In the fall of 1999, The Blair Witch Project took the country by storm. Due to its aggressive online marketing (that was far ahead of its time), many people thought the movie was true found footage. It also helped that Syfy had been showing a special documenting the events as real. Audiences sat captivated by the tale it told, and the ending will probably always be considered one of the greatest endings to a movie in cinematic history.
Here was the problem with the movie though: It was deathly boring for a majority of its 81 minute run time. Its strength and weakness was that all of the action takes place either entirely or partially off screen. It was a movie that haunts your imagination, but is almost unwatchable once you know what is coming. Go ahead. Try to watch the whole thing again (and not just the ending).
This movie brought the “Found Footage” genre we know and love / hate today to the mainstream.
I discovered Grave Encounters (2011) a few years ago via a YouTube link (that has since been removed). I was looking at “real” ghost videos and was completely floored. In it, a crew is wandering down a darkened corridor. They are all illuminated in night vision green, and it looked almost like almost any ghost hunting show. As a character turns to talk to the camera, a person flashes across the scene. She is running from one room to the other about 20 feet behind the man. The rest of the crew sees it and they run immediately to the room. There, they find a girl facing the wall and swaying. They approach her, and she turns around. Immediately, her features distort and she becomes ghoulish. The crew runs away. After some research, I found it was for an upcoming movie and I was hooked.
Grave Encounters is the Blair Witch Project with action.
The scene with girl on the teaser video takes place just as the characters start their descent into hell. They are all subjected to more and more craziness. Most of it works, and some of it is…meh. The movie has quite a few scares and plays with what it will show you and what it won’t.
It follows a group of paranormal investigators from a television show called Grave Encounters that are shooting their sixth episode. The group is locked overnight inside the Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital, an abandoned asylum in Maryland. The first act explores the the mythology of the hospital, and shows us that the investigators are very unscrupulous in their “desire to showcase the unexplained”. They pay a groundskeeper $20 to do an interview stating that he sees a ghost in the windows all the time, and they immediately reveal that the physic investigator with them is merely an actor.
After all the cameras are set up and night has fallen, the crew is locked in. One of the crew members has a heavy door slam behind him, and the crew reacts like this is an extraordinary event. After goading the “ghosts” to reveal themselves, they hear a bang in the room next door. They are eventually led upstairs where a ghost parts a female crew member’s hair on camera.
The crew is content (and quite scared) by what they have captured, and begin tearing down the cameras and packing up their equipment as the caretaker is due back at 6:00 am. Of course, they separate and send one guy (Matt) off by himself to tear down all the cameras set up in the paranormal hot spots. And, of course, he disappears.
Hence, they begin their descent, we meet the ghost girl, and the movie picks up speed.
The gripe I do have about this movie is that when the movie begins to take off, the directors try to keep it grounded. We meet the ghost girl, and the next scene we see is a Matt walking around (who was not around for the ghost girl) confused. His scene brings the throttle back (spoilers alert: even though he is killed by an invisible force). From this point on, we ramp up, cool off, ramp up, cool off…it gets tiring. It’s never an onslaught of demon forces. It’s random encounters. Even though this may be a more realistic scenario if you think about it, it doesn’t quite work for a horror movie formula. Once you get your audience scared….KEEP THEM SCARED. Don’t back off.
Encounters does treat us to some wonderful scares though during these scenes, so it is almost forgivable. Most of the special effects happen on camera so its not a flash, a scream, and “tell us what scared you” moment. There’s a couple jump scenes that are done wonderfully.
This was my second time watching Grave Encounters, and on first viewing, I sat back with a smile and enjoyed the scares. It was well done. I was excited to see it again, and unlike Blair Witch, I was able to make it through still with a smile. Sure, there’s some faults here. But if you are looking for a good haunted house flick this October, check out Grave Encounters (It and it’s sequel are back on Netflix streaming.).