While continuing to procrastinate on finishing up the first Boyfriend of the Week write-up for 2012 (I know, I know — I’m getting lamer by the year!), I happened upon this film on Netflix’s Watch Instantly service, loaded it up with my Roku, and spent an additional 90 minutes NOT working on the Boyfriend. You know, the thing you ACTUALLY want to read about. Ha ha ha, ha. Ha. Sorry.
The good news, though, is that despite the fact this low-budget flick had all the earmarks of unwatchable dreck (check out that cheesy cover, for example!), I ended up really enjoying it. I’ve always had a thing for ghost movies, first of all, and though it’s a shameless rip-off of The Blair Witch Project set in a shamelessly cliche location for a ghost movie (old abandoned psychiatric hospital, yawn), the filmmakers somehow managed to make Grave Encounters both entertaining and (occasionally, anyway) authentically unnerving. There’s a reason old abandoned psychiatric hospitals are a frequent setting for creepy ghost movies, after all, and that reason is that they are FOR SERIOUS CREEPY.
The movie is about a group of reality TV peeps who recently began a Ghost Hunters-style cable TV show. The story opens with the producer informing us that after filming their 6th episode, the group disappeared, leaving behind only their raw footage, which has now been spliced together for us so we will never forget the brave ghost hunters who came before. Or something like that.
Then begins the footage. The group has arrived at ye olde abandoned psychiatric hospital, and they quickly decide to begin the episode with an interview of the building’s caretaker (condemned buildings have caretakers?), who tells them there’s been a long history of ghost sightings in the building ever since the hospital closed down decades ago when a group of the patients, many of whom were psychotic criminals, broke free and killed the hospital’s director.
After some additional introduction, including a scene in which they offer to pay a Hispanic groundskeeper (condemned buildings have groundskeepers?) money if he’ll say on camera he’s seen a ghost there himself, the group heads inside and has the caretaker lock them in. The plan? To spend the entire night trapped in the haunted hospital, filming whatever spooky things they can find. (The question? What kind of crazy hospital has a front door that gets locked from the outside?) (No, no, don’t ask questions. Questions only get in the way. Sorry. Just ignore me.)
Our intrepid ghost hunters, as it turns out, don’t actually believe in ghosts. They spend most of the early hours joking around and wishing they could at least get something WEIRD on camera, and, failing that, if they might be able to manufacture something weird instead. (This is the moment when I muttered under my breath something along the lines of “Be careful what you wish for, dopes.”) Sure enough, not long after that discussion, strange things begin to befall the crowd. Followed shortly by things not so much “strange” as, like, “downright terrifying, WHERE IS MY MOMMY?” Doors slam shut. One of their crew disappears and reappears later completely crazed out of his mind. An invisible hand tousles one of the women’s hair.
And then, you know, people start to die. (Spoiler? Shut up — they tell us nobody survived in the first five minutes, you guys!)
The group immediately tries to make its way back to the front door, in the hopes they’ll be able to unlock it and get out. But the hospital is enormous and they keep getting turned around. Or so they think! As the night progresses, it becomes clear that something in the hospital is altering their perceptions so that the building continues to change with every turn they take. By the end of the film, there’s only one dude left. One dude with one flashlight. One dude with one flashlight whose batteries just died. Oops.
There are, of course, pa-LENTY of hokey moments in this movie, including a scene in which a bunch of huge black ghostly hands shoot out of the walls, something that looked so ridiculously fake, I wished they’d saved the dough on the CGI and put it to use somewhere else (craft services, perhaps). That said, though, overall, this was a pretty entertaining little flick. The acting was passable and there were, believe it or not, a few scenes that were truly spooksville. I did spend a LOT of time yelling at the characters (Really? Ghosts of dead patients are showing up and killing your friends, so you think a great place to hide is right next to the bath tub where you’ve already been told a woman committed suicide? NICE WORK, MORON!), but I also felt kind of sorry when they all died horrible deaths. So, you know, that tells you something.
All in all, well worth a gander if you have access to Netflix’s streaming movies. You could do a lot worse, that’s for sure. And hey, filmmakers? I think we’re all pretty much done with the whole “found footage” gimmick. It was done fairly well here, surprise, surprise, but the chances of YOU (yeah — you over there) doing it fairly well yourself are really, really low. Let’s retire that one. Move on to something else. What? I don’t know. (He’s on third, and I don’t give a damn.)
Recommended! Sort of!
[Netflix it (streaming or DVD)]
Genre: Horror, Ghost
Cast: Sean Rogerson, Juan Riedinger, Ashleigh Gryzko, Mackenzie Gray, Arthur Corber