Hello again, Brothers and Sisters of the Psychotronic Video World! Today’s review, a screener placed in my hands by Wes, comes to us from writer-director Sean Stone, son of the famous Oliver Stone. Now, the senior Stone was one of us for a while before he started making Big Important Movies — anyone remember SEIZURE, with Jonathan Frid? How about THE HAND, with Michael Caine? And Hell, the man was screenwriter for CONAN THE BARBARIAN and SCARFACE, two movies that sired a metric shitload of our kind of low-budget exploitation ripoffs. What I’m saying is, I have high hopes for the younger Stone’s new horror film, GREYSTONE PARK (released in some markets as THE ASYLUM TAPES or GRAYSTONE).
A pre-title scroll reveals that in 2009, a group of young documentarian filmmakers went into a long-abandoned, allegedly-haunted insane asylum to film. This is their story.
We’re introduced to Sean (Sean Stone; every “character” shown is presented as simply the actor playing them. These are true events, after all) and his friends as they discuss haunted locations — specifically Greystone Park, a famously-abandoned mental asylum wherein amoral doctors performed sadistic medical experiments on the patients. They decide to gear up and investigate Greystone Park for themselves. What they find, however, suggests that there is something to the old ghost stories after all…
I’m not sure if Sean Stone has made a found-footage horror film, or a satire of the found-footage horror films that have dominated the industry for the past dozen years. In some ways, GREYSTONE PARK feels like a distillation of everything we’ve seen from THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT through PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4, albeit a flawed distillation.
Really, what it reminds me of is an apocryphal story in which a man asks composer Frederic Chopin to listen to his son play. The young boy is seated in front of the piano, and proceeds to play one of Chopin’s compositions. When he was done, Chopin smiled, tousled the boy’s hair, and said, “You know the notes. Someday you will play the music.” GREYSTONE PARK hits the notes, but there’s an underlying element that is missing, and the film suffers for it.
Part of the problem, for me, is the film’s utter stinginess in giving the audience anything to be afraid of. We’re not even given proper jump scares; we do, however, get lots and lots of sequences of something happening just off-screen, and footage of the actors reacting to it in terror. I could tolerate one or two of these; but after the third round I was ready to see what the hell they’re screaming about. It could have very easily been nothing; these kids were psyching themselves up to be terrified before they even set foot on the asylum grounds. To make matters worse, the film’s musical score (yes, a found footage film with a soundtrack; much of the time it’s very subtle, however) alerts us to these pseudo-jump scares before they happen with a Bernard Herrmann-style crescendo.
It just doesn’t work to try and scare the audience while also alerting them that a scare is coming.
The real disappointment is that this film did have the seeds of some very good ideas in it, and they just weren’t allowed to develop. The ghosts of Greystone Park manipulate and terrorize the mortal cast through electronic devices — making the lights flicker, delivering psychic disturbances via an old cassette-player, etc. The film also hints tantalizingly at the notion that the ghosts are using the camera upon which the film is being recorded to manipulate and terrorize the audience viewing the film, but doesn’t go anywhere with this and really just leaves the idea flapping in the breeze.
Overall, I was underwhelmed by GREYSTONE PARK. I felt like it didn’t deliver anything new, and what original ideas it had were buried under false jump-scares and woefully underlit scenes (Yes, I know it’s a haunted, abandoned insane asylum. That does not mean I’ll sit through long sequences of an almost completely black screen, with only screaming to tell me my TV hasn’t died). Unless you’ve got a serious hard-on for seeing every found-footage movie ever, or are a desperate completist to see every film Oliver Stone has ever acted in (he has a cameo at the end here), I’m going to say give this one a pass.