Grave Encounters (2011): Great Start…Grave Finish

Grave Encounters

Written and directed by  The Vicious BrothersGrave Encounters  is their maiden voyage as it were into the film world. Using the obligatory horror genre as their entrance, I am sure that the idea worked really well in script and storyboard form.

I really wanted to like this film. The beginning of the film looked great. Hell, the “trailer” for the ‘ghost hunter’ team played beautifully. I wanted to make that program.

The film opens as a mock-u-mentary, we hear from a television executive how Lance Preston sent in a demo reel for consideration as a new ‘reality’ program. The excec states that he was before his time and that this type of tv program hadn’t taken off yet.

Everything looked great until episode six. We are going to see episode six. He stresses that this is not a movie. It is seventy-six hours of un-edited footage from Lance’s last ever show.

We then meet the crew of Lance’s “professionals” and we see them setting up the shots for episode six. We meet cameraman TC (Merwin Mondesir), Techno Geek Matt (Juan Riedinger), pouty assistant Sasha (Ashleigh Gryzko), Psychic Houston (Mackenzie Gray) and presenter/expert Lance (Sean Rogerson).

They are all there to investigate the creepy abandoned Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital. This place, according to local legend, has had scary stuff happen ever since it closed down. And shades of The House on Haunted Hill; the reason it was closed was a mad doctor was murdered by six of his patients.

The first thing we learn upon meeting these guys and gal are that they are new to this whole ‘ghost busting’ gig and that, so far at least, they haven’t seen any ghostly goings on. We also find out that Houston is about as psychic as my left big-toe. He is in fact just an actor.

*He also, through no fault of his own, provides for some of the ‘unintended” laughs. Every time someone said his name and the word problem together, I felt like I was watching an astronaut film –

Right up until everything goes completely Pete Tong I was with them. I liked how the film was progressing and was ready for the action to pick up.

Unfortunately when it did pick up, the players all lost their cool too quickly. It was like watching a high school theatre group do improv. Everyone wanted to panic and scream.

Incidentally, I wanted Sasha to die immediately. Nothing personal, but her scream was so irritating that the threat the ghosts posed seemed minimal compared to the ear damage her shrieking must have caused.

But before everything goes completely crazy (Did you see what I did there?) The group have had very little happen to them and they decide to call it a night. They are bored, tired and hungry. All this was good. I mean they had me right there and ready to ride the roller coaster of fear.

Like the celestial virgin, there I was all juiced up and ready to go, but my partner was suffering from a terminal case of brewer’s droop.

It is quite possible that this film was much scarier in the cinema where sound and darkness could play a big part in setting you up for the jump. It just felt like a lukewarm version of The Blair Witch Project.

To say I was disappointed, would be an understatement. Somebody must have liked the film, because on IMDb there is a Grave Encounters 2 set for release this year.

It was inevitable that the success of the Paranormal series, which owes it own beginnings to Blair Witch, would spawn imitations. The guerilla style of film-making seems to be on the rise and to be fair it has resulted in some great little films. Cloverfield to name but one.

But for the love of all that’s scary, get off the Blair Witch train. Okay?

The Awakening (2011): Who Ya Gonna Call

The Awakening is one hundred percent English, like cricket or afternoon tea with strawberry jam, thick cream and scones. Currently an English film either does extremely well or dies a quiet and dismal death. This film appears to be smack in the middle with a very poor audience reception, the tally cannot be fully counted as the film is still being released in other countries throughout 2012. It  is all the more puzzling since the film opened at the Toronto Film Festival to mostly positive reviews. Amazingly this three million pound  film, has not done well,  pulling in a fraction of its production cost.

Nick Murphy directed and co-wrote the film with Stephen Volk and it is the first feature film helmed by Murphy (who has a long pedigree directing  television programmes).  British actress Rebecca Hall, perhaps more familiar to film goers as Emily Wotton in the film Dorian Gray, is an excellent actress who is moving up in the cinema world. She is currently working on the next instalment of the Iron Man series Iron Man 3.  Imelda Staunton gives a splendid performance as Maud the eccentric housekeeper. Dominic West is brilliant as the traumatized, wounded ex-army teacher in the boarding school. Especially notable is  Joseph Mawle as the school gardener/caretaker (he can currently be seen in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter as Thomas Lincoln)  never has one actor exuded so much menace and downright nastiness. The real surprise is Isaac Hempstead Wright. This young actor gave a faultless performance as the young school boy Tom in his first ever film performance.

Preface –  The year is 1921 and the world  is still reeling from the deaths caused by the ‘War to end all wars’ and from the Spanish influenza outbreak of 1918. In England where  the religion of Spiritualism has always been quite popular, the amount of people who wanted to get in touch with their deceased loved-one rose to almost fever pitch. This lead to “easy pickings” for the charlatan mediums of the time.

The “Reader’s Digest” version of the plot is as follows: Famous Ghost ‘debunker’ Florence Cathcart spectacularly halts a seance in mid flow to reveal that the whole thing is a sham. Florence is not popular with the gullible victim and we see that this debunking business is quite hard on her psychologically. She has had a book published and this combined with her debunking work has made her a minor celebrity. Florence is approached by teacher Robert Malory from Rookford boy’s boarding school. He want’s Florence to come and debunk the ghost of a boy who was murdered back when the school was a private residence. Malory informs Florance that a boy has just recently died as a result of seeing the ghost. He also mentions that the housekeeper Maude, who has been with the school since it’s inception is a big fan of Florence’s and does not believe in ghosts.

Arriving at the school Florence meets the creepy grounds keeper Edward Judd, Maude (her number one fan), the headteacher and Freddie Strickland (another teacher at the school). After interviewing the students and the staff, Florence decides to accept the job and sets out her antique ghost-buster equipment throughout the school. She discovers who is responsible for the ‘hauntings’ and successfully debunks the school ghost. Things then take a harsh turn to the left and it seems that Florence has not debunked anything at all.

The overall mood and atmosphere of this film did not feel like your bog standard horror or ghost film. It affects you in a different way. My daughter, who watched the film with me, kept breaking out in goose flesh and I could not tear my eyes from the screen. The film almost feels like a drawing room mystery, but at the same time, it doesn’t. I kept thinking that this was a Miss Marple of the ghost world only to have that thought quashed by what was happening on the screen. Rarely have I watched a film that had such an impact.

When I checked on IMDb for the budget and box office figures, I was dumbfounded by the amounts I was confronted with. I just don’t understand it.

This film is easily on par with The Others, even though the films are really nothing alike. Both films though have the power to drag you into their worlds and leave you gasping when you get to the end.