Many of my colleagues and twitter pals often lament the "found footage" framing structure for horror films, but I actually think it's a rather fascinating and entirely natural storytelling gimmick. Given our society's obsession with miniature (or at least convenient) video cameras, it only makes sense that they would gradually begin to proliferate films -- especially horror films. Perhaps there are a few too many copycats in the "found footage" field, but just recently I saw and enjoyed examples like The Sanitarium, Atrocious, and The Last Exorcism, so let's just resign ourselves to the fact that found footage is here to stay, and then we can concentrate on simply separating the good ones from the bad.
Next week's Apollo 18 doesn't look all that promising. But here, for example, is a good one.
I'm sure there have already been a few low-budget horror flicks to approach the same premise as the cool Canadian import Grave Encounters, but it's a simplistically solid one indeed: a crew of "ghost hunters" ventures into a horrific location, agrees to be locked in all night, and then sets about creating the sixth episode of its quietly successful TV series. The five-person team is made up of both skeptics and semi-believers, but the characters are written rather cleverly: not one of them is a devout ghost-lover OR an overtly cynical liar. In other words, they're sort of, well, realistic. (Hey, little things mean a lot, doubly so in found footage flicks.) In their enthusiasm to present an ostensibly realistic program, they opt to be locked inside all night. Locked inside where? Only one of the creepiest abandoned lunatic asylums this side of Brad Anderson's Session 9. (Not that I'm comparing the films in any way aside from the cosmetic, plus it's a compliment.)
Billed as "The Vicious Brothers," filmmakers Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz plow forward with palpable confidence, seemingly aware that both "ghost hunters" and "found footage" are both sort of played out by now, but also aware that they have a few new tricks to bring to the party. The cast helps a lot; even when the characters do patently dumb things (which, to be fair, doesn't happen that often) the five leads do a solid job of selling themselves as both slightly skeptical and then, eventually, truly freaking terrified. To divulge what awaits the crew of "Grave Encounters" deep within the subterranean catacombs of a bad-ass haunted asylum would rob the film of its fun, but suffice to say they're things that go bump in the night, hide behind every corner, and dole out some truly venomous punishments.
As for how well Grave Encounters sell its own spin on the found footage presentation, I'd assert that it acquits itself impressively well. (It's no [REC], but what is?) That these faux-documentarians would have ample access (and frequent need) regarding handheld video cameras makes perfect sense, and just as their TV show becomes a distant memory, those cameras are equally important as light sources. So if you'd like to see what sort of footage would show up if those cable-friendly "ghost hunters" actually ran smack-dab into precisely the sort of horrors they were tracking, Grave Encounters will suit a nice, dark weekend screening very well.