Directors/Screenplay/Visual Effects – The Vicious Brothers [Colin Minihan & Stuart Ortiz], Producer – Shawn Angelski, Photography – Tony Mirza, Music – Quynne Craddock, Special Effects – Brant FX (Supervisor – Brant McIlroy), Production Design – Paul McCulloch. Production Company – Digital Interference/Twin Engine Films/Darclight Films.
Sean Rogerson (Lance Preston), Ashleigh Gryzko (Sasha Parker), Meriwin Mondesir (TC Gibson), Mackenzie Gray (Houston Gray), Juan Redinger (Matt White), Ben Wilkinson (Jerry Hartfeld), Bob Rathie (Kerry Sandavol), Shawn MacDonald (Morgan Turner), Fred Keating (Gary Crawford), Luis Javier (Javier Ortega)
TV producer Jerry Hartfeld introduces a videotape that has been sent to his production company. It is an episode of the ghost hunting reality tv series ‘Grave Encounters’. In the episode, the four-person film crew led by host Lance Preston, later joined by psychic Houston Gray, went to investigate the Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital in Ryerson Valley, Maryland, which has been abandoned for fifty years and is reputedly haunted. Locked into the building until 6 am, they searched for evidence of supernatural activity without avail. They then found that something was rearranging the geometry of the building, leaving them lost. The force in the building then started playing increasingly malicious pranks on them, eventually causing members of the group to disappear.
Grave Encounters is another entry in the Found Footage Film fad, which has become legion (in genre material, at least) in the last few years beginning with The Blair Witch Project (1999) and massively invigorated by Paranormal Activity (2007) in particular. Others amid this fad have included the likes of The Great American Snuff Film (2003), Incident at Loch Ness (2004), Amateur Porn Star Killer (2007) and sequels, Diary of the Dead (2007), The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007), [Rec] (2007), Cloverfield (2008), Lake Mungo (2008), Evil Things (2009), Atrocious (2010), Haunted Changi (2010), The Last Exorcism (2010), Apollo 18 (2011), Back from Hell (2011), 388 Arletta Avenue (2011), The Tunnel (2011), The Bay (2012), Chronicle (2012), The Devil Inside (2012), V/H/S (2012), Afflicted (2013), The Frankenstein Theory (2013), Frankenstein’s Army (2013), As Above So Below (2014), Black Water Vampire (2014), Devil’s Due (2014) and Project Almanac (2015), even spoof versions such as Big Man Japan (2007) and The Troll Hunter (2010).
Grave Encounters is a Canadian production. The so-called Vicious Brothers that the film is credited to consist of the otherwise unrelated Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz, who are both in their twenties, met online on a filmmakers’ forum and make their directorial debuts here. The film proved to be a modest success in release, even premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Grave Encounters promptly proves to be a film where you admire the ambition and technical competence of ingenue filmmakers at the same time as you find its lack of originality tiresome. One has watched enough Found Footage films by now (see above) that the limited potential of the genre is something that has become rapidly worn out within the space of only a handful of entries. Alas, Grave Encounters does not have enough at its disposal to do anything breathtakingly original. It only seems to tread where both The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity have gone before.
Most of the jumps that the duo come up with feel tired and hackneyed. The first couple of scares – where a window mysteriously opens of its own accord, or where Meriwin Mondesir puts down the camera and a wheelchair in the background behind him starts moving – are obvious. The moment the camera is focused in the way it is and we see what is there, it becomes abundantly clear what is about to happen. Almost every scare that the film throws up – things moving of their own accord, people standing in the corner with their backs turned, written words appearing on human skin and so on – feels as though it has been done before by other horror films.
There are a couple of interesting ideas – I liked the changing topography of the hospital which, although it has been done before – see in particular the Stephen King mini-series Rose Red (2002) – this is the first time it has been used in a Found Footage film. That said, the idea rapidly becomes overused during the middle of the film. I also thought the effect of everybody waking up to find they have patient id tags on their wrists a cute one, as well as when one member of the group goes missing and later turns up in a confused state wearing a hospital gown. The Vicious Brothers borrow a couple of ideas from The Last Exorcism and show the ghostbusting team as people who, once the cameras have stopped officially rolling, are shown to be faking things – although not enough play is made on this beyond a couple of scenes. Alas the film is only ever a series of pop-up shocks conducted without any real originality – nothing that stands Grave Encounters out above the rest of the Found Footage crowd.
The other complaint one has about the film is the location. The Vicious Brothers give the impression that they have obtained the use of a recently closed hospital or perhaps a school that was available to them on weekends. Kudos to their entrepreneurism – alas, the location does not look in any way like a psychiatric asylum that has been abandoned for forty years, has been repeatedly broken into and has workmen at work. There is some graffiti on the outside door but everywhere else, the halls and rooms look like they have been recently cleaned and are sporting nothing in the way of decay, vandalism or layers of dust.
The Vicious Brothers returned to write a sequel Grave Encounters 2 (2012) under a different director, which is actually a more interesting film that claims to be a Found Footage film and that the original was real, where a film crew set out to track down what happened only to become trapped in the hospital again. The Vicious Brothers subsequently went onto make Extraterrestrial (2014) about a backwods UFO/alien encounter. Colin Minihan subsequently went on to make the zombie film It Stains the Sand Red (2016) and the psycho film What Keeps You Alive (2018), as well as to write/produce Still/Born (2017), Spiral (2019) and Z (2019) and to produce In Control (2017) for other directors.