Friday, 30 August 2013


Popularity is a curse in film making. The necessity to be unique but do exactly what the audience want creates a near impossible challenge. So when something like handheld video films became popular, how do you make your self stand out? Paranormal Activity did it by scaring audiences senseless and blowing up bank accounts, Chronicle did it with kids with super powers, and Blair Witch Project did it before it was cool. But can today's film do it? This is Grave Encounters.

Grave Encounters starts with a typical cliché for the film style: a television executive claims they have got their hands on the footage about to be shown but little is known about it. But it all soon becomes clear. We are introduced to an amateur film team desperately trying to make a hip, cool, ghost hunting TV show. We see the out-takes, the behind the scenes, and the spooky, but completely fake, world that these hunters present. They lock themselves in an abandoned mental hospital with some horrific past with the intention of staying the night. They set up their cameras and go to explore. However, it seems ghosts are not as fake as they have believed and it seems that the paranormal entities within the hospital are more intent on keeping the crew within the walls than even the chains on the doors. At least it will give them good footage right?

At least the ghosts are polite...

There is no doubt that the acting in all forms of this particular sub-section of horror often falls short of critically acclaimed. Trying to present real life realistically whilst searching for invisible monsters can often come across as cheesy but Grave Encounters cast do not fear this, they revel in it. All of their performances are meant to be parodying shows like Most Haunted UK and the like with their overtly dramatic introductions to a very mundane location. Ben Wilkinson - as team leader Jerry - really emulates this with several takes of the simple introduction with exasperated sighs as tiny things go wrong. Paying off groundsmen to tell stories of ghosts in windows shows the ridiculous nature of these 'totally real' television shows. And their entire personalities change when things start becoming too real. The parody is dropped and, though the cheesiness remains, we feel the fear of the characters showing through.

Welcome to the Criss Angel of ghost shows.

As previously stated, this is a wonderful parody of ghost hunting television shows. It highlights the absurdity of these shows and how they are undoubtedly created. The scares, when they come, vary between the psychological and jumps. There are haunting images, dramatic irony, and a powerful use of the universal human fear of the unknown. Yes, it is cheesy, and yes it is nothing revolutionary but it will no doubt cause a chill down your spine like few other handheld horrors do. The characters are not likeable. Truth be told, they are sleazy but the audience are never encouraged to dislike them. They are human, totally accessible, and we can easily sympathise, even if we recognise their hubris.

A good horror. An old idea executed with authority and command. It will not haunt you forever but it may well make you uncomfortable when watching.

Best Bit? Possibly one of the more well known images of this unknown film, a girl cries in a corner and, when approached by the crew, turns to reveal an uncomfortably dark face which transforms horrifyingly before our eyes. A strong image and a scary moment.

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