Movie Review: An “Encounter” You Should Avoid
Director(s): The Vicious Brothers
Cast: Sean Rogerson, Juan Riedinger, Ashleigh Gryzko, Mackenzie Gray, Merwin Mondesir, Luis Javier
Grave Encounters is really two movies in one: The first is a satire on all the reality based ghost hunting shows, while the second is a straight up horror show. The first film is quite amusing. The second one is insufferable.
It's a shame, too, because the satirical moments are actually quite amusing. The movie opens up with an executive producer at a video production company describing a ghost hunting show called Grave Encounters, which was canceled after five episodes because something went terribly wrong when they filmed the sixth episode, entitled “The Haunted Asylum.” In the episode, the show's host Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) and his team – – occult specialist Sasha Parker, equipment technician Matt White, cameraman T.C. Gibson, and psychic Huston Gray – – lock themselves inside Maryland's Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital overnight in hopes of capturing some paranormal events on video. The scenes prior to the “lock down” are actually kind of funny. When the crew first approaches the entrance to the hospital, they see the words “Death awaits” spray painted across the door. “That is so lame!” one of the crew members observes. Lance's response: “A little slow motion and background music, and anything is scary.” That sounds about right.
The funniest scene happens when the crew members approach the residential gardener (Luis Javier) to hear some of his ghostly encounters while working at the hospital. He at first tells them he's only started working here and hasn't noticed a thing. Lance has to bribe the guy with some petty cash to get him to make up his own story for the show. Javier's performance here is so amusing that it's almost impossible not to chuckle. The entire set-up is that amusing, and by the twenty minute mark, I was sure the movie was on its way.
But then the crew gets locked inside the hospital, the horror movie elements kick in, and it is here where the fun stopped. Things start off in an appealingly old fashioned way, with doors slamming shut and locked windows opening on their own. But then things just turn ridiculous. When a ghost starts playing with Sasha's hair, the team try to break down the entrance doors, only to find that it no longer leads to the outside, but rather down another hospital corridor. The emergency exit, likewise, leads to another hospital corridor. Their phones say it's 1:20 pm, even though it's still nighttime when they look out the window. Windows that weren't barred before are barred now. The door to the roof of the hospital is now sealed off. Maybe I'm wrong to ask this question, but there eventually reached a point where I had to ask: What the hell kind of ghosts haunt this hospital? Suspension of disbelief is a requirement for every movie, but Grave Encounters goes too far. There reaches a point where you stop going along with the film, and just shake your head in disbelief for the rest of the way.
Maybe its silly plot would have been easier to overlook had the film been even remotely creepy, but unfortunately it's not. The film follows a redundant pattern that eventually grows painfully tedious. The crew wanders down a dark hallway. A spirit jumps out, goes boo (or pops out of a bloody bathtub to grab one of the crew members), and afterward, Lance points the camera at himself and documents the time and condition of the other crew members. Then they wander down another corridor, and then another ghost goes “boo,” and then Lance points the camera at himself again. Wash, rinse, repeat. Occasionally, somebody gets the word “hello” carved into their back, but it does nothing to break the tedium. There is not a second of Grave Encounters that is even remotely chilling, not one scene that sends a shiver down your spine. It's as much a horror movie as The Great Muppet Caper.
And I usually don't criticize movies with wall-to-wall profanity, but Grave Encounters has its characters drop an f-bomb in almost every other sentence. There have been great movies with lots of profanity; movies like Goodfellas, Good Will Hunting, and The Departed. But in Grave Encounters, it seems as though writer-directors The Vicious Brothers wrote in as much profanity as they did in hopes it will disguise just how bland the dialogue really is. There was one scene in particular where the characters were swearing so much, that I stopped paying full attention to what they were saying, and just started counting the number of curse words they used in a single sentence. There was nothing else to do during that time. It just goes to show that while profanity can be used effectively, it is no substitute for good writing.
Grave Encounters plods on for what feels like an eternity, until it finally concludes with a final shot so dim-witted that it's almost downright laughable. I have nothing against found footage horror movies when they're done right. For the first twenty to thirty minutes, Grave Encounters works fine as an amusing satire. But when it goes for horror, it gets bad. Really bad.
Final Grade: * 1/2 (out of ****)