The abandoned mental institution-compound that provides the setting for Grave Encounters, a haunted hospital horror head-scratcher, is not merely possessed in the traditional sense. Yes, monstrous spirits do eventually appear, terrorizing and picking off our cast of heroes. But the buildings themselves seem alive—the characters become trapped in a living maze, where floor plans adjust by the moment, obeying only nightmare illogic.
The movie takes its name from the fictional television-program-within-the-movie, a reality show vaguely similar to Syfy’s Ghost Hunters, in which a crew visits haunted properties around America and films the paranormal happenings therein. They are skeptical showmen who get their comeuppance at the Cropsey-like facility they choose for episode six, where the ghosts are as real as the deaths they cause. Like The Blair Witch Project and countless others, Grave Encounters is presented as found footage, reassembled for the benefit of the audience. “It’s not a movie,” the show’s “producer” insists in a brief prologue.
Don’t worry, it is a movie, but the directors, the Vicious Brothers, bring television’s nimble efficiency to the film’s no-nonsense exposition, fleetly establishing the back story basics and introducing the locations and legends that will later play important roles. And its Paranormal Activity-esque pacing and aesthetic (all flashlights and night vision) are at first effective, slowly upping the ante from a slammed door to a tipped over light stand to a shove down the stairs. The walkie-talkies stop working, days pass but the sun never rises, coolered food inexplicably rots. The front door opens onto a hallway rather than the outside. The crew falls asleep and wakes up with messages carved into their skin, personalized patient ID bracelets strapped to their wrists.
It’s all pretty eerie, but rather than wind this slow-build set-up tighter, Grave Encounters snaps, its threads scattering off in bonkers directions of increasing incomprehensibility, not to mention anticlimax. (The hospital was once used for unethical medical experiments, and those malevolent spiritual forces control the building, or something? Whatever.) The Vicious Brothers mean to fuck your mind, but fuck themselves instead.
Grave Encounters screens tonight at 11:30 p.m., and again on April 23, 26 and 28. More info here.