As I write this article, it's October. Being the month that houses Halloween, October is usually the month where people gorge themselves on horror films, literature, games, and so on. No matter what year it is, you'll see a glut of horror films in theaters in October, and a similar rush to release scary movies on home video. In these periods, the signal to noise ratio is not good. Most horror flicks are simply awful, with poor acting, lazy directing, and no respect for the audience's intelligence. Some others try really hard and still fail anyway. 'Greystone Park', the debut feature by Sean Stone, son of controversial director Oliver Stone, falls into the latter category.
'Greystone Park' works off of a well-worn horror premise: That of the haunted house. In this case, a haunted asylum, another location that has been well-mined in the genre. The film opens with Sean, playing himself, and friends (including famous father Oliver) at a dinner party, inexplicably lit only by candlelight, and the subject of ghosts (or, as the film calls them, "Shadow Men") comes up. Oliver relates a story about Crazy Kate, a witchy figure that haunted him as a boy. Sean's friend Alex (co-writer Alexander Wraith) introduces Greystone Park, an abandoned asylum home to unimaginable atrocities. Alex convinces Sean and his girlfriend Antonella (Antonella Lentini) into taking an overnight trip into Greystone Park. Strange things start to happen, but most of them appear to be pranks played by Alex. However, as the trio go further into the asylum, the less explanation they have for the bizarre events that ensue.
'Greystone Park' wants desperately to be a film in the same vein as Paranormal Activity, a low budget found footage fright-fest that really delivers the goods. Unfortunately, 'Greystone Park' lacks three elements that rocketed 'Paranormal Activity' to runaway success: Tension, effective set pieces, and believable acting. The lack of tension is evident right from the start, as before the story even gets underway Stone bombards the audience with loud, overbearing imagery of asylum abuses. Subtlety be damned! Stone has confused loud noises for actual scares. This does not let up throughout the picture, as Stone drops in blaring sounds almost at random throughout the proceedings, attempting to drum up tension, but there's no rhyme or reason to it.
Without building up the proper tension, it's no surprise that the set pieces don't work. Unfortunately, most of the time Stone can't even be bothered to put in actual set pieces, meaning that the few times you think you are going to be scared, it's a let down. Many times throughout the film the image, all shot on handheld cameras, exhibits distortion. The obvious inference is that this distortion is caused by the supernatural entities in the asylum. The problem is, instead of giving us big scare moments, Stone uses the distortion as an excuse to not show most of the scariest footage. Now, it's true that often our imagination can conjure up scarier imagery than anything that can be shown on screen, but Stone barely even gives us a hint of what the scary thing might be. Our imagination needs something to work with before it can run wild, and Stone never gives the audience that opportunity.
Finally, the acting is not up to snuff. While you might not love the characters in each entry of the 'Paranormal Activity' franchise, there's no denying that they feel like real people acting realistically to unrealistic events. Stone, Wraith, and Lentini do their best to keep up with the scattershot script, but they're not up to the task. Things aren't so bad at the beginning, as the three have a rapport that comes from their pre-existing relationships. In fact, the best moments in the film come from the dinner party, the only sequence that manages to conjure up anything like atmosphere. Once the movie kicks into gear, the actors turn melodramatic, practically shrieking at each other in scenes that would make a high school drama teacher shake their head. By the end, the actors resort to making funny faces to try and indicate that they've been possessed. The effect is, to put it kindly, laughable.
I do think that Sean Stone and Alexander Wraith had good intentions going in to 'Greystone Park.' The movie doesn't feel like a cash-in, even if it looks like one. But Sean Stone doesn't have the experience of his famous father, and more importantly doesn't have a unique point of view. Maybe in time he'll develop an authorial voice that will elevate his style and material, but for now 'Greystone Park' simply doesn't cut it.
'Greystone Park' is presented in an AVC-encoded 1080p transfer with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. This is one of those transfers where the intentions of the filmmakers have to be weighed against a desire for a high quality HD image. Stone shot 'Greystone Park' on real locations, with handheld cameras, often in poor lighting conditions in an attempt to establish a specific mood and atmosphere. In many shots, noise runs rampant, colors are drained, and digital break-up is introduced as a visual motif. Seeing as how this is intended to be a found-footage horror film, this look, warts and all, is exactly what the filmmakers set out to make.
On a technical level, I didn't detect any unintended artifacts or distortions. The few instances that do use bright colors show good color reproduction, and the image is as sharp as one could expect given the source material. In other words, we've got a very good reproduction of a flawed and manipulated source.
'Greystone Park' relies more on its soundtrack than its visuals to provide the scares, and this 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix does a good job of relaying the filmmaker's intentions. Again, like the image, the audio in the film has been willfully and repeatedly distorted. Loud noises, wholly disconnected from the events on screen, occur with some regularity. Dialogue is sometimes dropped or cut off. Again, this is all intentional. When the film isn't playing mind games, it creates a nicely expansive audio palette, with active rears that frequently feature far-off sounds to intimate unseen entities. Despite the jarring, blaring sound effects, I detected no clipping or distortion. Dialogue, when it's meant to be heard, comes through clearly. Taking the filmmakers' intentions into account, this is a strong sound mix.
'Greystone Park' is not a good movie. A cliché premise, combined with excessive overacting and no actual scares, make for a very poor entry in the horror genre. The only scary thing about the movie is that it got made in the first place. The disc does a good job of translating the filmmakers' intentions to home video, even if it means the disc doesn't always look or sound pristine. The extras are anemic, though, and not worth your time to sit through. There are plenty of fun bad horror movies out there you could watch on Halloween instead of this one.