DIRECTOR Colin Minihan; Stuart Ortiz WRITER Colin Minihan; Stuart Ortiz STARS Ben Wilkinson; Sean Rogerson; Ashleigh Gryzko DVD Now
REVIEW Chris Costa
Shamelessly adhering to the found-footage aesthetic popularised by The Blair Witch Project, and thumbing its nose at ghost-hunting TV guff such as Most Haunted, Grave Encounters treads a path worn by early found-footage films The St. Francisville Experiment and The Last Broadcast, while the subject matter eerily recalls Frederick Wiseman’s disturbing documentary, Titicut Follies.
We’re introduced to a disenchanted film crew readying the sixth episode of their paranormal show, the subject of which is an abandoned psychiatric hospital with a checkered history of torture and abuse. Off camera they poke fun at it all, even bribing the gardener into issuing a false statement as they desperately try to pad out the footage. Bringing in a fake psychic and setting up a number of cameras around the building, we’re soon in familiar night-vision territory as the crew prepare for an overnight stay in the dilapidated hospital. Little time is wasted before we’re treated to some spooky happenings, events taking a sinister turn as our ever fraying crew find themselves increasingly molested by the malevolent spirits.
The joke’s on us of course, suspending our disbelief as much as the viewers of the shows that Grave Encounters so openly mocks, but irony aside, this old dog still manages a few tricks. The uniformly game and likeable cast convince, especially as their jaded characters’ facades melt away into confusion and terror as they desperately try to escape the secure building, having requested to be locked in overnight in order to bolster the show’s thin veneer of authenticity. A brave but neat midpoint reveal demonstrates exactly how much ectoplasmic doo-doo the protagonists have landed themselves in, allowing the filmmakers to go hell-bent on their captive fodder (while thankfully restraining any shaky-cam theatrics).
Many of the frights are signposted, while the eventual reliance on CGI does threaten to deaden some of the smarter moments. But directors the Vicious Brothers are clearly having fun with the format and throw in enough tricks to ensure the odd one sticks, including one humorous jump-scare shamelessly nicked from George Romero’s Day of the Dead. We know where this is heading; it’s pure pantomime, and about a decade too late, but with the lights down and the sound up there’s fun to be had in this enjoyable, if lightweight, spook show.