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'Grave Encounters' Movie Review

About.com Rating 2.5 Star Rating


'Grave Encounters' movie poster.
© Darclight Films
Although The Blair Witch Project was a smash hit back in 1999, it would take about a decade for the "found footage"/point-of-view style to really catch on. Nowadays, it seems like there's a new one every month, almost all of which fall in the horror genre. The latest one is Grave Encounters, which finds a TV crew haunted by malevolent entities in an abandoned hospital.

The Plot

In what's purported to be an unaired pilot for a "ghost hunters" TV show called Grave Encounters, host Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) leads a team of paranormal investigators in an exploration of the abandoned Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital in rural Maryland. The site of heinous medical experiments during the '30s and '40s, the hospital is now reportedly a hotbed of ghostly activity.

Although Lance claims he lived in a haunted house as a child, all of his actions show him to be a closet skeptic who merely puts on airs for the show. Behind the scenes, he bribes a gardener to say that he saw a ghost in the hospital, and he hires a bogus psychic named Houston Gray (Mackenzie Gray) to claim that he senses a presence in the building.

Little do they realize that there is in fact something lurking inside with them, something evil that begins stalking them, intent on keeping them trapped in there forever. Strange events plague the group: objects move, food spoils within a few hours, their watches say it's 1:00 PM although it's pitch black outside. They try to leave, but the doors are locked, and the hallways become an endless maze that threatens to turn into their tomb.

The End Result

Sean Rogerson in 'Grave Encounters'.

Sean Rogerson in 'Grave Encounters'.

© Darclight Films
Grave Encounters mines the low-tech point-of-view format made famous by the likes of Paranormal Activity (stationary security cameras) and The Blair Witch Project (handheld cameras) for a premise that, unlike some of its ilk, reasonably explains why people would keep filming when freaky things start happening. The group's entire purpose is to find freaky things, after all, but in a sly dig at the genuineness of these "ghost hunters" shows, the film plays around with the fun concept that this is what might happen if these bogus experts actually encountered something real.

Freshman directors The Vicious Brothers deliver an effectively creepy atmosphere -- aided by the stark surroundings -- and a couple of good scares, but the film ultimately fails where Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity succeeded: drawing the viewer in with a hyper-real experience. In Grave Encounters, the dialogue and the performances aren't quite natural enough to ever make us forget we're watching a movie. And if they were, the film's increasingly "out there" horror movie-esque scares would take you out of the moment.

Blair Witch in particular taught us that less is more when it comes to crafting genuine scares, but Grave Encounters eschews subtlety in favor of over-the-top moments that end up making it feel like a high-end SyFy movie shot in a POV style.

The Skinny

  • Acting: C (Solid but not natural or "ad libby" enough to sell the film.)
  • Direction: C+ (Generates a few scares but doesn't use the format to its full potential.)
  • Script: C+ (A fun premise that ends up relying too much on horror clichés.)
  • Gore/Effects: C+ (Not a lot of gore; uses the style to wisely mask effects shortcomings.)
  • Overall: C+ (Competently made with solid entertainment value, but not in the same class as A-list "found footage" films like The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity) and Cloverfield.)

Grave Encounters is directed by The Vicious Brothers and is not rated by the MPAA. Release date: August 2011.

Disclosure: The distributor provided free access to this movie for review purposes. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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