After The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, 1999) enjoyed huge success, movie makers have been obsessed with the found footage style of filming. At first the idea was effective and entertaining, however that was well over ten years ago. Since then it has been flogged like a dead horse until every ounce of originality and impact has vanished. Even blockbusters like Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008) got in on the act. The biggest problem is that unless executed with great care, films made to look like they were shot on hand-held cameras are extremely irritating and leave you feeling like you’ve missed a lot of the action that you’d rather see in full, filmed in the regular way. So when I saw an online trailer for yet another ‘found footage’ horror title called Grave Encounters I was less than enthusiastic.
Written and directed by The Vicious Brothers, real names Stuart Ortiz and Colin Minihan, it purports to be the discovered final episode of a TV show of the same name, it follows a team of supernatural investigators who lock themselves in an allegedly haunted former psychiatric hospital overnight. Lead by anchor Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) they aren’t expecting to really find evidence of the supernatural; guest psychic Houston Grey (Mackenzie Gray), who looks like he escaped from a Bee Gees tribute act, is clearly a fraud. Overseen by technical expert Matt (Juan Riedinger) the show’s crew set up cameras around the building to capture any paranormal activity – no pun intended. Matt stays to monitor the static cameras whilst Lance, Houston, the team’s occult specialist Sasha Parker (Ashleigh Gryzko) and cameraman T.C. Gibson (Merwin Mondesir) wander the corridors filming anything that’ll look good on TV. Of course, before long the ghosties start to manifest themselves, in a minor fashion to start with but soon escalating to brutal attacks and ghastly apparitions enhanced by dubious CGI. Matt disappears and is later found dressed in a hospital gown, gibbering about his ‘treatment’. The entire geography of the hospital seemingly changes, trapping its occupant without an exit. One by one, characters are picked off until the lone survivor stumbles across the shark jumping secret at the heart of the terror. Which leaves the question of how on earth was the footage found…
To its credit, Grave Encounters doesn’t come across as a cynical cash in on the ‘found footage’ bandwagon. Its writers/directors are genuinely trying to make an entertaining and creepy horror. Ortiz and Minihan didn’t tell the cast exactly what would happen on set, so some of the character’s reactions to sudden events like a gurney flying into the air are genuine. Other scenes involving apparitions suffer from the overuse of CGI and are less scary because of it. My biggest gripe is that the ending is over the top, a more subtle climax would have been more effective. The actor’s performances are all competent, albeit you can tell that they’re not big screen veterans. Juan Riedinger stands out portraying the insane Matt. If it had been released soon after The Blair Witch Project, this title would have probably had a big theatrical release, as it is it only had wide release on DVD this side of the Atlantic. Sadly for The Vicious Brothers, audiences are coming down with found footage fatigue, although Grave Encounters did well enough to spawn a sequel which I’ll review soon. Whilst it delivers nothing that could be remotely considered new or daring, I found the movie to still be watchable and it deserves recognition for at least trying its best with a worn out format.
Director: The Vicious Brothers AKA Stuart Ortiz and Colin Minihan
Cast: Mackenzie Gray, Sean Rogerson, Merwin Mondesir,Ashleigh Gryzko, Juan Riedinger
Runtime: 95 mins