GRAVE ENCOUNTERS (2011)
Directed by The Vicious Brothers
Written by The Vicious Brothers
Starring Sean Rogerson, Juan Riedinger, Ashleigh Gryzko, Mackenzie Gray, & Merwin Mondesir
For more info check out the film’s website here.
My guilty pleasure is GHOST HUNTERS and all reality TV like it. Give me a night vision cam wandering a dark hallway and my ass is glued to the couch and my eyes to the TV. So I’m the right audience for GRAVE ENCOUNTERS, a “found footage” film about a paranormal investigation team; one of the first, according to the producer’s intro, and the tapes found inside of a haunted sanitarium which were never released. The producer at the beginning assures the viewer that nothing has been altered in these tapes and that the only edits were for time constraints. With that set up, the film ominously starts and we are introduced to our host (Sean Rogerson), the occult specialist (Ashleigh Gryzko), the sound guy (Juan Riedinger), the cameraman (Merwin Mondesir) and the medium (Mackenzie Gray). What stars out as a routine investigation by a bunch of jaded “investigators” gets real really quick and soon this team who don’t really believe in ghosts encounter something real and scary.
And GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is really scary. Do you know those moments in GHOST HUNTERS when the camera is tracking through corridors and over the shoulders of the hosts and you’re just waiting for something to jump out or happen? Those shows live on that anticipation, since, let’s face it, nothing ever really does. In GRAVE ENCOUNTERS, shit actually happens on screen, but done so in a way that doesn’t seem staged (at least for the most part). At first, this film plays it by the book, investigating the grounds in the daylight, interviewing eyewitnesses, but soon the moments in between takes start to show up as the host is filmed giving the groundskeeper twenty bucks to make up a scary eyewitness account and talks of shots that amp up the scares for the audience are discussed. This is well paced and patient, relying on the age old set up technique for these shows which tells the backstory of each location, with the audience knowing full well that this will be the spot shit goes down later. When over-the-top medium (Mackenzie Gray) shows up to chew the scenery, you almost believe him, until the host yells cut and they laugh at how inane his “contact with the dead” is. In showing these scenes, writers/directors capture how different these characters when the camera is rolling than they are in real life, but when stuff starts moving on their own, that gap lessens.
The performances are actually pretty well done here with host Sean Rogerson playing both a convincing talking head as well as a scared as shit victim of the whole situation, often flip flopping between both in the same scene. One of the challenges in these faux reality shows is that the actors must seem natural in front of the camera and lines don’t seem scripted. The entire cast does a damn fine job of doing this throughout.
The other challenging aspect of all found footage films is finding a reason to continue filming when the shit goes down. Here, that moment is sold with Rogerson’s orders to keep rolling despite his crew rebelling against him. But when stuff starts going completely off the reservation, you soon stop questioning why the camera is rolling and just roll with it because the locale and the situations are too creepy to care.
The last half hour of GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is a funhouse ride with shit jumping out at you every other second as the crew wander around in the dark. I watched this in a dark room in the middle of the night by myself and, I’m not too ashamed to admit, I was scared shitless a few times. Yes, a lot of these scares have been used in previous films and most of the scares are due to a loud burst of volume or shit rocketing toward the camera out of the blue, but there’s a carnival haunted house feel to GRAVE ENCOUNTERS that makes it stand out from most of the GHOST HUNTERS knock offs out there. Convincingly acted and filled with jumps and jolts, GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is everything you wanted to see in all of those reality shows, but never do.