffoonery. Zak Bagans. Zak is a walking cliché. 10 seasons in and he’s only getting worse. He cannot seem to grasp basic English, he wears Ed Hardy clothing, and baller caps which don’t suit him. Throw in too much hair gel and hipster black-rimmed glasses, and you have a winner. Oh, let me not forget the tattoos, which are always obviously displayed for the cameras. The show itself is thoroughly average with tenuous evidence, at best, and exaggerated hype. If you have ever watched a ghost hunting reality show (there are many to choose from) you will recognise the format. A crew of 3-4 people find an alleged haunted location and decided to investigate with specialised equipment. The investigation is an over-night “lockdown”.
Well, what has this got to do with Grave Encounters? Once again, my brother showed up at my flat, movie in hand and telling me that I absolutely have to watch it. Not only is it a fun movie but he was fairly sure that the primary purpose of its creation was to troll Zak Bagans.
The Grave Encounters Crew is shooting an episode for their new show. They need real and compelling evidence for ratings to pick up. They hear about a haunted psychiatric hospital in the middle of nowhere America. As with all these shows, they arrive and immediately start to interview the locals. The crew interview the town historian, the grounds keeper of the hospital and the hospital’s caretaker. The team even calls in a psychic to “read” the hospital and interviews a local “punk” couple who claim to have had a paranormal experience in one of the buildings. Once all this is done, they set up night vision cameras throughout the main building and prepare for lockdown.
Initially, everything seems to be going fine. By fine, I mean that nothing is happening. No creaking doors, disembodied voices or full-bodied apparitions. Slowly the strange starts to creep in and the crew is not prepared. They quickly realise that this location is different, in that it’s actually haunted. It becomes apparent that even if they live. they may not be getting out.
Performances & Special Effects
The first thing you need to know is that this is a “found footage” film. Again, not usually a fan. I really loved the Blair Witch Project but that was 15 years ago (yes, it really was!) and found footage has been done to death, and not done well, since then. What makes this one a little different is the ghost hunting reality show angle. What these shows do, is usually set up tripod night vision cams in several locations which means there is no camera shake. In addition to these, each crew member usually has a hand-held night vision camera as well. This is exactly what they did, which means that the footage is a combination of still and handheld camera footage, as well as a blend of night vision green and colour footage.
The movie had an estimated budget of only 100 000 Canadian Dollars (approximately 80 000 US Dollars). When you consider that The Blair Witch Project was made on a meager 60 000 US Dollars all those years ago, I think that these film makers did remarkably well with Grave Encounters.
The acting was superb. I was particularly impressed with how the audience gets a feel for each character prior to the lockdown. We meet the persona that they are used to projecting on-screen. Even at the start of the lockdown, when the characters are expecting to have the same filming experience that they’ve have had at previous locations (which usually results in no evidence and the crew fabricating evidence before the episode is aired). As the paranormal nature of the asylum makes itself known to the crew, you see the change in each character and their true self coming out. They go from calm and collected to being governed by sheer panic and adrenaline. Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) was my favourite to watch. Intentional or not, his Zak Bagans impersonation is bizarrely accurate and hilarious. Especially prior to the lockdown, where the audience is made privy to the outtakes and you get to see just how much of a douche the character is!
The special effects were phenomenal, especially when you consider the budget that they were operating with. I fell victim to a few of the jump scares, and I am not too embarrassed to admit that. They were seamlessly executed. Some effects were simple and easy to create but others were more complicated. What I liked was the attention to detail, regardless of how simple or complex an effect or stunt was. The only effect that I would consider sub-par, is the scene where several arms come out from the walls and ceiling to grab at the crew members. Though the idea was fantastic, the arms looked very obviously CGI and that detracted from the shock value. Other than that, I was greatly impressed with the apparitions, levitation, blood and bodily transformations.
I had so much fun watching this movie. That’s not to say it didn’t also scare the ever-living shit out of me. The character portrayal was so spot on and seeing the effort that went into creating an authentic feeling ghost hunting show added to the atmosphere. The pace was ideal. By allowing the audience to witness the outtake and errors in filming, the movie allowed for some much needed humour and lulled me into a false sense of security with that comedic relief. You see the crew bribe the grounds keeper into pretending that he witnessed a paranormal incident. You also get to see Zak, I mean Lance, lose his temper when his shot is thrown off my a car driving past.
I enjoyed this movie so much that I not only recommended it to several friends, but proceeded to watch it with them as well. The “found footage” style worked brilliantly and didn’t have an unbearable amount of camera shake. The EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena) were stunning and proudly mimicked the use of EVP in reality shows of this nature. Usually, there is a scratchy, whispered tone that the crew interprets as a whole sentence. This is then slowed down and amplified while the word or sentence, they are trying to make you believe was captured, is flashed on your screen. There is a scene where Lance is seeking escape and safety in the subterranean tunnels which link the various buildings of the hospital campus. He is sitting, at his wit’s end, and decides to do an EVP session. The screaming and noise that he plays back is a clear mocking of the alleged evidence that ghost hunting shows try to palm off onto viewers as evidence.
I admire this film for its tiny budget and “can do” attitude. A great watch!
My Rating: 4/5
Buy or rent Grave Encounters on Amazon.com
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