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GRAVE ENCOUNTERS
DVD. Metrodome.

Grave EncountersThe ‘found footage’ horror genre is now established enough to have its own sub-divisions. There’s the ‘home movie’ story where people capturing their lives on camcorders encounter bad things (like the lamentable The Tapes) and the ‘TV documentary gone bad’ – which is where Grave Encounters fits in. The genre is also extensive enough for films to be feeding off each other: this film shares a virtually identical premise to Episode 50, both films dealing with the recovered tapes of a ghost-hunting TV show where the supernatural encounter proved to be more than the producers bargained for.

In the case of Grave Encounters, host and producer Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) and his crew descend on an abandoned psychiatric hospital where Bad Things happened in the 1930s. Preston is a smug opportunist who is not above bribing ‘witnesses’ into telling false stories of ghostly encounters, and his crew are a remarkably annoying bunch of argumentative assholes – fake psychic Houston Gray (Mackenzie Gray) and astonishingly angry crewman T.C. (Merwin Mondesir) among them – and before long, things are going badly wrong. Locked in the building, time seems to stop – it’s the middle of the afternoon but still dark outside – and the maze-like asylum is impossible to escape, doors leading to nowhere and exits blocked up.

This is the most interesting aspect of the movie – the idea that once inside the building, the group find themselves in some sort of Twilight Zone that can’t be escaped. There’s a decent disconcerting level of paranoia as they find that nowhere leads to where is should, and that the world outside has seemingly ceased to exist.

Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of people shouting at each other, and very little else for a lot of the film. Being trapped in a building with these people is certainly a scary prospect, but not overly entertaining viewing. And there’s one other problem – the scares are too blatant, too visceral. If ‘found footage’ films work, they surely work because they don’t take us out of reality. The shocks are sudden jumps, subtle creeps, barely seen images and weird, creepy, indecipherable things. Remember the scene at the end of The Blair Witch Project, with the figure stood in the corner? Now try to think how less unsettling that would be if it was well lit, lingered on and then had the figure turn around to reveal a CGI Scary face. Because that’s what happens here, and it has precisely the opposite effect to what was presumably intended, taking the viewer out of the terror and into a moment of film fakery.

And there are several moments like that. Ghosts and monsters shown up front and centre where they should be hidden. It’s like watching the remake of The Haunting when you’re wanting the original. Okay, Grave Encounters is nowhere near that bad – but you get my meaning. What could’ve been a genuinely scary film has all too often gone for the cheap thrills, and the end result is deeply frustrating, and a wasted opportunity.

DAVID FLINT

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