Europa Report, [REC]³: Genesis, V/H/S/2). As I’ve mentioned in the reviews of those films I cannot stand that sub-genre. Out of all the flicks out there that use this tired storytelling gimmick the only ones I can stomach are The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield and Chronicle. So why would I watch yet another, you ask? Possibly because I’m a glutton for punishment, but I think I secretly want each of these films to work since the idea behind the sub-genre shows so much promise, so I am willing to give them all a fair shot. How does that cream your Twinkie?
So here we are with Grave Encounters, which follows a group of television ghost hunters attempting to contact the spirit world within a supposedly haunted former mental institution.
The set-up is sound. We have a group of con men and women who basically play up to the camera for their popular television show, and through the unedited footage we learn about their behind-the-scenes personalities before all the crazy shit goes down. These characters think they are just in another location made scary via rumors and hearsay, but the institution is genuinely haunted and they find they are ill prepared for what lies in store for them.
The problem lies within the execution of the sub-genre’s clichés and the writing of the characters/improvisations of the actors. Basically, if you’ve seen any found footage movie in the vein of Paranormal Activity you’ve seen all this flick has to offer. It follows that model verbatim – get to know the characters, (attempt and fail to) build up tension, have a minor “boo” scare and repeat in 5 minute increments ad nauseum.
The small cast of actors seem capable of pulling off their “on screen” personas while shooting for their television reality show, but once they drop the façade and show their true selves is where the movie begins to get tedious and hokey. They turn into stereotypical whiners who do nothing but curse at each other and scream. Would that be a normal reaction if you were in that type of a situation? Sure. My issue is that there is no way to differentiate one character from the next since they all act in the same way.
But the performances are a minor blip on the radar of this film’s sins. I have a large gripe with the way the cameras are used throughout the flick and how they telegraph the non-existent scares just by their framing. For instance, a couple of characters need to crack open the doors to an elevator to get to the lower levels of the hospital. The only person with any sort of strength is the guy holding the camera, so he walks at least twenty steps away to place the camera on the floor. Why? It wasn’t because of the light attached to the top since another character was holding a flashlight she was using to illuminate the room. It was because the director needed to get a wide shot, plain and simple. It’s stuff like that which takes me completely out of the movie because it breaks the illusion that these characters are fighting for their lives instead of making a movie. One character backs up against a door with a small window on it, so the person filming takes a few steps back to show not only the actor, but the door and the window in center frame so that the hand that bursts through it a few moments later is visible in full. The scares don’t feel organic. They feel like a choreographed fight scene from an old Jackie Chan flick.
Writers/directors The Vicious Brothers’ (Collin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz) made a blatant rip-off of The Blair Witch Project mixed with Paranormal Activity. Every beat, every plot development… even the ending. There is nothing original here to differentiate itself from the myriad of other crappy movies of this ilk and they don’t seem to care either. They pooped out a low budget movie that apparently was quite successful on home video. As far as I can tell their only reason for making this movie was that it was cheap to produce, took little effort in post-production and therefore would turn a tidy profit once released into Redboxes across America.
As this flick spun on I felt like I was watching a film purely bred to launch a franchise as viable as Paranormal Activity. Turns out I was right since a sequel came out a year later and there are rumors of a third. Grave Encounters is as by the numbers as you can possibly get. It’s predictable in the extreme, lazily executed and just flat out boring. Skip it.
0.5 out of 5
p.s. Naturally once this flick ended I watched the sequel. Like I said… a glutton for punishment.