Friday, January 15, 2016

Found Footage Friday: Greystone Park (2012)

The found footage horror movie sub-genre features several sub-genres of its own.

One of them is the “haunted hospital” trope or cliché. Thus far, I have seen documentary film crews or individuals with cameras explore dilapidated asylums and other medical facilities in films such Grave Encounters (2011), Reel Evil (2012), Sx_Tape (2013), and Hollow’s Grove (2014).  

Usually, the unlucky filmmakers run up against the malevolent spirits of those who were subject to bad treatment in the ruined facilities years earlier.

Greystone Park (2012) -- from director Sean Stone -- depicts the same old, familiar story, and does so without an abundance of new twists, unfortunately. Stone is the son of legendary director Oliver Stone, who also appears in the film, and Sean also stars here as the leader of the expedition into New Jersey’s Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital.  

This imposing place (a real location) was constructed in 1876 and at one time housed more than 7,700 patients. The hospital was closed down in 2008. The poster shown above notes that this movie is "inspired" by "true events," and that sentence may refer to the hospital's long history, rather than the "ghost story" the movie vets.

Critics have not been kind to Sean Stone’s picture, and it’s easy to see why. Without any twists or innovation, Greystone Park feels like a rerun of the other found-footage films name-dropped above. 

Also, in an attempt to liven up the proceedings, the film often cuts to black-and-white montages of the hospital inmates…from years past. This kind of intrusion into the modern proceedings is jarring, and seems a violation of found footage format, which demands an excavation of one particular location, and at a particular time. We're watching raw footage here (or we're supposed to be), so other footage -- unless it is clips of stuff on the camera (see: Cloverfield), and being taped over -- ought not to be featured.

Although Greystone Park clearly features many deficits as a work of art, there are aspects of the film worth commending and that reveal Stone’s promise as a filmmaker. One recurring object -- a bloody Raggedy Ann doll -- makes a scary impact, and the film’s denouement, which will make some literal minded viewers howl in disdain, is a welcome reach for artistic integrity and symbolism.

So while Greystone Park may be a clear case of “been there, done that,” the film, and the filmmaker occasionally succeed in their efforts to distinguish their movie from the found footage pack.

“There are things no humans should know about.”

At a dinner party attended by Sean Stone, his father Oliver Stone, his girlfriend Antonella, and another friend, Alex, the guests discuss ghost stories. 

In particular, Oliver Stone discusses a story from his youth, when he was at camp, and ran across a gray-haired, green-eyed ghost nicknamed “Crazy Kate.”

Sean and the others then discuss Greystone Park -- a closed-down mental hospital -- and the ghosts that may exist there. They resolve to tour the haunted facility (at night, no less) and learn the truth of it once and for all.

Alex, Antonella and Sean make the trek to Greystone Park -- trespassing on the property -- and gain entrance to the vast, dilapidated, former mental hospital.

Before long, they start to suspect that the stories of ghosts associated with the location are absolutely true...

“My advice is to leave the dead alone.”

Greystone Park starts slowly, with a lengthy dinner party scene that looks to have largely been improvised, and features all the hall-marks or clichés of the found footage horror film.

There’s green night vision footage at one point, a scene in a car involving the lead characters driving to the remote location, and also lengthy sequences of the same leads lost in a vast, industrial wreckage.

It’s tough for the film to gain any kind of creative traction or purchase in its opening act, though the presence of Oliver Stone is helpful. 

When the elder Stone begins to discuss his childhood experience with Crazy Kate, Greystone Park picks up a notch or two in terms of human interest.  Not so successful, however, are the flashbacks to previous footage of Antonella. In these small moments, she describes how she feels like she is a ghost already, and will feel right at home in the former asylum. This is a bit too on-the-nose in terms of foreshadowing her fate.

Once in Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, the film spends a lot of time in wrecked rooms, underground tunnels and the like; the bread and butter of these “haunted hospital” movies.  

One scene, however, is rather effective.  Alex, Antonella, and Sean stumble upon a room that appears to have been recently inhabited. Antonella gets a bad vibe from the chamber and immediately wants to leave. Sitting in the room (near an un-tucked bed) is a large Raggedy Ann doll.  

That creepy doll keeps making appearances in the film, in other locations, and is a frightening presence, to be certain; an indicator that it is either moving of its own volition, or some unseen “watcher” is moving it about, anticipating or following Sean and the others.

Greystone Park's climax depends on the film’s two ghost stories coming to life. 

We already know about Crazy Kate, thanks to Oliver Stone. But Alex tells a story about Billy, a former ward of the hospital who went crazy. He wears a gas mask, and you can detect his approach by rattling chains. 

The former ghost, Kate, gives the film it’s most effective jump scare, but Billy proves a bit of a bust.  He shows up, basically, to punch and abuse the two male leads, disappearing and re-appearing but without ever proving particularly frightening.

I can see why some horror fans might despise the film’s ending or label it as pretentious. Sean stands against a wall in a dimly lit corridor, wearing a hat.  His shadow stands next to him. 

Then, as Sean walks away into the dark (our final glimpse of him), we notice that the shadow remains frozen. For me, this composition actually pulls the whole movie together in a strong, symbolic fashion.

Early in the film, Alex talks about Shadow Men. He says that the inmates at Greystone Park had pieces of their souls “broken,” ripped off, by their horrible treatment.  Those pieces of human souls then became Shadow Men, haunting Greystone and finally becoming “demons.” 

The film’s final composition -- with Sean leaving our view (his destination: madness), while his shadow remains in the hospital -- captures nicely the meaning behind Alex’s monologue. A piece of Sean shall remain in the institution forever. Part of his soul will linger and lurk there.

I commend Sean Stone on the artistry of that imagery, and the effective staging of the shot. 

I only wish he were working here with a script and premise that doesn’t feel so used up. The director's best efforts to enliven the material aren’t always effective, despite the imaginative staging of the film’s denouement.  

In short, I don't think Greystone Park is nearly as bad as some have claimed. But other than a very well-orchestrated ending and one or two good, creepy moments, it's a visit to a location we've all been before. A return trip there is neither desired, nor necessary.  

For films of this genre-within-a-genre, I still recommend Grave Encounters.

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