Thursday, 31 October 2013

Grave Encounters 1 & 2 - Review

I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the deluge of found footage/pseudo-documentary horror movies that arrived in the wake of the success of The Blair Witch Project.  For every [REC] or Lake Mungo there are half a dozen straight to DVD cheapos with little or nothing about them to recommend.  Their proliferation can likely be explained by the simple fact that they don’t cost a lot to make and almost invariably make a profit.  That they are supposed to look a bit shit means that the market has been flooded by a plethora of ill-conceived, half-arsed, badly shot re-treads created by second or third rate film-makers looking to make a buck by riding a continuing and increasingly excremental wave of popularity.  Just slap an anonymous snippet from a review on the cover and watch it fly off the shelves at local supermarkets.

One of the main stumbling blocks for any found footage movie is credibility or lack thereof.  To come within spitting distance of succeeding the film-makers have to devise a reasonably logical explanation for why a person, when his/her life is in serious jeopardy, would continue to film events as they spiral out of control and become deadly.  Although both Grave Encounters and its increasingly demented sequel do not always present a convincing reason why the characters would continue filming they do go to some length to make it work 90% of the time.

The setting for both movies is an abandoned asylum somewhere near Vancouver. In the first movie a group of film-makers whilst filming the sixth episode of documentary TV show Grave Encounters find themselves at the mercy of the revenants that now inhabit the secluded hospital.  As if being menaced by the malevolent ghosts of the deranged isn’t bad enough the building seems to exist in some kind of pocket dimension where the laws of time and space no longer apply.  The second movie follows a group of amateur film-makers who, suspicious that the Grave Encounters movie was real, travel to the abandoned asylum from the first movie to investigate.

The first movie is the directorial debut of a couple of film-makers bearing the dubious moniker of The Vicious Brothers.  With a risible pseudonym like that you would be forgiven for thinking the movie would be equally risible.  Instead we have a reasonably entertaining addition to an over-saturated genre that succeeds in presenting the audience with a wonderfully creepy setting and a number of effective (if often hoary) jump scares.  The movie is slightly over reliant on the latter but nonetheless succeeded in making me jump on a number of occasions whilst also presenting an atmosphere thick with escalating dread.

The sequel does what any sequel should do and brings some new ideas to the table.  The general consensus amongst critics and horror fans seems to be that Grave Encounters 2 is somewhat inferior to the movie that spawned it.  When the central characters first arrive at the asylum I had a sinking feeling that I could only put down to a sudden sense of déjà vu.  It felt like what I was about to witness was an unnecessary repeat of the events of Grave Encounters.  To my surprise I found myself enjoying the sequel slightly more than the first movie.  It takes every element of the first movie and ups the ante.  The ghost attacks are more intense this time round and there's one particularly effective death scene that I had expected to see in the first movie that was worth waiting for.

The cast in both movies acquit themselves reasonably well; convincingly conveying a growing sense of desperation as the implications of their situation grow ever clearer.  No-one particularly stands out although one actor (not saying who) from the first movie does return for Grave Encounters 2 and delivers a particularly unhinged performance that is a lot of fun.  But the star of both movies is definitely the building itself.  There's something undeniably terrifying about being lost in the dark, labyrinthine corridors of a long abandoned asylum regardless of whether it is or is not genuinely haunted.

Respected UK film critic Mark Kermode has discussed on occasion a rule that should (or perhaps should not) be applied to comedies.  The “rule” is as follows.  If a comedy makes you laugh out loud more than 5 times during its run-time it can be considered to have succeeded in what it sets out to do and can be labelled a comedy.   Applying that logic to a horror movie the raison d'etre of which is to make the audience jump can Grave Encounters and its sequel be considered a success?  The answer is yes.

I’m not going to suggest that these movies belong in the higher echelons of the genre amongst the best of the found footage genre and when compared to non-found footage ghost stories such as, for example, the brilliant and wonderfully atmospheric Session 9 they come up short.  But examined within the confines of the found footage/pseudo-documentary genre they provide intermittently scary thrills, an intensely creepy location and most importantly an acceptable number of effective jump scares.  Bring on a third instalment.  But only if it maintains the quality and continues to expand the mythos that Grave Encounters 2 started to develop.


Grave Encounters

Grave Encounters 2

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