It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call:
Grave Encounters is my favorite movie out of the found-footage genre, which isn’t saying all that much, actually.
I can see why the new horror trend appeals to some; if the viewer stretches his or her suspension of disbelief to the breaking point, he or she could almost buy that these ghostly goings-on were real and/or plausible. I don’t usually get into them, however, because a) the plots and scares are slow (and not usually in a suspenseful way), b) editing exists in both my world and theirs, and the movies often call your attention to this fact without really addressing it; c) who found the footage and cobbled it together, and for what purpose? Supposing the general population believed this, wouldn’t that incite global fear and panic?
And finally d) why/how are these people filming this much, and when should they stop?
It’s a lot to swallow, and Hollywood is already swiftly running out of ways to make it interesting while keeping it somehow at-least-partially believable (see Unfriended for reference).
The Blair Witch Project and the first few Paranormal Activity films kept things relatively serious and solemn. For the sake of “the truth and the victims,” they were presented as “minimally edited” accounts with reasonably likeable, if still stupid, suicidal people. Not bad, certainly, and not hard to replicate, but immensely difficult to expand upon.
Grave Encounters, by contrast, is very aware of what it is and goes about its business with tongue-and-cheek shamelessness.
The plot is this: several phony, irreverent “paranormalists” spend the night and film a show in a condemned, supposedly haunted asylum, only to discover –shock of all shocks – that it is in fact haunted! From there, whatever malevolent spirit haunts the place picks them off and messes with the survivors, perhaps only two of which you ever sincerely pity.
Grave Encounters probably resembles The Blair Witch Project the most, but instead of seriously trying to convince you of its authenticity, it practically winks into the camera every chance it gets. The ghost effects are all obvious editing tricks,
however well they may work on anyone; the explanation of the constant filming (it’s for a TV show) is glaringly obvious, but plausible enough; the reasons for anything happening to anyone are so basic and unexplored that even old-school Scooby-Doo looks deep by comparison, and the characters are the standard assholes that tend to populate modern horror movies, found-footage or not. They each have their funny moments, of course, but every single crew member is a con-artist trying to capitalize on the disturbed and tragic history of the asylum. They claim to care about “the truth” and the occult, but they don’t seriously believe much of it. It’s just a tool to fan people’s fears and morbid curiosity for their own selfish ends.
The movie is mindless junk food, much like the show Grave Encounters itself in-story. But it’s decently fun, predominantly because it never takes itself too seriously. I’m not sure if that was intentional or not, but it’s more than welcome in the wake of much more serious, but poorly thought-out fare that must rely on more and more gimmicks just to keep the lights on.
Even the reason why the survivors keep filming makes sense on some level; it helps them keep time, and lets them make a record for the outside world, if it ever even reaches it. It helps them hold onto their sanity, such as it is.
Everything about the story is goofy and cliché, right down to the crazy, abusive, satanic doctor ripped straight from House of 1000 Corpses…and every haunted house setup ever.
Grave Encounters revels in its unoriginality, and sometimes, that is surprisingly refreshing. Call me a hipster if you will, but if the movie can’t be scary, the least it can do is be terrible and fun instead.
There is also a sequel which is somehow worse in every possible way.
*All screenshots used in this article (besides the Paranormal Activity 4 gif) belong to West Wing Studios and (no joke) “The Vicious Brothers.” The text at the beginning is from The Twilight Zone.