Every so often a movie comes along that delights to no end. It's one of those movies that not everyone has heard of or that actually lives up to the hype that preceded it. When it happens, which is rare, it is one of the best times you have with a movie. Such is the case with GRAVE ENCOUNTERS.
The movie falls into the category of lost footage films that became popular with both THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films. Both were films put together with supposedly lost footage of some group or person that just now were being released. That happens here as a producer of reality television shows opens by telling us about the proposed series called "Grave Encounters". It was supposedly ahead of it's time, a reality show about ghost hunters before they were common.
Led by Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson), the group investigates haunted locations in an attempt to offer proof of the paranormal. In reality as we watch this raw footage unroll we learn that it's all a gag to him and his crew, a group that doesn't actually believe in ghosts let alone having seen one. To them this is nothing more than a way to get on TV and be known, a way to make money.
Along with Lance we have Matt White (Juan Riedinger) their tech specialist, Sasha Parker (Ashleigh Gryzko) a paranormal expert, camera man T.C. Gibson (Merwin Mondesir) and renowned psychic Houston Gray (Mackenzie Gray) who is actually an actor pretending to be a psychic. This group comes together to prove or debunk the supernatural in the series. With five episodes in the can they head out to their latest location, an abandoned asylum where nefarious tests were run on the inmates and where a few of them escaped to take down the doctor who committed these deeds and kill him.
At first we see them try and coerce a handyman into claiming he saw a ghost for $20 and get to hear from a local historian who gives them the background on the location. Afterwards the current care taker unlocks the building and lets them in, padlocking the door from the outside once they're in (lockdowns are a part of several ghost hunting shows on air now). Matt sets up cameras in steady positions throughout the building and the crew has equipment of their own and the show begins filming.
Nothing happens at first. The stage is being set for the viewer, that feeling of disbelief and the hope that something will happen only intensified by the setting and the use of night vision cameras shooting in the dark. If you hate hand held camera films you might not like this one but its not as intrusive as some have been in the past. There's a feeling of dread in the air as they walk the abandoned halls finding wheel chairs overturned gurneys. But little happens at first.
When it does it's something simple. A tug, a push and finally we see Sasha's hair lifted by something not there. While this may seem spooky to us it's even worse for those involved as this is the first actual paranormal encounter that any of them have experienced. They are in over their head and soon find that these ghosts want to do more than just play with them.
As things progress from bad to worse, they decided to stick together in the lobby and shut down the shooting. They have enough to put together and episode and have had enough. Sending Matt to pick up all the stationery cameras, he disappears and the group soon find themselves searching for him. And while doing so, they encounter more than they can handle.
There's the set up of the movie. It was seen in the previews that were available before it was released. And for some reason it never got a wide or well played release to theaters which is sad. That's because this movie offers more scares and jumps, more creepy and chilling sequences than any movie I've seen in quite some time. While the similarly themed PARANORMAL ACTIVITY was gave me goose bumps, this one gave me more scares and had me more frightened at times. And even in scenes where you knew something was going to happen, the tension was so well developed that you felt relief after jumping.
The actors are all quite believable. While none of them are well known recognizable faces it works to their advantage. It would be hard to believe someone like Tom Cruise as Lance knowing that he's, well, Tom Cruise. With unrecognizable faces you believe that maybe this really is lost footage. Okay not really but it helps make it more believable.
Being a fan of horror films its rare for me to watch one and not feel cheated these days. So many go for the cheap scare, the gore extreme or the simple torture porn film, never relying on atmosphere. This movie drips with atmosphere. Although made on a small budget you'd never know while watching it. Instead you hope that no current group of ghost hunters have to experience what this team does. The movie is one of the best horror films I've seen in years. And having watched so many of them that's saying something.
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