Grave Encounters, the feature writing and directorial debut (sense a trend here?) by the Vicious Brothers (Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz). Because who isn't scared of a haunted house, or, in the case of Grave Encounters, a haunted psychiatric hospital named Collingwood, infamous for Golden Age lobotomies?
The film is told in a series of found footage edits, based off a SyFy-ish paranormal detective crew titling their feature "Grave Encounters". They run the gamut of acting styles, from charismatic and cocky host Lance (Sean Rogerson, giving it his all to be the most asshole-ish bro, even-steven with Micah from Paranormal Activity) to cute and hysterical "occult expert" Sasha (Ashleigh Gryzko), comic-relief nerd and tech guy Matt (Juan Riedinger) and effusively opinionated cameraman T.C. (Merwin Mondesir, tying with Gryzko for most believable characters). The plan is to hole up in supposedly haunted Collingwood overnight, chained in by space-case caretaker Sandivol, and record (or manufacture, as Lance shows early on, bribing a gardener to lie about a ghost sighting) whatever ghostly stuff goes down. Sandivol will open the doors the following morning, and they're free to go, edit their tapes and cut another ratings-hungry episode.
Off they go, through the main door marked DEATH AWAITS in greenish spraypaint (no subtleties here). Matt sets up a total of 10 static-cams in supposed "hot-spots" for spooky activity — the 3fl bathroom, actually a spacious room of toppled sinks and fixtures, containing a bloodstained bathtub in which a patient committed suicide; the 4fl where a window apparently opens by itself — while Lance starts spouting pomposities. Like "full spectral apparition", and the difference between "residual and intelligent haunting". Something else about "ectoplasm". We meet Houston Gray (Mackenzie Gray, effortlessly devouring screen-time), looking like a younger Peter Murphy and claiming to be a psychic (though he's definitely an egoist actor, in the film anyway), donning sunglasses indoors and speaking reverentially into thin air. He and Lance get a serious kick out of this.
The team grows antsy waiting for Matt and head out looking for him, but when T.C. is pushed (by source unseen) down a flight of stairs, they give up the search and decide to get out ASAP. T.C. and Lance use a hospital bed to ram down the chained lobby door, revealing…another anonymous hallway. I found this very effective. It has a slight echo to Mark Danielewksi's debut novel House of Leaves (another strong first-timer, note!), in that a house is inexplicably larger on the inside than outside, and features a mysterious doorway revealing labyrinthine hallways and utter darkness. In that House of Leaves vein, the Collingwood Hospital deletes the presence of time (their rescue by Sandivol comes and goes, then it's 1 p.m. and still nighttime outside; their food rots though they'd been in there less than 24 hours; the static-cam timers go bonkers). Disembodied groans and growls permeate the repeating hallways. A roof access sign leads up a staircase to a blank wall. Though this is meant to be a freakout horror film, so requisite scary characters make their presences known (what Lance referred to as "full spectral apparitions" earlier on). Some are quite effective, like the creepy girl in the corner (who in my opinion fits much more seamlessly into the film than the trailer might imply), others (like disembodied hands coming out the walls and ceiling) are cheap thrills. A guy being thrown down the hallway (caught entirely on static-cam, to realistic effect) left me tenser than a gabbling, blank-eyed spectre. Team members disappear into the gloom, even as Matt reappears, inexplicably wearing a hospital gown and clenching his knees to his chest. His words of advice to the team: "Of course there's a way out. We can leave as soon as we're better."