It’ll take around 30 or so minutes of Grave Encounters before you stop rolling your eyes and start forgiving the filmmakers for your misgivings.
This is primarily because it looks – and is – so bargain basement cheap looking, and such a blatant effort at a Blair Witch / Paranormal Activity cross that you can’t help but assume that it can only get worse from here.
Wrong. Sure Grave Encounters drinks from the same bowl as Paranormal, but unlike last year’s Insidious it manages to retain its low rent look without settling for lazy scares and juvenile antics.
Lance is one of those annoying reality TV show hosts that you can’t help but hate. He’s too sincere, too wound up and too ‘into this’ that it simply must be fake. And it is at the beginning.
Lance and his unwashed crew of college kids and faux-experts in paranormal research make a show about supposedly haunted houses. They lock themselves in for the night, set up some cameras in various places to read ‘activities’ and ‘disturbances’, and wander about the place telling spooky origin stories and acting like things are so much scarier than they are. And as any ‘reality’ show looking to please the audience, they aren’t above staging certain events if it leads to more suspense – and ratings…
As the clumsy intro tells us we are about to see real footage from Episode 6: Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital, edited from the raw recordings ‘only for time’. Thankfully they didn’t keep cutting back and forth to the studio presenter, I couldn’t have handled the amateurism.
Each episode is a one night affair. The crew arrive late in the day to set up the cameras and equipment and investigate the backdrop – and yes this hospital, like the one in Session 9, is especially creepy. Lance interviews a few locals, essentially anyone with a story to tell, even if it isn’t necessarily based upon truth, and upon nightfall a lock-in is staged.
On this night the crew consists of Lance and 4 others including a shonky psychic douche, a cameraman, a techspert and a woman whose job is never disclosed. Essentially they spend a couple hours walking around saying ‘Here Ghostie, Ghostie, Ghostie!’, pivoting and saying ‘Did you hear that’ and incredulously looking at various nothings as if the camera just missed something.
It is all very silly and probably not unlike how an episode of Jersey Shore comes together, albeit with less plasma.
Eventually though things start moving. And by things start moving I mean literally. The usual opening and closing doors, inanimate objects slowly traversing vacant rooms, and of course the flickering and ultimately failing lights, just when they are most needed.
As if this isn’t enough we have the staples of the genre, the grainy night vision, the strafing cameras that see more than the guy watching them, and my favourite the audio recording played back really loud so we hold our breath, lean in and…
It’s hardly original stuff, and in truth the Big Scares almost always diminish the creepy-crawliness of the build ups. Thankfully they space these moments out to allow the tension to rebuild.
Finally, this film reminded me of a horror cliché which should be made into a hard and fast rule. ‘If someone – or thing – is unexpectedly standing/sitting/squatting in the corner of a room looking away. Leave. Them. The fuck. Alone.
The end result is never positive for the inquisitive investigator.
Final Rating – 7.5 / 10. Despite the silly moments I really unexpectedly liked Grave Encounters and was on edge for a good portion of the second half. If you like Paranormal Activity there’s a fair chance you’ll like this one.