Studio: Vision Films
Director: Craig Efros
Writer: Craig Efros
Producer: Mel Efros, Craig Efros
Stars: Mykelti Williamson, Matt Doherty, Sunkrish Bala, Bresha Webb, Val Morrison, Matthew D. Carey, Lance Henriksen
The crew of a ghost-hunting reality TV show investigates paranormal activity in a reportedly haunted children’s orphanage.
From the initial look of things, “Hollows Grove” opens in a manner suggesting it doesn’t intend for anyone to take it seriously. Mykelti Williamson presents the classified “found footage” about to be screened as an FBI agent pondering with funeral-like solemnity the tragedy that befell S.P.I.T. (Spirit and Paranormal Investigation Team), a ghost-hunting reality TV crew that, surprise, met horrific fates in the hallways of a haunted building. I’d bet the sum of Williamson’s paycheck that clips exist of the actor laughing uncontrollably as soon as the director yells cut, marveling that he made it through the hilariously overinflated gravitas of his intro with a straight face.
I’d bet the same amount that Williamson’s needless inclusion in the cast was one of the production budget’s top two line items. Which is doubly disappointing for the filmmakers considering that they basically coughed up a lot of dough to give their movie a name only to kick things off with an immediate illusion breaker. How is anyone supposed to buy into the “found footage” fantasy when a recognizable actor appears as the very first character? Although with the title of the faux reality show featured in “Hollows Grove” being “SPIT,” I suppose the movie isn’t terribly concerned about suspension of disbelief.
Since sincerity of presentation is already by the wayside, “Hollows Grove” doubles down on name value by adding one more cast member with an unbalanced ratio of salary to screen time. Genre legend Lance Henriksen breezes in for three brief scenes, one of which features Henriksen using his bare ass cheeks to jokingly address the camera. That’s right. A three-time Golden Globe nominee with over 200 credits to his name appears in “Hollows Grove” and what does the film do with him? Bends him over for an Ace Ventura tribute. If you’ve ever dreamed of seeing the underside of Lance Henriksen’s scrotum illuminated by green-tinted night vision, “Hollows Grove” is a wish fulfilled.
With a buddy filming a behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of their show, the three-man SPIT team of juvenile jokers sexually harasses their segment producer Julie, sexually harasses each other, and then sets out for Hollows Grove, an abandoned orphanage where children were abused, adults committed suicide, and people mysteriously disappeared. The caretaker warns that the crew is messing with genuine supernatural forces, everyone discovers that their cell phones don’t work, and thus begins a typical investigation into the supernatural featuring every horror movie cliché imaginable.
A creepy doll. Slowly-approaching ghost kids. A children’s song crackling on an old record player. A television set playing static. A random wheelchair in the hallway. Crazed inmate ramblings scrawled on walls. You name it, “Hollows Grove” has it. That is, as long as you don’t name anything like interesting backstory, compelling characters, or original ideas.
Sound familiar? “Hollows Grove” looks familiar, too. That’s because “Hollows Grove” filmed at Los Angeles’ Linda Vista Hospital, the exact same location used in at least half of the umpteen other “found footage” paranormal investigation movies that have come before it, including “100 Ghost Street” (review here), “616: Paranormal Incident” (review here), “The Crying Dead” (review here), “Reel Evil” (review here), and “SX_Tape” (review here).
About the only thing unique in approach is that “Hollows Grove” is not comprised of footage from the phony TV show’s camera. It’s mainly footage from the behind-the-scenes doc recording the investigation taking place with the other camera. It makes more sense than it sounds like because the actor playing the show’s cameraman operates as if his camera is an alien device being held for the first time, and most of his footage was likely unusable. Presumably for blocking purposes, or simply because no one knows what anyone is doing, the operator jams his camera so far into the on-air talent’s faces that they could stick out their tongues and lick the lens.
The improvised bits aren’t so bad. However, the show hosts stumble over virtually every scripted line for the program itself, yet there is rarely a second take. In no way, shape, or form would “S.P.I.T.” ever appear in any distribution channel other than YouTube, and even that would be lucky to have more than a dozen subscribers.
Concluding the film is a second and final short appearance by Mykelti Williamson as FBI Agent Jones, speaking into the camera while sitting on the edge of his desk, hands in his lap, and turned at the waist as if this positioning adds some sort of weight to his words. The absurdity of the framing device is reminiscent of the confusing bookends Dan Aykroyd used to do for “Psi-Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal,” where you weren’t sure how to approach supposedly serious sci-fi being introduced by someone best known for comedy.
“Hollows Grove” really isn’t any better or any worse than most other dime-a-dozen paranormal asylum films, which is precisely the problem. The movie is technically competent for the most part, but how can it not be when all it does is copy a preexisting template for “found footage” formula? For a haunted house investigation thriller with better scares and higher entertainment value, stick with “Grave Encounters” (review here).
NOTE: There is a post-credits scene.
Review Score: 35