Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: The Vicious Brothers
Written by: The Vicious Brothers
Starring: Sean Rogerson, Ashleigh Gryzko, Merwin Mondesir, Mackenzie Gray, Juan Riedinger & Arthur Corber
Paranormal investigation shows are incredibly lame. I’m just stating the facts on this topic. There was a point in my life when I was hooked on supernatural stuff and would tune in every other day to watch MOST HAUNTED and HAUNTED HISTORIES on the Discovery Channel. Now an adult and looking back on that, I openly admit how gullible I was. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, you can’t deny that GHOST HUNTERS and the like have never found sustainable proof that these otherworldly spirits are around us. Therefore, their shows are a real-life running joke. GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is a creepy found footage horror film that takes the concept of a paranormal investigation show and throws the crew into an actually haunted location. What results is one of the best found footage movies in the recent boom. It’s not without flaws, but GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is pretty friggin’ scary.
Lance Preston was the host of a reality show titled GRAVE ENCOUNTERS. He and his trusty crew of an occult specialist, a phony psychic, an equipment expert, and a camera man were filming their initial first season in 2002. They made it to episode six and then disappeared. That episode was covering the notoriously haunted Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital. Their footage was recovered in 2010 and has been compiled into this feature for “documentary” purposes. Lance and the four other members of his group where never seen again. I’m setting up this summary sort of vaguely, because to give too many details away would ruin some of the spooky fun to be had. This is one you’ll want to watch in the dark with the sound cranked up for maximum effect.
GRAVE ENCOUNTERS nails a scary atmosphere right out of the gate. Setting any film at an insane asylum is enough to give most people goosebumps. This found footage effort was actually shot at the real-life Riverview Hospital. There’s a very SESSION 9-esque feeling about this location and even a reference in dialogue thrown at that little film. The Vicious Brothers (who wrote and directed) also make the entire movie seem authentic. If you were to walk in blind without knowing this was a fictional creation, then you’d probably buy that this was an a real episode of a failed reality show…until the ghosts show up that is. GRAVE ENCOUNTERS makes the ballsy move in showing vicious spirits on camera. The film is not just relying on moving objects and sounds, but flaunts a few freaky apparitions in front of the camera. It’s not over saturated with on-screen ghosts to the point of being silly, but there’s a solid jump scare from a ghost who’s more than making its presence known when the viewer needs a good jolt.
The effects used to bring these spirits to life range from scary to a tad silly. The way in which the GRAVE ENCOUNTERS crew is forced to keep moving and stuck in the asylum is diabolically brilliant too. I won’t reveal what keeps them there, but I will say these characters don’t necessarily make many dumb decisions. They try to leave, they try to stay together, but things don’t work out for the best in this crazy scenario (pun fully intended given the location of the film). The movie loses a little steam in a couple of character demises that don’t fully live up to the level of horror insanity being seen at nearly every other point in the film. One specific death scene feels like an excuse to move the story forward. The ending is also too predictable, but there are only so many ways you can conclude a found footage movie with this premise or a found footage horror film in general. It’s not as if everything built up to the ending of GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is betrayed by the so-so final shots, but they feel a little too familiar. The fun and scares are in the ride itself, not the finale.
In terms of sheer spooky atmosphere and terror, GRAVE ENCOUNTERS fully delivers on its promising premise. I’m happy that this film has built a cult following over the past few years, because it really deserves one. This is easily one of the best found footage horror films since PARANORMAL ACTIVITY reinvigorated the subgenre and began another boom of these handheld horrors. Iffy effects and slightly anti-climactic closing minutes aside, GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is a really cool horror movie that brings the scares at full force. If only actual paranormal reality shows could be as exciting as this doomed episode of a fake one.