Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hollows Grove: More Found Footage for Halloween

Reality TV show crews make convenient grist for found footage horror films, because nobody will be terribly distraught when they are dispatched in supernatural fashion. That is particularly true of the on-air “talent” comprising S.P.I.T., the Spirit Paranormal Investigation Team. They will pick the wrong haunted orphanage for their ghost chasing in Craig Efros’ Hollows Grove (trailer here), now available on VOD.

Grove starts out with a canned introduction from an FBI Agent thanking us for cooperating with their investigation by reviewing the footage to follow, which doesn’t make sense. Clearly, it is an attempt to shake up the found footage format, so whatever. What we will see is supposedly edited from the cameras of a S.P.I.T. crewmember and Harold Maxwell, a down-on-his-luck would-be filmmaker trying to produce a documentary on his old college buddies who made good in “reality” TV. Of course, Maxwell is quickly disillusioned when he meets retired Hollywood special effects artist Bill O’Neal, who stages all the spooky mayhem seen on the show.

To maintain spontaneity, they never know what surprises O’Neal has in store for them. This will be important to keep in mind when they start taping in Hollows Grove, an orphanage that became a dumping ground for special needs children. Residents were routinely abused, physically and sexually. At least two nurse committed suicide, in the same room, naturally enough. All that’s missing is a Nazi staff director performing black masses in the basement, but for all we know that happened too.

If the studio could successfully sue the distributors of Abby for infringing on The Exorcist, the Vicious Brothers ought to have a cast iron case to make against Grove for “paying homage” to Grave Encounters. However, Efros has a nice wrinkle with O’Neal’s presumed trickery. Since the lads assume all the weird stuff in the early stages is his handiwork, they mug for the cameras, while viewers realize they are majorly in for it. The crusty veteran FX hand also happens to be played by Lance Henriksen, who is as cool as ever in what is essentially a long cameo appearance.

So yes, we have seen this before—and seen it better in the recent Taking of Deborah Logan and the original Encounters. Nonetheless, the bickering and bantering of Matt Doherty and Sunkrish Bala as the show’s co-hosts helps keep it fresh. Bresha Webb also adds some style and attitude as their somewhat bemused segment producer, Julie Mercade.

Frankly, the entire ensemble sells the madness relatively well, but the stakes have definitely been raised in the found footage game. There are several creepy sequences in Grove, but the aforementioned films are more consistently scary. It is a passably diverting haunted institution movie, but fans should have better options during Halloween. Those who order it up anyway should be warned there is a stinger, so don’t log off when the credits start to roll. For diehard Henriksen fans (and we know you’re out there), Hollows Grove is now available via VOD platforms.