Amidst the found-footage craze of late aughts and early 2010s, Canadian thriller Grave Encounters carved out a small niche for itself. Following the success of The Blair Witch Project, the Paranormal Activity series proved that the found-footage format was cheap to produce with a huge potential box office upside. For its part, Grave Encounters gain enough of a follow to justify a quickly produced sequel. That sequel underperformed enough to derail plans for a trilogy. Even the original found-footage thriller only general a lukewarm reception among critics.
Reality TV ghost hunter Lance Preston and his team of paranormal “experts” arrive at the long abandoned Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital to film the latest episode of their series, Grave Encounters. With cameras mounted throughout the building, the ghost hunters lock themselves inside for the night. Several hours pass without event. But soon strange phenomenon unfold around them. And before the Grave Encounters team can leave they find themselves trapped with a dormant evil now fully awake.
Grave Encounters Haunts Familiar Found-Footage Ground
No points are going to be awarded to Grave Encounters for originality. By 2011, the found-footage genre had firmly entrenched itself in horror. Paranormal Activity franchise was three movies deep into its franchise roughly around the time The Vicious Brothers’ (What Keeps You Alive) unleashed their debut co-writer and directing effort. There’s absolutely nothing new here that you haven’t seen in other found-footage movies. Following a first act that introduces its characters and basic premise, Grave Encounters slow burns through a second act before ramping up its horror. It’s a basic blueprint established by The Blair Witch Project albeit with much less attention to an immersive mythology.
There’s absolutely nothing new here that you haven’t seen in other found-footage movies.
And it’s that last point that limits Grave Encounters to some extent. That is, The Vicious Brothers almost slavishly mimic narrative structures from The Blair Witch Project with only the characters and setting feeling different. Other aspects of this found-footage feel borrowed from either general horror tropes or other specific horror movies. Of course, one can’t fault The Vicious Brothers for importing the ‘abandoned asylum’ into their movie – if any place was going to be haunted, you’d have to assume an old psychiatric facility would be a good candidate. The old Riverview Hospital grounds in British Columbia certainly provides an eerie backdrop. Nonetheless, the abandoned hospital’s backstory – and some visuals – feel directly lifted from The House on Haunted Hill remake.
Grave Encounters Still Finds a Handful of Good Scares to Keep Horror Fans Entertained
If there’s a head-scratching problem with Grave Encounters it’s the found-footage thriller’s use of CGI effects. Though The Vicious Brothers use the effects sparingly, they are glaringly obvious when they turn up on screen. Simply put, this is the sort of horror movie that in no way needed CGI effects to generate scares. Moreover, it’s not like any of the effects on screen impress so much that they justify their presence. On the other hand, nothing about these effects is so bad as to detract significantly from the viewing experience. At their worst, the CGI works against the faux documentary feel for which most found-footage movies strive.
To their credit, The Vicious Brothers prove they know how to exploit a lull in action – and corners of the screen – for some surprising jolts here and there.
In spite of these limitations, Grave Encounters remains an occasionally scary, always watchable found-footage thriller. To their credit, The Vicious Brothers prove they know how to exploit a lull in action – and corners of the screen – for some surprising jolts here and there. Even if the haunts are pretty rote stuff that’s not to say they don’t work. At just over 90 minutes, Grave Encounters never overstays its welcome. Some fun jabs at the expense of reality TV paranormal investigators woven into its mockumentary format maintain some of the thriller’s quieter moments. In particular Mackenzie Gray’s (Rabid) fake medium “Houston Grey” provides a handful of snickers.
Grave Encounters an Unremarkable, But Thoroughly Watchable Horror Movie
Not much about Grave Encounters rings as terribly original. The Vicious Brothers borrow most notably from The Bair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. But the borrowed bits still work and The Vicious Brothers find a few inspired scares along with the way. A game cast and some early self-deprecating humor sustains the first third before the familiar scares kick into gear. And its abandoned psychiatric facility is a character in its own right. In spite of a derivative story, Grave Encounters is a very watchable, fun found footage thriller.