Hopeful Encounters (Grave Encounters, 2011)

grave-encounters-posterI find those shows about Ghost Hunters amusing. Half the cable networks-including Animal Planet has them. Their overly dramatic reveals of nothing but camera lens flares and static sounds that they pass off as evidence.

Of all the ideas for a found footage film, this is the greatest setup ever. A ghost Hunter show films in an old asylum…a things go to hell. The idea explains why you have all this footage that is grainy and shaky. It is a perfect set up for jump scares and real freakiness.

And aside from a goofy opening, where some guy explains that this is a found footage film, Grave Encounters starts off spectacularly. Sean Rogerson’s Lance Preston is the quintessential snake oil salesman. He and his crew conduct interviews with no regard for fact and flair for the dramatic. When Lance announces he has brought in “psychic” Houston Gray (McKenzie Gray) we are treated to a wonderful sequence of over acting. Houston is clearly a sham (McKenzie Gray is terrific in this role).

The film does a great job as it sets up the scams. The interviews before they are locked in for the night establishes the creepiness of the asylum’s history. Granted, it borrows heavily from the plot of the 1999 House On Haunted Hill in that regards. But, a haunted asylum formerly run by an evil doctor? Winner horror movie concept. After they are locked inside, they start wandering the asylum in the dark. Noone is all that scared, until little noises and shadows and slamming doors start freeking them out.

And that is where it gets messy. The crew starts freaking out…as the events get crazy. But things start to happen that do not make real sense. One guy is pulled into a tub of blood and is suddenly gone. Smoke fills the room and someone disappears. The ghosts rely on the whole warped face effect that became popular on Web videos meant to scare the crap out of you.

The ending is the final point that takes a great idea and strives for no attempt at freshness. It references rips off a sequence from House On Haunted Hill. It squanders this wonderful idea, which could have given the Paranormal Activity films a run for their money falls woefully short.

The film looks good, it really could pass for outtakes from any number of paranormal investigation shows. The actors do a terrific job. Much of the film really works. It is frustrating to me as a viewer that a film that starts out so truly promising could muck it up so far along into the film. It is the final twenty minutes or so that takes this film off the rails.

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