One has to watch approximately one-hundred found-footage movies to find a good one. Hollows Grove is not one of the good ones, even though writer-director Craig Efros has a prime location. A prime example of all found-footage movies not being created equal even when they come a dime—nay, a quarter—a dozen, this uninspired item grows as derivative as they come. After so many representatives (The Blair Witch Project, [REC], Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield, Trollhunter, Chronicle, V/H/S) have gotten it right before the ubiquitous trend, it might be the hardest kind of horror film to pull off.
To get his mind off a painfully fresh break-up, Harold (Matthew Carey) joins friend Tim (Matt Doherty, best known for co-starring in Home Alone and the The Mighty Ducks movies) in the latest shooting of a ghost-hunting reality show. Making up S.P.I.T. (the Spirit and Paranormal Investigation Team), Tim and his crew—co-talent Roger (Sunkrish Bala), director of photography Chad (Val Morrison), producer/director Julie (Bresha Webb) and f/x guru Bill (genre favorite Lance Henriksen)—head out to the abandoned Hollows Grove orphanage, which has been named #2 by the American Haunted House Association. Once Harold and the crew, who is usually used to all the rigged spookiness, arrive, they realize Hollows Grove is like a roach motel, as they won’t be checking out.
Found-footage movies are mere situations rather than stories, and purely as situations, they can be viscerally effective. Since there are only so many horrific situations out there, any film can still put an inventive spin on an old scare. Hollows Grove, however, never feels real enough or fresh enough. In fact, the verbalized backstory of Hollows Grove is scarier than any of the filmmaking tactics, including a 7-year-old child named Lila Calvert with murderous tendencies who went missing after slitting the other children’s throats in bed, and admitted to committing the murders under God’s commands. Hearing that is creepier than seeing a black cat being thrown against a wall or a wheelchair in a hallway going missing. Director Efros even botches the easy scare of little ghost children walking down a hallway.
Bookended by F.B.I. Agent Jones (Mykelti Williamson) warning the viewer as a witness of the footage he or she is about to see, Hollows Grove seems like a crock from the get-go. Though before the spooky goings-on, there is actual amusement in the characters’ juvenile behavior as Harold shoots a behind-the-scenes documentary of S.P.I.T. And, of the actors who are just asked to “be,” Bresha Webb stands out the most as a charismatic spitfire as lone woman Julie. Otherwise, a film of this technique and aesthetic knows no other way to sneak in exposition besides ineptly having the characters unnaturally explain their relationship problems and where they work and then not realizing the camera is on. As Tim and Roger “act” in front of the cameras, it becomes unconvincing that these guys make money doing this.
What is “real” and what is Bill’s doing via special effects should be part of the fun, but writer-director Efros’ idea of scares is having characters jump in front of the camera. Carriages moving on their own don’t produce the chills that they should and whisperings produce unintended laughs. Even if Harold is just using the camera for the light through the dark staircases and not looking through the viewfinder, the fall falls into that trap of why don’t you just set the damn camera down and try getting out of dodge? Not without a competent jump here and a goose there, Hollows Grove still has a hard time sticking the landing to warrant too much attention from seasoned horror fans.
Hollows Grove is available on iTunes and the film’s official website.