Zombos Says: Fair
You can sum up Grave Encounters by saying "the joke's on them." 'Them' would be the Grave Encounters ghost-hunting team, a band of charlatans bolstering their television show with bought sightings of ghosts and the melodramatics of a pretend psychic (Mackenzie Gray) hamming it up for effect. After five bogus shows, they unexpectedly meet the real deal in the Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital, an abandoned structure harboring a dark past and soon to be discovered irritable inhabitants. Or is there just one joker tricking them, like the evil Emeric Belasco in Hell House?
Initially starting out with the usual furnishings moving ever so slightly and unnoticed, the team experiences more aggressive activity, then physical atacks by a demonic force. This is where the movie breaks down, abandoning the more traditional--and demanding--scares of ghostly fright that rely on subtlety and vagueness for in-your-face phantoms with CGI facial ticks and a building that refuses to let them leave.
If you recall the terrors in House on Haunted Hill (1999), the time trap of The Sick House (2008), and the standard modus operandi seen in Ghost Hunters on the Syfy channel, you already know what to expect. Like 2006's The Gravedancers, the story loses credibility by pushing its special effects beyond the story's required contextual belief, then ziplines J-horror-styled attrocites in and out of night-vision camera views, sending the Grave Encounters team screaming and running in all directions, and us watching it all collapse into the standard divide and conquer scenario. The mystery of the open window only tantalizes us with possibilities that never transpire; the room tucked away in the tunnels hints at black magic, but to what purpose? And the force stalking the Grave Encounters team never bothered the solitary caretaker, so why pick on them now?
Even if you aren't already exhausted by the cheap to produce found footage, point of view, movie schtick, this one would have been better filmed without the handheld shakycam pyrotechnics. It's a classic story: a group of unbelievers are trapped in a haunted house, teach them a lesson they won't forget (or survive). It's also the type of storyline you can fritter away when you overstep the reality-pretense of POV by squeezing it to bridge sub-genres. Grave Encounters starts as a haunting, then veers into demonic stalking, where the rules of engagement require more visual frenzy, setting up a plot contretemps that skewers the more suspenseful, understated unfolding of ghostly phenomenon. Oddly enough, when the sinister force in the hospital exerts its influence over time and space, there is no religious counter within the Grave Encounters team, a fault many horror movies that play the occultism card fail to take into consideration. Atheist or believer, when confronted by demonic activity and the breakdown of natural laws, there's a natural tendency to become very religious, very fast.
Sean Rogerson as Lance Preston, the team's leader, self-consciously chews up his role instead of allowing it to digest. White (Juan Riedinger), the tech expert, wears a KICK ME sign early on, so we know he's going down first. Sasha (Ashleigh Gryzko) is the token screaming female; not much hope for her, either. The camera guy, T.C. (Merwin Mondesir), acts like every other black camera guy character named T.C. is supposed to do--anger, frustration, despair, and done. Mackenzie Gray's psychic is the only character to play it evenly. He looks like a psychic should look, a little weird, a lot of Hollywood groom. He should have had more to do.
Grave Encounters should have had more for its characters and story to do, too.
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