Grave Encounters 2011

This film should not be confused with the reality television shows Ghost Adventures or Ghost Hunters.  Although, if you only caught the first 30 or so minutes, you would be hard pressed to know the difference since Grave Encounters follows the crew of a pretend TV show (of the same name)  as they investigate a defunct, yet supposedly haunted joint named Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital.

First off, we all know that movies that have X people trapped in X closed and creepy psychiatric hospital have been done to death (ha ha!).  But really, it is to the point where if you have seen one, yes, you have seen them all.  The only thing these movies usually have going for them is the fact that closed psychiatric hospitals are by their very nature creepy as hell, thus usually making it the star of the movie regardless of who the actors may be.  While this is no doubt true for Grave Encounters, it is also true that this particular film is actually pretty damn good.  Confusing and at times mind-bendingly stupid, but I still had fun watching it.

After setting up their cameras and whatnot for their evening locked in the hospital, bad things start to happen pretty quickly (yay!), but you do have to stick with it for a slow 30+ minutes beforehand.  The crew — lead investigator “Lance,” (Sean Rogerson), tech guy “Matt” (Juan Riedinger), camera man “T.C.” (Merwin Mondesir), just-to-have-a-girl-in-it “Sasha” (Ashleigh Gryzko) and fake psychic “Houston” (Mackenzie Gray) —  expecting another boring night, find themselves actually dealing with true paranormal activities.  Lance wants to continue investigating, finally getting something real on tape but the rest of the crew isn’t so keen on the idea.  However, the arguing becomes moot when they realize that they are in fact trapped inside the hospital with only God knows what.

This introduction really doesn’t do the film justice, but in order to do that I would have to give away a lot of what makes the film unique and more importantly, fun, which I refuse to do.  Grave Encounters will never be voted best horror film of anything, but it is a really nice twist on a very over done idea and surprisingly, I only found a few things to bitch about and they were minor in the overall scope of the film.

Normally, I would list here the things I didn’t like about the film, but I’m feeling generous today so instead here’s 5 things they did right:

  1. The black guy isn’t the first person to die.  I find the fact that this still happens to be insulting especially since far too many horror movies still only cast one token black person in the first place.  If the setting dictates it, fine.  But otherwise — seriously?  It’s 2011 people, not 1911.  Just sayin.
  2. The characters are actually smart (mostly).  Praise is deserved for whoever decided to give the characters a chance to use their brains and think through situations as opposed to making one stupid decision after another.
  3. It keeps you guessing.  You are never really shown or given a nice tidy reason why everything is happening.  This works because you are just as lost as they are in trying to figure out the situation.
  4. Poking a bit of fun at the current reality ghost-themed TV shows.  Lance will no doubt remind you of Zak Bagans from Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, and had to be intentional.  Mackenzie Gray as Houston, the fake psychic, is pretty funny too.
  5. It’s not afraid to go dark.  Although most of the movie is just a fun treat, it does go a bit dark in the end.  I did not see this coming and have to say I was very happy to see it.

So, don’t go into this expecting award winning material here, but do expect a few jumps, a smart film and a main character (the hospital) that as always deserves more credit than it gets.

Forest Haven Asylum

REAL ASYLUM INFORMATION:  In the film, the fictional Collingwood hospital is located in Maryland.  Whereas there is no such hospital in Maryland, there is at least one that the locals love to trespass on — little known Forest Haven Psychiatric Hospital.  If you really want to get in the mood for Grave Encounters, do a bit of research on Forest Haven first and you won’t be disappointed (these links should help).  If you are near Maryland and thinking about visiting, be aware:  Someone takes trespassing there very seriously — but who and why, I don’t know.  I only know that I tried to get on the grounds myself about 2 years ago and was turned away by some very shady characters (no uniforms) and this seems to be common amongst would-be visitors to the site.  Anyway, enjoy!