Grave Encounters – Tribeca Film Festival Review

A ghost of a different color turns the gurneys on a hip TV production.

TV’s “Ghost Hunters” gone terribly awry is the latest offering of the Vicious Brothers. Screened at the recent Tribeca Film Festival in New York, “Grave Encounters” turns the tables on the relatively sincere “Blair Witch Project.” In the process, they produce a film that is less scary for its predictability while being a good deal funnier.

“Blair Witch” was scary because it started with innocence and ended in tragedy. “Grave Encounters” starts right off satirizing itself. Everybody who walks into the theatre know these guys are going to get it in the end. The only question is how.

The title of the film is a fictitious TV series probing the paranormal with by filming real-life hauntings. The rules of the show specify locking the crew in the building for a day and night to film the horrors therein.

From the introduction of protagonist Lance Preston the audience simply cannot wait for him to get it in the eyeballs courtesy of the screaming, maimed, lunatic zombie ghost of a failed mental health experiment of the now deserted Riverview Psychiatric Hospital. Lance is so perfectly TV.

Probably a respectable institution in its time, this real life hospital in British Columbia has been reborn in its fetid darkness as a permanent set for film and TV production. The province was kind enough to leave behind some basic outmoded gurneys and surgical instrument trays.

Ancient gurneys with those wonderful sweaty leather straps used to hold down countless experiments in weird brain reformation are a good start. When they roll down the hall under their own power nobody can resist.

Then there are the chipped, enameled operating room trays that once held the bits and pieces of the guests at Riverview (OK, we do not know that, but it could be true). Combine these intimate reminders with a few cheap, torn, faded drapes and a set of pre-war brain surgery instruments and a splendidly miserable mis-en-scene comes to life.

The filthy overturned bathtubs torn from their umbilical cord piping and the rusting shower stubs choked with spider webs are the frosting on the cake. Plumbing is always so, well, right. It is always straight and sturdy, as if born to outlast us all. Hence, an overturned, disconnected bathtub, a bent, headless shower fixture or an exposed pipe hanging out of a wall is instantly unnerving.

A virtual zero budget may have been the best thing the Vicious Brothers (Colin and Stuart, Vicious is the real last name) could have asked for. It forced them to strip down horror to its essentials. Unfortunately, the theme is worn out. Found footage and the paranormal have been milked.

It may be time to move on. Whether or not the Brothers intended the film as a satire, it ends up looking, sounding and feeling like one, to the benefit of all concerned. In “Blair Witch” the ending was not immediately obvious.

However, when we meet TV impresario Lance at the start of this film we know he is going to get. He has to get it, just for being so dumb and arrogant. There would be no justice in the universe if he did not get it.

As the film proceeds the rest of the cast succumbs to the very thing they were supposed to exploit. Their own inner demons are turned against them by the all-seeing souls who are condemned to an eternity in limbo by excessive electro-shock therapy and those kinky bone drills.

The TV show format is for the crew to be locked in the building for a while, suffer whatever tortures the environment offers and then, of course, to be released by the caretaker.

Surprise! The caretaker never shows up and the crew is left to film themselves. As the last of their water is gone, the last of their batteries drained and the last of their crew reduced to a crawling, cringing pile of filthy protoplasm they come to understand that TV production is not what it used to be.

Remarkable mostly for the down and dirty creativeness of writing/directing team Vicious Brothers, this film shows that scary stuff can be made with a lot of energy and little money. However, do not look for “Grave Encounters” to make history.

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Directed and Written by: The Vicious Brothers
Starring: Sean Rogerson, Juan Riedinger and Ashleigh Gryzko 
Release Date: Tribeca Film Festival Premier April 22, 3011
MPAA: Not rated
Runtime: 92 minutes
Country: Canada
Language: English
Color: Color