I don’t try to hide my disdain for found footage films. I think that the people who make them often do so as a shortcut – it provides an excuse to avoid spending money on special effects and laying down tracks and setting up shots, which are all expensive and time consuming. Found footage is often a shortcut, and a cheat, if it’s not done specifically to tell a very unique story.
Ghost Encounters almost tells that unique story. The initial concept is pretty cool – a group of reality TV show makers lock themselves into a haunted sanitarium, and stuff goes wrong. The idea is that these guys were the first “ghost hunters” before our cable television has become saturated with them. It opens with a producer telling you this isn’t a movie, but rather culled found footage. Mmhm.
A mostly bloodless affair. Someone gets “hello” carved into their back, a ghost lays a beatdown on some dude, someone coughs blood, and a guy takes a long drop to a sudden concrete stop.
The camera girl is cute, which is the biggest clue this is a movie. If it were real, she’d easily be 20lbs heavier.
I mean, seriously – don’t lock yourself into a haunted insane asylum.
Despite my dislike of found footage, I had heard good things of Grave Encounters so wanted to give it a shot. The film starts off interestingly with a producer telling us this wasn’t a movie, which it totally was, and we know, so why even have it there? I was bothered by the fact that we never see the producer again, either. This is a problem of found footage – what the producer has in his hands is literally 100% irrefutable proof that ghosts exists so instead of making an amazing documentary and blowing the world’s collective mind, he apparently has it edited into a 90 minute, cliched horror film.
The best part of the movie is the first thirty or so minutes, where it feels like a parody of Ghost Adventures, where a group of combative paranormal investigators challenge ghosts by yelling at them to reveal themselves. It’s funny and feels pretty much like an actual episode of television at times.
Things go down here from there as it devolves into a mixture of things we’ve seen before, namely The Blair Witch Project and any horror movie like The Exorcism of Emily Rose or Dead Birds where the ghosts have sunken black eyes, big wide CGI mouths, black lines near their mouths and a generally wet look. Yawn.
After the fun thirty minutes is up, the crew is stuck in the ever changing sanitarium so one guy obviously loses his shit and everyone turns against each other. No one loses their shit when confronted with hands coming out of walls or fucking ghosts, but man, being locked in the same place for a few hours is what pushes you over the edge these days.
Towards the climax the film almost goes balls out, with lots of ghosts, blood, and jump scares. It does get interesting and exciting momentarily, but then fumbles with ghosts we’ve seen a hundred times before and oh yeah, let’s throw in some Satanism here at the end.
Grave Encounters will rock your world if you love found footage, but I personally would have preferred to see this story told traditionally (though it would end up being like House on Haunted Hill). It is ultimately a passable film that has some good moments from first time directors The Vicious Brothers. You won’t hate yourself for missing this one, though I can’t get on board with the format or the use of CGI.