I have to give credit to the serious filmmakers out there today still taking a stab at a subgenre that even someone like me, a moderate champion of the format, is getting little tired of: found footage. When I say “serious filmmakers”, I’m of course excluding those folks who see a Paranormal Activity or an Afflicted and say to themselves: “Hey! That looks easy! Let’s make some money!“. They then proceed to grab daddy’s camcorder, some pals whose acting ability came from watching The Real World reruns, and two cases of cheap beer, then jauntily head out to that ubiquitous “scary old house/abandoned building” every town has — all to make a “scary movie”. Of course there are serious filmmakers working this format; as you know, for the most part I’m a fan of the method…well, at least when it’s done well. I can honestly say I’ve seen some pretty damned good films come from the efforts of these POV-type writers and directors that have a real vision; they’re brave, however, because as you know (and may damned well agree), found footage is one of the most maligned of subgenres, with those that practice it all too often targeted for derision, frequently sight unseen. It’s easy to get labeled as a hack making a found footage flick, simply because it’s a found footage flick.
So…doing my best to set aside preconceptions, but still having all of this (good and bad) in mind, I recently sat down to check out Craig Efros’ freshman feature foray into found footage (say that three times fast), Hollows Grove.
Harold is a documentary filmmaker whose film school buddy Tim has made it big…well, sorta; Tim’s one of the hosts of the television ghost-hunting show, “Spiritual & Paranormal Investigative Team”, or “S.P.I.T.”, for short. Giving a helping hand to his old friend Harold (who’s trying to take the more traditional, less sensational route to success), Tim invites him along on one of the tapings of the show for the purpose of doing a documentary about the process. After meeting the rest of the crew (one of whom is another old “friend”, Roger, who’s just a bit of a douche), Harold sits in on the production meeting where the crew discusses their latest adventure — “Hollows Grove”, an abandoned orphanage/mental hospital for children, infamous for its reputation as a haunted place. Buying into the mystique, Harold is surprised when Tim takes him to visit Bill, a retired Hollywood SFX guru who rigs each site before each taping — you know, to “give the audience what they want.” After a brief meeting, the pair head off to join the others, telling Bill they’ll see him there, to which he replies with a grin, “No you won’t”.
Arriving at the old facility, the team are met by the caretaker who has had a change of heart; he can’t in good conscience allow them to come into the building knowing the evil forces that are there. The team has their permits, however, and insist to be allowed to do their job (plus, the ranting of the man will make great footage!).
Once inside, they set up their command center, and with Harold in tow, begin their filming. Several frightening happenings occur, and the team relish in how well Bill set things up when their cameras aren’t rolling…but it’s not long before things start to get out of hand. The group begins yelling at Bill, wherever he may be hiding, that things are a little too goddamn real, and that he shouldn’t be rigging things this dangerous…
…but didn’t that caretaker say that he “didn’t let that old guy in, either”?
At first glance, you think there’s nothing here that wasn’t in Grave Encounters, Seven Nights of Darkness, or 8213: Gacy House (well, at least attempted in a couple of those), but it’s not long before the original element shines through: these guys are frauds, and not at all ashamed of it. The concept of a group of fakes finding themselves confronted with the real McCoy, while still not necessarily a completely new idea, at least gives this film a wrinkle that I personally haven’t seen overworked. The best part is that when things start turning to poo, you can’t really yell at the characters for not just hatting up and getting the hell out of Dodge; after all, they fully believe that Bill is up there at his control panel, giggling as he scares the shit out of them. This lends an air of credibility to the happenings that is often missing from this type of flick. The movie doesn’t have an overabundance of the much-hated “shaky-cam” shots (well, at least not until some near the end), and Efros’ choices to let the camera linger during certain sequences give the film some nice, creepy moments.
The story does a pretty good job of building the terror as we know what the characters don’t, and the acting is well-done across the board. Of special mention is (the nearing omnipresent) Lance Henriksen as Bill, having what looks like a lotta fun with his short screen time. Some of the effects show the limitations of the budget, but I felt that overall they were fitting for the film, and I tip my hat to Efros for not shaming himself with a proliferation of cloying, ill-advised exposition.
So there it is, peeps; I can’t honestly say this is one I’m scrambling to add to my collection, but I can say that I enjoyed it. It’s a lot of the same old same old, but with a couple of nice new folds to keep things entertaining. Fans of the subgenre, especially those films of a ghostly bent like Paranormal Activity or Grave Encounters should definitely check this one out. The rest of you out there…well, you may love it or hate it, but I personally don’t feel like I wasted my time on it; I feel like Efros really put some effort into this one, so to him (and all you other filmmakers trying to do something worthwhile with found footage), I say bravo, and keep on keepin’ on!
Two-tenths of a dime.
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