Hollows Grove (2014)
Starring: Mykelti Williamson, Lance Henriksen, Matthew Carey and Sunkrish Bala.
Written & Directed by Craig Efros.
Expected UK DVD Release 14th Nov 2016 from High Fliers Films
“A young filmmaker documents his ghost-hunting, reality show friends as their routine investigation of an abandoned orphanage turns into a nightmare from which they can’t escape.”
For me, the charm of any found-footage movie is the subtle claim to realism that lays beneath the framing of its narration. The conceit behind The Blair Witch Project (1999) was the notion that the film was made up from footage left behind by missing documentary students. In Grave Encounters (2011) the crew of a ghost-hunting reality show lock themselves in an abandoned mental hospital and the subsequent film comes from the video they left behind. And, here, we have the same premise supporting Hollows Grove (2014). The story is being told through found footage from the combined camcorders left behind by a documentary maker and the producers of a ghost-hunting reality TV show.
And that subtle claim to realism works.
I’ve sat through hours of ghost-hunting reality shows. Not because I believe in ghosts, or because I think I’m ever going to see proof of a ghost whilst watching one of those shows. But my TV station is jammed onto the ghost-hunting channel and I’ll sit through anything whilst I’m trying to get drunk.
I’ve even been on a ghost-hunt. Locally, there’s an abandoned cinema. A team of professional ghost-hunters took me and some other gullible marks through darkened backstage areas and disused cinema lavatories as they told us about untimely deaths and alleged sightings. I didn’t see anything that didn’t have a rational explanation (except for people calling themselves professional ghost hunters). However, I did spend the night entire in a state of trembling anxiety as I expected to see something other-worldly leaping out at me from the shadows.
This is why the premise of Hollows Grove works so well. We watch ghost-hunting TV shows, not for the people in front of the camera, but for any subtle anomalies that occur in the background. Did that shadow move? Was that a face at the window? We go on ghost-hunts not to have the supernatural proved or disproved but simply to enjoy the rollercoaster thrill of venturing into the unknown. Hollows Grove is certainly a rollercoaster thrill.
My one issue with Hollows Grove was that it took a long time establishing it’s premise. Given the simplicity of the idea (potential victims are trying to film ghosts in an abandoned orphanage) I thought the concept could have been presented more succinctly. It’s framed with a suggestion that the film is being presented by the FBI, trying to understand what happened to the cast of the TV show. This framing is then further framed by a storyline where a documentary maker is filming the cast of the reality TV show. When you realise the cast of the reality TV show are trying to film the story of the ghosts, it becomes a Russian Doll of a story that seems more complex than it needs to be.
By way of comparison, consider the effective way that [REC] (2007) gets us into the action with a TV reporter filming a fire crew. The same events are effortlessly conveyed in [REC]’s English-language remake, Quarantine (2008). Or there’s the camcorder conceit used in Cloverfield (2008). And the ubiquitous CCTV footage that makes up the Paranormal Activity (2007 – 2014) movies. Each of these films managed to convey its premise with a stylish simplicity that moved it above the awkwardness of Hollows Grove.
That aside, if you can stay with Hollows Grove for the first fifteen minutes, you’re going to be entertained by a movie that has enough scares to make you spill your popcorn and some seriously eerie effects. The nuance of the ghost-hunting TV show is well-utilised. Night vision cameras can make the most normal of locations look like a place where Ed Gein would fear to tread without an adult holding his hand. Shadowy backgrounds, cleverly used to foreground the impending supernatural encounters, are well-crafted and neatly employed. The acting is credible and the characters are rich with the typical horror movie duality where most of the good guys are so despicable the audience wants them to suffer a brutal and horrific death.
Definitely worth watching. 7/10