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Grave Encounters
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by Adrian Starland

"Grave Disappointment"
2 stars

Having briefly lost track of the title after having taken an initial interest in the movie after a couple of viewings of the grim & creepy preview trailer, I'd received an accidental reminder that this was a movie which I'd intended to place on my "To View List" – it was an "accident" worth avoiding.

"Grave Encounters" seems to start off promisingly enough, immediately invoking images of the earlier classics of the "lost & found footage" motif, e.g. the granddaddy of them all, "Cannibal Holocaust," and its worthy successor, "The Blair Witch Project. In this instance, we follow a crew of "ghost hunters" who were deemed "ahead of their time," before the trend of following the televised exploits of supposed real-life "paranormal investigative research" teams became the latest hot-ticket item.

We catch up with the crew in Maryland, where they are making preparations to [quote] "document" [unquote] their experiences and their [quote] "encounters" [unquote] with the spirit realm with what is expected to become their sixth installment of their eerie "reality" series. The locale they have chosen for this assignment/investigation this time is a huge abandoned former mental institution with a sinister "history" (don't they all have such a brooding legacy?) and a reputation for ghostly anomalies, supposedly including actual visual manifestations of the lost sad souls eternally wandering throughout the building's decaying halls.

In order to impart the perception of "realism" and to invoke a sense of dread, the investigative crew insists on being literally locked inside the building overnight, with no physical way out until the next morning when the caretaker arrives to unchain the main access door, as the rest of the building is a veritable prison, replete with cliché "barred windows" and the whole nine.

Initially, the "setting-up" process and the exploration & familiarization of their temporary holding cell, as it were, though slow and spotty at times manages to hold our interest enough that we want to just go along for the ride, following the crew through their maze of uncertainty as they continue to walk a fine line between being Fox Mulder-ish "I want to" believers and actors who are trying to put on the best TV show possible. And the few things we see occurring in "Paranormal Activity-esque" fashion leading us up to what is supposed to be the big payoff climax is still engaging enough, though it's still nothing we haven't already seen before.

Unfortunately, it doesn't take very long for the movie to radically shift gears, and it becomes a chaotic cross-genre amalgam of movies such as "JUON," "Cube," "Dark City" and "Portal." It was during this phase however where one really good 'jump scare' comes at a most unexpected time and catches the viewer completely off guard (I have to assume this for others in this rare instance, given the fact that I'm usually quite capable of spotting these lead-ups while they're still off a half-mile away, and this one scene literally jolted me out of complacency), but sadly by this time the movie had so diverted itself into becoming something so entirely different and irrational that little could be done to save it from crashing & burning or to keep demanding our full invested interest, so much so that we don't really even care so much about the outcome and lose complete interest in the cast of characters.

Trying to infuse "too much" into a movie which genuinely demanded a "less-is-more" approach is undoubtedly why this one managed to skip out of range of the radar screen and bypass by everyone's notice. Had "Grave Encounters" remained well within the parameters of its first couple of acts, it might have been a possible contender for honorable recognition alongside similar-genre offerings.

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originally posted: 09/20/11 13:51:45
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 18-Oct-2011



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