“For their ghost hunting reality show, a production crew locks themselves inside an abandoned mental hospital that’s supposedly haunted – and it might prove to be all too true.” — IMDb
Grave Encounters is part of a long line of “found footage” horror movies — honestly, one of my favorite subgenres. It was The Vicious Brothers’ (a directing duo comprised of Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz) first horror film and Minihan’s feature film debut. I’ve now seen this movie three times and I still think it’s pretty freaking great.
It opens with the producer of a fairly new ghost hunting show, Grave Encounters, explaining how the crew went missing while filming their sixth episode at Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital. He says the raw footage from their experience in the asylum had been recovered, and what we’re about to watch is not a movie but their first hand experiences, edited only for time…
** SPOILERS! **
I really loved the whole fake ghost hunters aspect of the plot. They absolutely NAILED it, too — they were so obviously inspired by Ghost Adventures, it was amazing. I think I would have liked this part less if they had been super serious, dedicated ghost hunters… but the fact that they were really just in it for the quick, easy buck made it much more entertaining. They were going into this asylum fully expecting to hear maybe a few bumps in the night, a few funny noises they could explain as legit EVPs, and filling the rest of the screen time with “arty” hallway shots and spooky music. The main investigator, Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson), even pays the gardener to make up a ghost story just to pad their narrative. So it makes it that much more shocking when they realize just how much activity is going on in the hospital.
I thought the actors were, for the most part, very natural and convincing. Sasha (Ashleigh Gryzko) drove me a little nuts, but I really liked everyone else, especially Lance (who was the perfect diva of a lead investigator) and T.C. (Merwin Mondesir).
The jump scares in this film are plentiful and honestly do get a bit cheesy at times. Unless we’re talking about killer special effects, I am almost always going to be more of a fan of the more subtle scare. That being said… I’ve seen this movie several times now and a few scenes STILL made me jump (and I was still scanning every still shot just waiting for something to move or come crashing down). It helps that I LOVE those dang ghost hunting shows.
Ultimately, I was more of a fan of the less in-your-face scares — a door closing unexpectedly, Matt finding the window open when he’s picking up the static cameras, the abandoned wheelchair moving as T.C. was distracted on the phone. There are several scenes where we have a ghostly apparition rushing towards the camera with a distorted, ink black mouth (literally at least three times) and, well, that gets old after a while. There are also things like a hand punching through a window to grab Sasha, or a whole mess of arms coming through the walls and ceiling (is this where V/H/S got the idea?), that just felt a bit cheesy to me and not really in line with the typical ghost encounters (though I didn’t hate when Houston got lifted off the ground and choked by a spirit, or the figure pulling T.C. into the blood-filled tub).
But the biggest selling point for this movie? The entire concept that the BUILDING KEEPS CHANGING AROUND THEM. The first time I saw it I remember gasping SO LOUDLY when they first break the front doors open with the empty gurney and just see more hallway on the other side. They try to convince themselves that maybe they somehow got turned around and made home base somewhere other than the lobby, but then Sasha sees the same “DEATH AWAITS” on the outside of the door that they had all noted when they came in. Then the realization by Lance that it’s 8:30am and it should be light out… laying down to sleep and setting his alarm for an hour and waking up 7 hours later… the food in the cooler being rotted and full of maggots as if it’s been in there for days… the roof access leading to a solid wall. UGH.
Just the entire idea of being so stuck, so lost, within this one building is so terrifying to me. Every time they go to look for someone, or something, it takes them forever because they keep getting turned around. At one point they just give up because they searched and searched and couldn’t even find a stairwell. In one scene they know they’ve climbed four flights of stairs but they find a map of the building and the “you are here” star insists they’re on the first floor. It’s maddening even to watch, imagining how hopeless it must feel to know — logically — that there must be a way out, but being unable to find it. Seeing that hours are ticking by but being unable to believe it. TERRIFYING.
On top of that, the building just seems to be becoming more and more alive. What starts as a door slamming here or a window closing there turns into there just being nonstop groaning and sick cackling and unearthly growls seeming to come from the hospital itself. There’s so much to be afraid of that you can imagine the mind just going numb, unable to process it.
I thought the ending was… okay. Maybe a bit predictable, in a way, that they couldn’t possibly mention the doctor who had performed lobotomies without him popping up again in some form. But I feel like it worked. There was no possible happy ending to turn it around, and we still have some bit of mystery as far as what the hell DOES happen to Lance after his final sign off besides just wandering the pitch black tunnels in a lobotomized haze?
Creepy as HELL, truly, and worth a watch!
Rating: 7.5/10 | Director: The Vicious Brothers (Stuart Ortiz and Colin Minihan) | Writer: The Vicious Brothers | Music: Quynne Alana Paxa | Cinematography: Tony Mirza | Starring: Sean Rogerson, Ben Wilkinson, Ashleigh Gryzko, Merwin Mondesir, Juan Riedinger