Saturday, April 23, 2011

Grave Encounters: TriBeCa Film Festival

Grave Encounters, which just had its premier at the TriBeCa Film Festival was directed by a team that has styled themselves "The Vicious Brothers". But, particularly in these days of torture porn and :::shudder::: human caterpillars, nothing about this film seemed particularly vicious. I think of that as a positive attribute.

Do you enjoy those basic cable TV shows in which a group of (so-called) paranormal investigators wander around a hotel or an old Civil War barracks, and stand in empty rooms declaiming, "This is Dave. If there's anyone here, show me a sign. We don't want to hurt you." And they then spend the rest of the hour freaking themselves out and using all sorts of bullshit pseudo-science to prove the existence of hauntings?Yes? You enjoy these shows? Good! This review is written with you completely in mind. If you don't enjoy either horror movies or GhostTV, just carry on.

Grave Encounters, the movie, shows the (purportedly) REAL footage of the very last episode of Grave Encounters, the reality TV show. Let me restate: the CHILLING footage taken by the crew of Grave Encounters as they investigate the supposed paranormal occurrences which have long plagued the abandoned Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital.


Were you scared?


You're no fun. Let's continue.

The cast and crew of Grave Encounters lock themselves into the abandoned asylum overnight, and it's all filmed pseudo-verité style. One inevitably compares it to The Blair Witch Project, but as I loathed The Blair Witch Project this wasn't really a problem. The parody of a typical GhostTV episode at the beginning of the film was very funny and the film was reasonably enjoyable as more and more horrible ghostly manifestations plagued the Grave Encounters crew. It was fun to watch them begin to be frightened as their crass cynicism melts away in the face of actual ghosts.

My criticisms are mostly structural. Things go from vaguely disquieting to full out ghost attack far too quickly and too early in the film. It could really have benefitted from a more gradual build. Truly awful things started happening a little too early which doesn't leave the filmmakers anywhere to go. But, it was enjoyable to watch what was essentially an old fashioned ghost story play out.

About ten years ago a friend and I were working for an outdoor rock festival upstate - we were in charge of the dorms they had rented for the staff. They were using the Unification Theological Seminary (i.e. a Moonie Seminary) which is in a truly incredible Gothic Victorian structure that used to be a boy's school. It was really incredibly beautiful, with arched stone walkways with views of the Hudson River Valley, which at night were home to bats which would flap quietly around the columns. Our second night there, Upstate New York was hit with a terrible rain storm. As I took a much needed shower, the lights all suddenly went out. As night approached we realized we were trapped - without a car, without electricity and far from a cell phone tower, we had few choices. We communicated via Walkie Talkie as we guided the festival staff to where they would be sleeping. The night was long and terror filled.

But - we survived.

I don't know that the same could be said of the Grave Encounters crew. All that seemingly remains is this found footage.

Which, honestly, was a little over-conventional. This is one of those films where I would have loved to be able to sit down with the film-makers and help them structure it. Because this sort of story is all based on rising action and it flatlines way too early. But the ghosts and some of the Boo moments are really effective. There are some fun ideas, like when the crew wakes up to find they all have hospital patient bracelets on, and I like that the token female crew member isn't a horror babe, but a pretty normal girl. There's a lovely moment early on when one of the crew is on the phone to his wife, having a mundane conversation, and the wheelchair behind him moves just enough for us to notice, unseen by him, but caught by the camera. They are full of fun ideas, it just feels a little half baked and messy.

If Grave Encounters comes on Chiller one night, you'll have a perfectly enjoyable time watching it, even if it won't particularly change your life.

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