Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #105
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: June 1, 2011
Sub-Genre: Found Footage
Country of Origin: Canada
Box Office: $5,408,334
Running Time: 95 minutes
Director: The Vicious Brothers
Producers: Twin Engine Films, Digital Interference Productions, Shawn Angelski, Michael Karlin
Screenplay: The Vicious Brothers
Special Effects: Brant McIlroy
Visual Effects: Colin Minihan, Stuart Ortiz
Cinematography: Tony Mirza
Score: Quynne Craddock
Editing: The Vicious Brothers
Studio: West Wing Studios
Distributor: Tribeca Film Festival
Stars: Ben Wilkinson, Sean Rogerson, Ashleigh Gryzko, Merwin Mondesir, Juan Riedinger, Shawn Macdonald, Arthur Corber, Bob Rathie, Fred Keating, Luis Javier and Mackenzie Gray as Houston Gray
Suggested Audio Candy
 Ray Parker Jr. “Ghostbusters”
 Theset “Never Odd Or Even”
I wish to commence this particular appraisal in a manner different from the customary. You see, just now, I have received sad tidings of the passing of the great Harold Ramis or Dr. Egon Spengler as the hordes of Ghostbusters enthusiasts know him best. While his role as the deadpan paranormal investigator is perhaps his most recognized achievement, Ramis was also both an accomplished screenwriter and director, and the likes of National Lampoon’s Animal House, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Caddyshack and Groundhog Day are just a few of the creations that came from his marvelous mind. Thus, his passing leaves a large spooky void and he will be greatly missed. God bless you Harold.
It seems most fitting then that the film I am about to explore is one of restless spirits. There have been enough found footage films tackling things that go bump in the night over the past few years to give the Most Haunted team sleepless nights perpetually. Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity opened the floodgates, proving that a miniscule outlay can yield a rather tidy sum in box office receipts. As is invariably the case in such instances, a whole host of cash-strapped young filmmakers then attempted to emulate his triumph and with largely underwhelming results. In fact I would argue that, while the ringleader was an accomplished piece of work, it was never beyond toppling from its pedestal. Peli’s film boasted a couple of genuine touch cloth moments but never did it provoke insomnia or sopping bed sheets from this viewer; that distinct honor falls squarely to The Blair Witch Project.
So when The Vicious Brothers’ Grave Encounters appeared like a ghostly apparition amongst a whole host of like-minded handheld hopefuls, it seemed destined to fall by the wayside and become instantly forgotten. However, what it did instead was to build up something of a head of steam. Word started to travel rather swiftly that this was more than just barefaced cash in, offering more than one instance of blood-pressure heightening anguish and in a location historically proven to yield results. The dilapidated mental institution is a prime setting for any paranormal mischief. Wall to wall with unsettled ectoplasmic entities, each with their own ax to grind and taking great exception to being disturbed from their eternal slumber, it’s positively ripe with possibility and taken full advantage of here.
The nuthouse in question is Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital and has a long history of unexplained phenomena stretching right back to its closure many years ago. Commonly regarded as one of the most haunted places in America, it seems the ideal place for a crew of camera-savvy paranormal investigators looking to boost their ratings. The Grave Encounters team consist of master of ceremonies Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson), occult specialist Sasha Parker (Ashleigh Gryzko), surveillance operator Matt White (Juan Riedinger), cameraman T.C. Gibson (Merwin Mondesir) and, last and very much least, hokey medium Houston Grey (Mackenzie Gray). Together they plan to spend the night in the abandoned infirmary and, with a bit of luck, capture some ethereal goings-on on film during their stay.
So let’s start with Houston Gray then shall we? You see, kook metaphysical meatbags such as he have a long history of making both my dick and balls itch. I never bought into the over-theatrical Derek Acorah types, they’re all a bit too Fletch Lives for me and positively reek of dishonesty and opportunism. Granted, they may be dab hands at the exorcism of people’s hard-earned cash, but that just makes them piss artists. I understand that many buy into their infernal blathering and am open to being proved wrong but personally I smell a rat. Let’s not get this twisted, the existence of ghosts I’m not about to challenge for a nanosecond, but these deluded doofuses are as sincere as one of Justin Bieber’s public apologies in my estimations and the Grave Encounters team have one such dick plant on their books. Houston is a tool, plain and simple, which is no blight on Gray’s performance as this is the very best qualification for the task at hand and he nails it.
Of course, he is only one part of the line-up and this intimate troupe of terror untanglers appear to be riding on the crest of a wave. For years there have been testimonies of inexplicable phenomena coming from the labyrinth of wards within Collingwood’s fortifications and, buoyant from getting their fifth episode wrapped up, Lance and associates stride inside full of self-assurance and swagger. No sooner have they set up their equipment, than Houston is sniffing out the prospect of cash money to be made with those cashew-shaped nostrils of his, and imparting his “psychic medium experience”. One thing he has done his homework on is Arthur Friedkin, a brilliant but warped physician who performed all manner of unscrupulous experimentation and lobotomies on the inmates, before being set upon by outpatients and having his medical licence revoked once and for all. It would appear that Friedkin’s spirit is still present and, to Houston’s credit, he’s actually not wrong.
While The Vicious Brothers resist any urge to shoot their load too soon, there is enough paranormal activity on exhibit to ensure that we don’t lose compos mentis. Their patient approach pays dividends as one of the crew members vanishes under mysterious circumstances and the sanatorium’s exits suddenly morph into carbon copy corridors, all of which lead deeper into dubious territory. This particular moment sent a solitary chill down my spine as the crew are forced to accept that this may well be the final time they air (or see sunlight, come to think of it). Indeed, there are a number of well-played broad shocks of the “what’s that standing in the corner with its head down?” variety and also a couple of genuinely unsettling surprises in store, as well as the additional bonus of watching Houston flung about like a rag doll by unseen wraiths. Where’s your sixth sense now carrot-dick?
Grave Encounters is a solid take on a well-worn premise. Turgid tripe like Episode 50 may have left a sour taste in my mouth but this film proves that it is still possible to milk a fearful response from such an antiquated set-up. With a follow-up already causing soiled breaches the world over, it appears that The Vicious Brothers may have cut themselves a significant slice of pie with regards paranormal hoo-hah. While unlikely to rock your world, it is undoubtedly one of the more creditable inclusions in this saturated sub-genre and, therefore, well worth investigating. As for me – I ain’t ‘fraid of no ghost.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 1/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: No restless nights for the likes of Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger as Grave Encounters has no obligation whatsoever to rinse stomachs. What it does have is an intention to provide significant encouragement to ascend the stair well a little brisker than normal and there are certainly one or two instances that may crawl beneath your skin and stay there, at least for 24 hours or so. It’s just a shame that, by the closing act, it starts to run a little parched on the inspiration front.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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