Grave Encounters (2011) Movie Reviews – 31 Days of Halloween
A crew from a paranormal reality television show lock themselves in a haunted psychiatric hospital. They search for evidence of paranormal activity as they shoot what ends up becoming their final episode.
Welcome to Knockout Horror. Let’s mix things up a little bit for day 12 of our 31 Days of Halloween feature. Today we are checking out a movie that has become rather divisive as we review the Found Footage Mockumentary Grave Encounters from 2011. This movie came hot on the heels of the found footage wave brought on by the wildly successful Paranormal Activity and it is something of a guilty pleasure of mine.
As always, from now on, these classic reviews are a much shorter format due to recent changes with Google’s algorithm. It’s a bit pointless wasting my time harping on about things that won’t get any form of search engine promotion so I will keep it short.
A Divisive Movie
Nobody seems to sit on the fence about Found Footage. It’s one of those movie making styles that splits people either way. Some love it and some hate it. Whatever happens, it tends to provoke one type of strong feeling or another. I am actually a fan of found footage. Sure, most of it is utter crap but I always find the style to be very watchable and appreciate the effort some of the film makers go to.
Grave Encounters perfectly captures that found footage sentiment. Managing to divide viewers right down the middle into people who love it and people who think it is one of the worst movies ever. Following the story of a group of reality show ghost hunters investigating an abandoned, supposedly haunted, asylum. This movie plays out as a mix of mockumentary like footage and video captured by the crew on the night they disappeared.
A Change of Pace
Before I start, this movie probably doesn’t belong alongside some of the other classics in this list. It isn’t a classic, it isn’t an amazing movie. Hell, it isn’t even an amazing found footage. I suppose an argument could be made that it isn’t even an objectively good movie. But it is a movie that I enjoy and find to be very watchable and its a good change of pace from what we have covered so far. It does deserve pointing out, as well, that Grave Encounters has gained a fairly significant cult following in recent years.
Grave Encounters’ approach to supernatural scares is a novel one for the time. Taking us behind the scenes of the ever popular ghost hunting reality television shows from the 2000s and exposing the con. Before doubling back on itself to drag the cast into their own personal nightmares inside of a hospital with no escape. It’s witty, self aware, and actually quite scary in parts. Sure, it has a bunch of issues, but this is watchable found footage that makes for fantastic October viewing.
Found Footage Haunted Hospital Horror
Grave Encounters was obviously made to capitalise on the wave of popularity found footage was experiencing due to Paranormal Activity. The Vicious Brothers had never even made a feature length movie before. Producing Grave Encounters on a shoe string budget and releasing it on a limited theatre run before it made its way to on demand streaming services. It is in no small part thanks to the viral popularity of the movie’s trailer that it became a huge success grossing $5.4 million against a $120,000 budget. Found footage had shown, once again, that it could capture audience’s interest and generate profit like no other genre.
The formula here is simple. Take a cast of people, place them in a spooky location and scare the hell out of them. There is nothing too complex and no deep lore to get invested in. It’s just old fashioned haunted house horror presented in a slightly different way. And for the most part it works as advertised. It’s silly, a bit camp and even a bit scary in parts but, also, a lot of fun.
A Fantastic Location
The first hour is spent building up the tension with subtle unexplained events taking place. Each of which being captured on cameras placed throughout the hospital by the crew. Characters get lost in the maze like halls of the hospital and time suddenly seems to be non-linear. The asylum becomes, almost, an antagonist in itself much like the hotel from The Shining.
The location here is the star of the show and it really is what sets Grave Encounters apart from similar horror movies. The set ups, the shadows, the lighting and the layout all work massively to the movie’s favour. Making this seem like a place where you definitely wouldn’t want to spend a night. This is one of the better haunted hospitals in recent movies and the scene works perfectly to build up the tension in the first half.
Things really speed up towards the final third of the movie and the events become less subtle and more aggressive. It’s pretty intense stuff and feels extremely disparate from the first part of the movie. The scares are more frequent, the gore comes on harder and the story becomes far more unsettling. While the break neck pace of the last 30 minutes is easy to appreciate. It lends Grave Encounters a somewhat uneven balance. It’s a movie of two parts and that may leave some people feeling disappointed.
The slow build and constant palpable tension of the first half is completely abandoned. Giving way to an almost frenetic type of horror. It can turn you around, to be honest. You’ve spent all this time indulging in the slow build only to be bowled off your feet in the last 30 minutes. With this being said, however, it does work and it is effective. It just feels a little bit unbalanced.
Acting is fine throughout. Sean Rogerson carries most of the load as presenter Lance. Doing a great job of capturing that oh so cheesy style that is so common with reality TV show presenters. Ashleigh Gryzko is decent as occult specialist Sasha and Mackenzie Gray is bags of fun as the charlatan medium Houston. Some of the dialogue can feel a bit forced at times but this may be due to retro scripting. A couple of the characters “um” and “you know” here and there while talking. It’s nothing major, though.
Direction is decent. There are some great shot setups and fantastic use of perspective and shadows. Some of the scares are extremely effective purely for how well the shots are setup. The Vicious Brothers definitely got creative on a few shots here and there and it mostly pays off. The movie is guilty of a little too much shaky cam. It is a common occurrence and can be a bit distracting. Overall, however, it’s a pretty well shot movie, especially considering the low budget.
Final Thoughts and Score
This one was a bit of a step away from the classics that we have been looking at. I still think Grave Encounters is a fun movie, though, and a very easy watch. It’s one of the better found footage horror movies and a great option for younger horror fans. The directors make fantastic use of the haunting location and get a hell of a lot out of a very limited budget. It’s legitimately scary in parts and the slow build of tension works pretty well. It’s uneven in parts and has issues but this is still a fun option for something different in October.