We open on a staunch FBI agent who tells us that the footage we’re about to see was recovered from Hollows Grove, is classified, is pretty baffling, etc. Pretty standard stuff. Then, we get to the footage itself. A man is filming a behind-the-scenes documentary about a paranormal investigation show, run by some friends of his.
Right from the start, these friends are very upfront about the nature of the show: it’s fake. Very fake. When they go to a so-called “haunted house,” they hire a former Hollywood special effects guru to go ahead of them and set up some scares that will help them get ratings. They’re not in this for any desire to have genuine paranormal experiences or make contact with spirits, but simply to make money.
From there, we follow them as they film their latest episode: an old orphanage with a history of horrible mistreatment, illness, suicide, and grisly murders. Of course, we know what’s going to happen pretty much from the start. The “professionals” go in, very casual and cocky, making jokes and paying little attention. Then, gradually, the evil within this building begins to manifest itself and come after them.
In this case, though, it’s very, VERY gradual. More than half the film is just business as usual for the investigative team, just one more episode among dozens. A few unusual and vaguely creepy things do happen to them throughout, but they just write it off as the work of Bill, their effects guy. It’s not until the last half hour or so that Hollows Grove begins to unleash its true horrors.
This extremely slow build isn’t actually a flaw, though. By far the most interesting part of the movie is seeing this faux-paranormal production team shooting their latest episode. There’s a stark contrast between their intense and somber on-screen personae and their laid back, somewhat immature, even prankish attitudes behind the scenes. They switch back and forth on a dime between “The spirits are at rest in this place” and “Let’s shoot the commercial bumper in this room.” It’s fun and rather interesting to watch. And, all the while, they remain oblivious to the strange and creepy things happening around them, while we the audience build an ever-greater sense of unease.
The problem is, when it finally DOES become clear that something’s wrong, and the true nature of Hollows Grove begins to unveil itself, it’s something of a letdown. It’s all standard haunted house horror stuff—nothing we haven’t seen before. I was hoping for some twist, something to set this movie apart from your standard horror film and take it in a different direction than the one we’re all expecting from the beginning. Sadly, Hollows Grove was not that ambitious.
As horror movies go, this one isn’t bad, though. The effects are good, and though it’s not really full-on scary for the most part, there’s a definite creep factor throughout. It’s got a great subtlety to it that I think a lot of modern horror movies are sorely lacking. Basically, it's still fun to watch in a pinch.