Monday, April 23, 2012

Movie Review: Grave Encounters

This review has taken me most of a week to put together because I have many feels about the subject. This one's a bit of  long one, so bear with me.

I always kind of hope that I'll be watching one of those ghost hunting shows (Ghost Adventures would be the best) and crazy shit would start happening. Like, dark figures climbing out of the wall, whatever. Because that would be awesomely creepy as fuck. It would probably send me climbing a wall if it ever happened, but I would also be screaming BEST SHOW EVER whilst clinging to the ceiling like a cartoon cat. Grave Encounters is, basically, that episode.

This film actually had me incredibly spooked when I finished it, and I was jumpy enough that I had to watch something inane and silly to clear my mind so I could sleep. However, I find ghost hunting shows to be naturally creepy. I get creeped out watching Ghost Adventures, and that's with all the "Bro! Dude! Bro!" going on in that show. I find the genre creepy, it's part of why I love it so much. So if you don't find this genre creepy, I don't know how creepy the movie will be for you. Probably not very.

Grave Encounters is a found footage film, so there's some shaky cam and running with cameras and whatnot. I think it justifies the found footage concept a lot better than most found footage films, but that's my personal opinion. If it sounds like your cup of tea and you want to watch the movie, go away and watch it. It's on Netflix and I think you can get it through iTunes and whatnot. Then come back and we'll dish in the comments.

As an aside: seriously, how has no ghost tv show ever used the name Grave Encounters? Because it is kind of perfect. Maybe my love of pun is interfering, but seriously. Grave Awakenings? Gravely Searching? Someone can do something with this, come on!

This film is set in an abandoned asylum called Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital (I forgot the name almost immediately), which is kind of awesome, because they're creepy without any help. They almost all have a bad history, mental asylums were awful and didn't really treat patients so much as kept them out of the way. (Here is the story from the official website for the movie.) Notably, this asylum was also known for some of the inmates breaking out and killing the doctor who was overly fond of lobotomies.

It's a brialliantly simple setup. Five people are staying overnight in Collingwood in order to see if anything ghostly happens in it.

We have Lance Preston, who is the host of the ghost hunting show, and looks kind of douchey. He's also incredibly cynical about what he's doing, and is just out to make the show and have some good scares, without really caring about whether there's an authentic ghost or not.

Lance and his faux-hawk
There's a young woman who is behind the camera a lot, her name is Sasha. She is the show's "occult expert", and she wears a black rosary, although I think that's partially for show. She is the target of some nasty stuff as paranormal shit heats up, and she's probably the only true believer in ghosts at the start of the film.

Also, she's kind of... goth light?
We have the tech dude who sets all the cameras up, that'd be Matt. He seems neat but his characterization was, uh, thin. He's a smoker? That's about it, a techie smoker.

He explains the equipment and then disappears, just about.
We have Houston, the "medium" who looks like some unholy mix of Steve Tyler and Mick Jagger. I assume he's an actor, he doesn't seem to be very much part of the group, and he gets told to shut up half the time, even when he's trying to do his faux-medium job.

I have nothing worthwhile to add.
Last but certainly not least, we have TC. He is the show's assigned cameraman, and while he does appear on camera several times, it's not as much as I would have liked. He is the only one we have family on or anything- he gets a call from his wife and talks to his little girl at one point. This is just a job for him, and he has a pretty good sense of humor until things go to shit, and then his ability to handle this bullshit gets maxed out quickly. I don't blame him, I can guarantee he wasn't making enough money to make that job worth it.

Sadly, getting even a half-way decent picture of him was really hard. It makes me sad, he was my favorite.
When they showed the introduction for the show Grave Encounters, I couldn't help laughing. The people who made this movie (it was directed by The Vicious Brothers, about whom I know little and my google-fu turned up no more) have clearly watched a lot of ghost hunting shows, they nailed the tone of those shows perfectly. People who are taking themselves way too seriously, know that they are taking themselves way too seriously, and are absurdly proud of it. All in a graveyard. There's also this amusing undertone of entirely fake "we know it's dangerous and we're doing it anyway". The job is scary, but not particularly dangerous, and they know it, so the attitude is a kind of falsified bravado. (Okay, it's dangerous THIS time, and I suppose occasionally there's the danger of a house collapsing on them and stuff like that, but other than that.)

Cemetery shot!
The movie takes on a standard ghost hunting TV reality show beginning. They get to the location, they intro the location, they talk to several people about the location and any ghost stories the available locals are willing to share (or can be bribed into giving). They then tour the location, and when evening falls (accompanied by a time lapse shot of the location as night falls) they set up cameras and get after it. In this case, they decided to be locked into the location, so they wouldn't be able to leave without breaking out of the hospital.

Matt gives a speech about ghost hunting equipment which I tuned out. This speech occurs in every episode of every ghost hunting show fucking ever, and it goes something like this: "Here's a EMF detector, it detects electromagnetic fields and we think ghosts use those fields to make their presence known, so a spike indicates their presence. Here's an audio recorder, we use these to record EVPs, which are Electronic Voice Phenomenon and it occurs when ghosts are trying to communicate with us. Here is some device that reads the ambient temperature of the room (sometimes this is a thermal camera, sometimes this is an infrared thermometer, sometimes it's both). When we see cold spots, that's when a ghost would be present. We take still photos to reveal mist shapes or orbs that might be the manifesting of ghosts."

The crew gets down to it and, for the first portion of their stay in the asylum, not a damn thing happens. They get bored, and wind up in a bathroom using a uv light on the wall, claiming that it is ectoplasm. This made me snort IRL. Strange fluid that lights up under UV light in a bathroom in an abandoned asylum, my first thought is not going to be ectoplasm.

Pick a bodily fluid, any bodily fluid!
The first actually paranormal occurrence is a shadow in front of the camera, followed by a window opening due to static.

I thought this thing was gonna be the low burn kind of found footage film (alliteration!) with mostly shadows and noises and jumps, and the only real effects shots at the end.

The following 10 minutes or so seemed to confirm this belief. A wheelchair moves when nobody (but the camera) is looking at it. Half the wheelchair was in near-total darkness, and could have been moved by a person. A door slammed shut as the camera was turning to face it. While they were all in one room arguing, a hospital gurney in another room got shoved over with an incredibly loud noise (I nearly peed myself). At one point, they are starting to think this might actually be real phenomena, and so they have their faux-medium try to contact the other side.

Every time I see this picture I crack up. Poster child for "Does not want to be here"
After a relatively unsuccessful session that devolves into an argument (there's a lot of shouting) they decide to leave, but before they do Lance takes three photos in rapid succession. These aren't developed until later, and this only hints at how fucked they are. The first one is pretty tame, as it contains orbs.

Orbz. Also, the wall on the left is drippy, which is creepy but normal.
Orbs are supposed to be the visual manifestation of spirit energy. In my experience with photography, it's generally floating dust particles refracting light. For fun and entertainment, go around your house and shake one thing that might have dust on it out, then take a picture of it with your flash on. Like as not, you'll get orbs too. If you ever search for ghost pictures on the web, the most common type contain orbs. I assumed the next picture would be something similarly common, and I wasn't disappointed.

Creepy mist!
This is another fairly common picture type, as mist is sort of easy to accidentally capture on film and it's super creepy. I personally think about 80% of mist photos are cigarette smoke. You'll see these a lot, although not as often as orbs (or several other varieties, which I won't go over here because then I won't shut up about it). I assumed the next photo would be roughly as innocuous, maybe a vortex or something. Nope.

Blurry person. Holy fuckballs!
This was the moment where I realized that the movie was going to take me the ghost thing much further than I expected. This is what one would consider, if IRL, a full body apparition. This is basically the holy grail of ghost hunters, this is what they are looking for. This occurs not quite 40 minutes into the film, which means that the ghost shit is just warming up.

After getting lost on the way back to their command center (and discovering that the walkies are unreliable), they start packing shit up so they can go home. They're just waiting for the dude to come at six am to let them out. While packing the cameras, Matt goes missing. They try to go find him, and then more weird shit happens, like TC getting pushed down half a flight of stairs by absolutely nothing.

The hour when they were supposed to be let out comes and goes. After discovering that the cell phones ain't workin' either, TC decides to bust down the door. I find this incredibly reasonable, if I were them I'd be trying to chip my way out with my face at this point. After more arguments (Lance tells TC this is coming out of his rates, and TC is so beyond caring it's not even funny) they use the gurney to break the front door open... into another hallway of the hospital. They find another door that says "Exit" above it, and it also leads back into the hospital. They try to batter their way out of a window. They try to go up to the roof, only to find the top of the stairs completely bricked off. Like it'd never been a stairwell. The hour sunrise should have occurred comes and goes.

The hospital is fucking with them. It knows they are there and it won't let them leave. It is glorious. A film that I expected to take place over period of 8 hours for the bulk of it was stretched into a time span of days. Things get worse. They run into full body apparitions, things with human bodies and horribly stretched faces, that shriek and bellow with inhuman noises. They wake up wearing hospital bracelets. One by one, the crew is knocked off (sometimes killed and sometimes just vanished), until it's Lance wandering in the dark corridors under the hospital, all alone.

Well, there are the rats.

I won't spoil the ending, mostly because I don't think I could adequately explain it without giving a much more thorough once over of the movie and this thing is already a million miles long. But it both surprised me and made perfect sense at the same time.

Grave Encounters used the expectations of the genre it comes from to its advantage. I didn't expect the activity to get so... active, I didn't expect things to get so fucked, I didn't expect for TC to disappear/die as late as he did (I was very concerned we were dealing with Black Guy Dies First, but it's not even clear he dies. He could have suffered Lance's fate), and I didn't expect the ending. It took a concept I have been hoping someone would put to film and did a great job with it, and I'm still pretty thrilled with it. I don't think this will be everyone's cup of tea, but I haven't been able to shut up about it since I watched it. Take that as you will.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

One Month Later

This is the AUGH LIFE GOT IN THE WAY post. Augh. Life got in the way.

One of the issues I've been facing for years now is the slow degradation of my teeth. My teeth are, for lack of a better way to put it, crumbling out of my head (coincidentally, this is why none of my photos are ever of me actually smiling. Trust me, you don't want to see it). I battle constant infections and pain, and recently had a huge abscess that required a tooth being pulled. One of my front teeth. This is awkward, because it makes it even more difficult for me to bite things than it was.

Due to more or less constant infections and mouth pain, I get sick very easily, and combine that with the spring allergies and general bleh I have been very unmotivated to do, uh, anything. Also, it's kind of depressing as FUCK.

In theory, programming will resume shortly, but I honestly am probably gonna be kinda up and down on this whole thing until a more permanent tooth solution can be afforded. I'm looking at having to pay 7000 dollars to get this mess taken care of, so, um, might be a while.

This has been a kinda depressing post, so here's a picture of Bats and Jack:

Yes, he sometimes cuddles his toys. It is awesome.