Mix equal parts “Paranormal Activity,” “Blair Witch” and “The Shining,” and you’ll find yourself with “Grave Encounters,” the first feature from aspiring shock-jock writer/director team the Vicious Brothers. 25 year old twins who edited their first feature on laptops in their (or their parents’) living room, the Brothers are just the sort of shoe-string, guerrilla-style filmmakers I usually love to champion. Except that in this case, the film they made ended up going from promising to tedious to just plain laughable. And I was sorry to see it go.
The film follows a TV crew filming a new episode of one of those “Ghost Hunter”-type shows (the eponymous “Grave Encounters”). Their location is an abandoned state mental hospital supposedly in Maryland (actually shot in Vancouver). To try and capture some of the facility’s ghostly goings-on, the crew gets voluntarily locked inside for the night. Naturally, what happens is not at all what they expect.
Though there are some strong performances from all the actors involved, the script is where the film really falters. After some initial “gotcha!” moments that are fairly effective, the film’s suspense really fizzles out as one crew member after another gets picked off by the building’s malevolent presence. It just feels like “Grave Encounters” is a little late to the party–now that we’ve all seen first-person, found-footage horror movies a dozen times, even the effects shots in this one lack the electric-shock quality you really want out of a good haunted-house film. Once we know the various boogeymen are there to stay, it’s only a matter of time until they pop out and do their best, like a bad Halloween show, to scare us. The problem is, we already know everything that’s going to happen before it does, and there’s nothing less scary than that.
If the brothers Vicious had wanted to make this a truly new, innovative take on the found footage horror movie, they could have focused more on the beginning of their story, when we get to watch the crew filming and the stars of the show-within-a-film trying to stay in their various overblown characters without bursting out laughing (particularly good is a male medium named Houston, who overplays his role to perfection). However, as soon as the mayhem starts all we see are sickly green night-vision shots of endless hallways and terrified faces with glowing eyes. Once the characters start getting picked off, it’s almost something of a relief. Here’s hoping the Vicious brothers truly live up to their name—which truly I hope is real—next time around.
“Grave Encounters” is available nationwide on VOD through June 23, 2011 and will have a limited theatrical run this summer.