People love ghost hunting shows. I, for one, have never seen a single episode of Ghost Hunters or Ghost Adventures, but I really love the idea of them. My memory tells me that there used to even be tours of these shows, as I recall seeing promotions at venues in Milwaukee. But I honestly think that was just a really weak fever dream.
Found footage movie Grave Encounters shows us what happens when one of these ghost hunting squads finally find what they’re looking for.
Grave Encounters opens as many in the genre do, with an introduction explaining that everyone is already dead. The crew of a fictional ghost hunting show, Grave Encounters, went missing while investigating ghosts in the abandoned Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital. The footage shown is supposedly unaltered and raw (though that’s definitely not true as in the beginning we definitely have edits and inserts of footage).
According to legend, Collingwood had a doctor, Arthur Friedkin, who performed lobotomies and unethical experiments on his patients. It wasn’t until he was called by those very patients that his work stopped. But the hospital has been supposedly haunted since.
The hospital caretaker agrees to lock the TV show crew into the hospital. Not sure why this was necessary to actually do. But TV. Whatever. They also have steady cams set up throughout the hospital to get footage from around the hospital.
At first, the group experience nothing in particular. They hear ‘noises’ that are really there and speak to ghosts that aren’t real. It isn’t until they begin to pack up in the morning that they realise something is wrong.
When cameraman Matt goes to pickup the steady cams, he doesn’t come back. The group go together to look for him, but he’s seemingly vanished without a trace.
Once the group admit that they can’t find Matt alone, they go to the front entrance as the caretaker should have already unlocked them. Only…it’s still locked. And while it’s well past sunrise, it’s still pitch black outside.
The cast and crew of Grave Encounters soon find themselves in a living nightmare. The building changes itself. There’s guest appearances from not-so-ex-patients. And in true found-footage fashion, they’re all picked off in various supernatural fashions.
Unlike many found footage movies, you get to see everyone’s demise in detail. Everyone gets their moment of screentime unlike the Blair Witch Projects and Last Broadcasts. But that, unfortunately, really slowed down the pace for me. I love a bit of unseen terror in horror. We also get waaaay too many glitch effects. We get it. Ghosts are there. We get it. We get it.
That being said, I fairly enjoyed Grave Encounters. The set up in particular.
In many ways, the successes of Grave Encounters reminded me of Hell House LLC. Both are fun, modern takes on the found footage film. Most importantly, they both have good explanations for why they’re filming. That’s always a key element for me in this genre.
But Hell House works for me in ways that Grace Encounters doesn’t. For one, while a spooky abandoned asylum is cool setting – it did feel a bit…wrong. I didn’t think the patients should be a part of the haunting. Why not make it a full-on sadistic set of doctors. Many of them were the real villains of the era, at least more than the patients were were.
The footage at the beginning of the film reminded me of Geraldo Rivera’s now-iconic expose on Willowbrook State School. None of those poor souls should be doomed to “haunt” anyone. It feeds back into the idea that people with mental illnesses or disabilities are something to be scared of. And if that wasn’t what the film was trying to get across, it was doing a piss poor job of showing me otherwise.