Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with a special edition of AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS. Today, we’ve got another interview with the directors of GRAVE ENCOUNTERS. But before we dive into the interview, here’s my review of the film. Enjoy!
In select theaters throughout August then available On Demand August 25th!
GRAVE ENCOUNTERS (2011)Directed by The Vicious Brothers
Written by The Vicious Brothers
Starring Sean Rogerson, Juan Riedinger, Ashleigh Gryzko, Mackenzie Gray, & Merwin Mondesir
For more info check out the film’s website here.
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
My guilty pleasure is GHOST HUNTERS and all reality TV like it. Give me a night vision cam wandering a dark hallway and my ass is glued to the couch and my eyes to the TV. So I’m the right audience for GRAVE ENCOUNTERS, a “found footage” film about a paranormal investigation team; one of the first, according to the producer’s intro, and the tapes found inside of a haunted sanitarium which were never released. The producer at the beginning assures the viewer that nothing has been altered in these tapes and that the only edits were for time constraints. With that set up, the film ominously starts and we are introduced to our host (Sean Rogerson), the occult specialist (Ashleigh Gryzko), the sound guy (Juan Riedinger), the cameraman (Merwin Mondesir) and the medium (Mackenzie Gray). What stars out as a routine investigation by a bunch of jaded “investigators” gets real really quick and soon this team who don’t really believe in ghosts encounter something real and scary.
And GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is really scary. Do you know those moments in GHOST HUNTERS when the camera is tracking through corridors and over the shoulders of the hosts and you’re just waiting for something to jump out or happen? Those shows live on that anticipation, since, let’s face it, nothing ever really does. In GRAVE ENCOUNTERS, shit actually happens on screen, but done so in a way that doesn’t seem staged (at least for the most part). At first, this film plays it by the book, investigating the grounds in the daylight, interviewing eyewitnesses, but soon the moments in between takes start to show up as the host is filmed giving the groundskeeper twenty bucks to make up a scary eyewitness account and talks of shots that amp up the scares for the audience are discussed. This is well paced and patient, relying on the age old set up technique for these shows which tells the backstory of each location, with the audience knowing full well that this will be the spot shit goes down later. When over-the-top medium (Mackenzie Gray) shows up to chew the scenery, you almost believe him, until the host yells cut and they laugh at how inane his “contact with the dead” is. In showing these scenes, writers/directors capture how different these characters when the camera is rolling than they are in real life, but when stuff starts moving on their own, that gap lessens.
The performances are actually pretty well done here with host Sean Rogerson playing both a convincing talking head as well as a scared as shit victim of the whole situation, often flip flopping between both in the same scene. One of the challenges in these faux reality shows is that the actors must seem natural in front of the camera and lines don’t seem scripted. The entire cast does a damn fine job of doing this throughout.
The other challenging aspect of all found footage films is finding a reason to continue filming when the shit goes down. Here, that moment is sold with Rogerson’s orders to keep rolling despite his crew rebelling against him. But when stuff starts going completely off the reservation, you soon stop questioning why the camera is rolling and just roll with it because the locale and the situations are too creepy to care.
The last half hour of GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is a funhouse ride with shit jumping out at you every other second as the crew wander around in the dark. I watched this in a dark room in the middle of the night by myself and, I’m not too ashamed to admit, I was scared shitless a few times. Yes, a lot of these scares have been used in previous films and most of the scares are due to a loud burst of volume or shit rocketing toward the camera out of the blue, but there’s a carnival haunted house feel to GRAVE ENCOUNTERS that makes it stand out from most of the GHOST HUNTERS knock offs out there. Convincingly acted and filled with jumps and jolts, GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is everything you wanted to see in all of those reality shows, but never do.
Find out when and where you can check out GRAVE ENCOUNTERS here.
And now, let’s talk with Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz, the pair of talented filmmakers who brought us GRAVE ENCOUNTERS. Here’s what they had to say about the film.
COLIN MINIHAN (CM): Hey, what’s up Mark?
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Hey, how are you doing? I’ll make this quick, because I know we only have a couple of minutes here. So how are you doing today?
STUART ORTIZ (SO): Great.
BUG: So I just wanted to talk a little bit about GRAVE ENCOUNTERS. I saw the film a little while ago; it was a really cool movie. Can you tell people who the basic premise of the film?
CM: Sure. It’s about the crew of a ghost hunting reality television show along the lines of GHOST ADVENTURES or PARANORMAL STATE or GHOST HUNTERS that have a show that have a show that’s called “GRAVE ENCOUNTERS” and they are shooting their sixth episode at an abandoned mental institution and everything goes horribly wrong.
BUG: It does seem really authentic up to a point where they are doing the research and then they do the interviews and then they go out with kind of like the night vision and everything. What went into that, to make that seem like such an authentic documentary type show like GHOST HUNTERS?
SO: I think we were just very conscious, Mark, of the different approaches to these kinds of shows and inherently in these shows…we wanted the audience to be familiar and recognize it and think that it might be a reality television program instead of a movie, so when we decided the format to shoot the film on first I guess, we figured that it would be best to shoot on HD cameras using video lenses that give a very reality TV aesthetic, versus a more cinematic feel to it, and you know you are talking about doing interviews and all of these kinds of things and you know it’s just a matter of having the right skill set to kind of put aside your regular thoughts as far as narrative filmmaking that you are basically going out and making a fake documentary.
BUG: Yeah, the actors seem to be really authentic in this film. What went into you choosing…what was the process of picking people who are really good at acting like they are not acting?
CM: Well you know, we just lucked out. Our producer knew a really good casting director by the name of Laura Brooke, so we thought initially we might have to cast the film off Craigslist, which would have been a nightmare, but luckily you know we had a great casting director and everyone we saw was a really professional and great actor. It was just a matter of finding the right people, but you’re right, it was difficult you know, with a lot of the roles, especially with like the role of the host, “Lance Preston.” That was probably the most difficult role to cast, because on the one hand we needed an actor who could do a performance that on one spectrum that could do kind of basically the cheesy douchebag host guy who is just kind of hamming it up on camer,a you know, but on the opposite end of the spectrum towards the end of the movie obviously when he has fully come around and is no longer a skeptic and really believes, it had to be really believable good dramatic acting. So that was tough, because we would see a lot of guys that could do kind of this MTV host thing or whatever or sometimes even more campy UNSOLVED MYSTERIES versions of a host, but then when you would get them to try and do dramatic acting they would be bad. Then on the opposite end of the spectrum we would get guys who could be good actors and handle the dramatic part, but then they didn’t understand the concept of being like a bad host. We would be like “Be bad, be cheesy” and they wouldn’t get it. We lucked out, because we got this guy Sean Rogerson who plays Lance and he didn’t even actually audition for us in person, we just got a take that he recorded in his bathroom, because he wasn’t in town for the actual audition and as soon as we saw the tape we were like “Man, this guy…this is the guy,” basically. “We have to get him. We can’t do the film without him.”
BUG: Yeah, well some of the films that I have seen done in this sort of found footage format, they actually use their own cameraman and they cast their cameraman in the story, is that what you did here? Is the cameraman in the story, is he an actor or was it not him holding the camera the whole time?
CM: No, he’s an actor for sure, but interestingly enough one of the aspects that was really difficult for the actors was getting used to holding cameras, because we basically did a mini-crash course knowing that they would be filming probably about 50 percent of the film. The other half is shot by Stu, myself, and our director of photography, but it was definitely something that we were conscious of going into it, is that we wanted to have the actors shooting a lot of stuff themselves so that, again for the sake of realism and for the rough amateur feel, you get that naturally when you give an actor a camera.
BUG: Yeah, so have you had any reaction from actual people like the GHOST HUNTERS or the GHOST ADVENTURES people or any of those other reality shows that may have seen this film yet?
CM: (laughs) So far, no. I mean, it’s funny, the host of GHOST ADVENTURES I think we followed his Twitter feed and every so often we will just see a random Tweet to him that’s like “Have you heard of GRAVE ENCOUNTERS? These guys like totally ripped off your…” But then we were at Comic Con and someone interviewed us and they said that they had just talked to, I think it’s either Zak [Bagans] or Aaron [Goodwin] I think, one of the other guys from GHOST ADVENTURES, and were telling him that they were going to interview us next or whatever and they had never heard of the movie and he kind of explained to them what it was and initially I guess the guy was concerned that we were just doing another GHOST ADVENTURES show, but then when he realized it was a movie he was like “Oh, that sounds kind of cool.” So I don’t know.
SO: I’d like to attempt to shoot them the movie and get their blessing, because I think they would like it.
BUG: Are you a fan of those TV shows?
CM: Yeah, I think definitely we are. I mean, when we were writing the script we were actually working on a different project and basically we would get burnt writing and we would always just keep finding ourselves watching these shows and kind of laughing at some of the stuff and also realizing that, you know, there’s definitely an element of horror in here and we just kind of looked at one another one day and basically realized that it would a great vehicle for a found footage film and that’s kind of where the idea to make GRAVE ENCOUNTERS came from, you know? It’s just taking what all of the shows were already doing, but making the ultimate version out of all of them, essentially, and you know when people watch those shows, they are kind of disappointed, because it’s just year after year of calling out ghosts’ names and never seeing anything, but with our film we wanted to definitely see stuff.
BUG: That’s what I wrote in my review that this is what you want to see in those Ghost Hunter shows that you rarely do see.
BUG: So as far as you guys, with the name “Vicious Brothers…” it doesn’t sound like you guys are planning on doing any romantic comedies or anything like that. Are you guys pretty much stuck on doing horror? Are you committed to that genre?
SO: Well, I wouldn’t say that we only want to do horror films, although of course we are huge horror fans and the first film that we ever wanted to make would be a horror film, but I think our directing name is appropriate. We pretty much want to be doing genre films--horror, thriller, sci-fi horror, sci-fi--all of these things would be appropriate, but always we want to do them with a “vicious” slant to them that has a lot of darkness to it.
CM: Maybe at some point we will do a romantic comedy with Kate Hudson or something like that, but somewhere down the line we could tackle that as well.
BUG: (laughs) A “vicious” romantic comedy. So are you guys going on the circuit on hosting this film? Are you going to be playing any of the festivals?
CM: Yeah, we’ll be doing the international stuff still. I mean, the North American release is coming up real quick, but we are actually going to be screening at Sitges in Spain in October as well as Busan in South Korea and then Fantasy in Germany as well, so I’m not sure which ones we are going to make it out to, but hopefully Sitges and a few of the rest.
BUG: Well great. I really loved the movie. I think it was a great film and I can’t wait for more people to see it, so I can talk more about it. So is there anything else you wanted to tell Ain’t It Cool News before we go?
CM: Just to check out the film, because this film is pretty much like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY on steroids.
BUG: Alright, well thanks a lot guys. I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today. I’ll try to get this interview up as soon as possible and yeah, good luck with the film. Thanks a lot everybody.
SO: Thanks man.
BUG: GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is in select theaters throughout August and also available On Demand. Be sure to seek it out. It’s a funhouse ride of a flick!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole / wordslinger / reviewer / co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Mark is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and will be releasing FAMOUS MONSTERS first ever comic book miniseries LUNA in October (co-written by Martin Fisher with art by Tim Rees) Order Code: AUG111067! Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the covers to purchase)!
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