They call themselves “The Vicious Brothers” and the trailer for their film “Grave Encounters” emblazons their name across the screen as though we the viewer are supposed to jump at the bit to see the new film by these legendary writers and directors.
The additional features consist of ego-stroking interviews with the filmmakers and in seeing the young men dressed in their gothic/punk attire with their emo haircuts and talking about the art of film-making you get the sense that though they are passionate about their craft, their words are flat and meaningless without years of industry experience to back it up.
That is the behind-the-scenes story of not-real-life brothers Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz who make up the writing/directing team “The Vicious Brothers”. Their name packs more of a punch than anything they have put to film in “Grave Encounters” their first, and to date, only feature.
“Grave Encounters” made the circuit rounds taking home some prizes and garnering some recognition as quite the scare-fest. It is equal parts horror film in the “found footage” vein of “The Blair Witch Project” and Grave’s kissing cousin “Paranormal Activity” and parody of reality programing like “Ghost Hunters” and “Ghost Adventures”.
It tells the story of a crew of celebrity paranormal investigators from a new television series called “Grave Encounters” and in doing so the filmmakers pay homage too “Ghost Hunters”, “Paranormal State” and other ghost hunting themed television programs while simultaneously biting the hand that feeds them.
The Vicious brothers are smart enough to know that the programs they are lampooning are fake and they pose the question: “What if a fabricated television series suddenly encountered something real and very sinister?”
In more adept hands the payoff could have been terrifying and given blockbusters like “Paranormal Activity” a run for their money.
That is not to say that there is a total lack of scares or creativity in the entire film. There are a few unique twists and turns including the “Living Asylum” that twists and turns becoming a labyrinthine maze of unending corridors that loop back on themselves making escape nigh impossible. This tactic coupled with a neat play on time-continuum disruption creates a haunted house story that is rather unique. There is a sense of abandonment and hope/helplessness as the characters realize that no one is coming for them and that they are not alone.
The “haunted house” in this case is an abandoned psychiatric hospital that is ripe with malevolent spirits wanting to exact revenge on those unfortunate enough to spend the night in the abandoned corridors and creepy adjoining rooms.
The fatal flaws of the film present themselves in execution. There is obvious budget restraints, this being an independent film. Hence the “found footage” aspect, as this is cheapest to produce on a shoestring budget. But there are only so many disembodied whispers, rotating wheelchairs and dancing surgical tables one can take before we want substance. Style over substance can carry a film only so far and that is where “Grave Encounters” really falls apart.
We don’t know anything about the characters, they are simply cardboard cut-outs placed in situations so that they can be tormented. The scream, they cry, they curse and they carry on enough to seem human but they aren’t and when their crying invokes a reaction of wanting them to die rather than survive then that speaks volumes about the writing.
“Grave Encounters” has some inspiring moments in it but in the end it seems more of a calling card for the “Vicious Brothers” to use the get funding for their next project than a fully fleshed-out feature. It’s cute in that sense but who want’s cute with their horror?
The performances are wooden, the actors aren’t really given a lot to work with so the scope of their abilities are best not judged against this script.
We have the angry black guy who has one moment of tenderness with his young child via telephone. That is the only moment of tenderness and humanity portrayed by any of the cast. The rest are just going through clichéd moment after clichéd moment. They do so rather well though, it is not Shakespeare after all.
After all is said and done, the “Grave Encounters” trailer was more frightening than the film as a whole. Unlike indie-horror darling “Paranormal activity”, people will not remember this film or talk about it with friends at work the next day. It’s simply another entry in a found-footage genre that isn’t as good as the films that inspired it but is still ten times better than anything The Asylum puts out.
Rating: R for violence, language, and intense situations
Starring: Sean Rogerson, Juan Riedinger, Ashleigh Gryzko, Mackenzie Gray
Director: The Vicious Brothers
Availability: VOD (Tribeca Film on Demand), VUDU, limited release in theaters
Official Website: http://www.graveencountersthriller.com/