Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Grave Encounters (2011)

Ladies and gentlemen, it's October.

I had no idea what to expect going into Grave Encounters. Well, except from the synopsis, which only told me that it was a movie in the style of those ghost hunting shows. I first saw it listed in Netflix's database, and honestly, among the unfamiliar titles I've watched on Netflix, the quality ranges from the fantastic to the abysmal. I wasn't even sure that Grave Encounters wasn't one of those cheap knock-offs of Paranormal Activity, or even a comedic spoof of the genre. But I figured I'd watch it, and find out.

Unfortunately, I can't really talk a lot about the film, because I'm concerned about giving away some of its surprises. (But if you're curious about my opinion of it, the fact that I think its surprises are worth keeping should give you a big, juicy hint about how I feel about the movie). It's a found footage film, about a fictional television series called Grave Encounters that is your run-of-the-mill ghost hunting show. The movie opens with a brief introduction by a (fictional) programming exec who introduces the show and prefaces the footage you are about to see, which was filmed for episode 6 of the series, during which a terrible tragedy occurred.

Then we cut to the footage, and in the first act, we're introduced to this small team of ghost hunters, and the abandoned mental hospital they're going to spend the night locked inside of. At this point, the mood is very light, and the film has fun demonstrating that these people are less true believers than they are simply interested in putting together an exciting television show - as you can imagine anyone who really works on these kinds of shows probably are, to some extent. Then night falls, and the fun begins.

At this point, you may be wondering how the rest of the film is going to play out. You're probably thinking, "let me guess, this particular abandoned mental hospital is going to turn out to be the one place that really is haunted." At least, that's what I was thinking. And yeah, that's exactly what happens. It's not a totally original plot development, but it does mean that you're in for a genuinely scary movie, and not some kind of parody or anything like that.

But what makes this movie so effective, is how those scares play out (gradually at first, then growing in intensity), and where the film ultimately goes in the end. There's no getting around it, the premise has been done to death. I mean, just consider the sort of television series the movie is referencing. Of course, this movie is the opportunity to take one of those shows and just go all out with the scares, not even trying to keep it grounded in reality - which is an excellent idea.

But of course, there have also been lots of movies about people hanging out in haunted buildings (Session 9, for example, was a pretty good one). But let me say this, Grave Encounters is not only the best, but the scariest movie of its type, that I've yet to see. I was very impressed with it. And despite the familiarity of the premise, it does manage to do some things that are deliciously original, which directly contribute to its effectiveness.

And here, let me leave you with this comment, lest you doubt the sincerity of my remarks: I saw both Grave Encounters and its sequel (Grave Encounters 2) available on Netflix, so I figured I'd watch them back to back in one night, to take them both off my viewing list in one shot. But after watching Grave Encounters, I was so scared, I decided I couldn't handle another one in the same night. And isn't that really the best compliment to a horror film, especially coming from a grizzled horror veteran? Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go watch something lighter right now in the hope that I can actually get some sleep tonight.


  1. Nice! Glad you watched this one, it's one of my favorites. I hate those cheesy ghost hunting shows so I was apprehensive about giving it a chance, but boy does it deliver! I've seen lots of abandoned asylum found footage movies and Grave Encounters is the only one that got it right. I also have to tip my hat to the writers who came up with the title -- Grave Encounters... far wittier than what any of the REAL ghost hunting shows are called!

    And your last comment about being too scared... wow, what a coincidence! Last night the same thing happened to me when I watched another Netflix-available found footage movie, The Bay. The Bay wasn't as good as Grave Encounters but it sure was fucking scary. It's a shame there are so many mediocre FF films out there because the good ones, and even the decent ones, seem to effortlessly surpass even the scariest of universal-pov films in terms of scariness.

  2. I was wondering if you'd seen it yet, or were maybe planning to watch it sometime this month.

    I didn't want to give away too much about the movie in my review, but what I liked most about Grave Encounters was how Silent Hill-like it was. Obviously, they could have gone even further with the environments and the monsters, but the way the building fucked with physics and everything was perfect.

    Also, it reminded me of The SCP Foundation. That building could totally have been an SCP.