There are a lot of things going against Sean Stone's horror entry Greystone Park from the beginning: it's a hand held, "found footage" movie, and those are passé; it's set in a haunted asylum, and that's even more passé; it's supposedly based on true events, and that can't possibly be true; and it's co-written and directed by Oliver Stone's son, so surely there's some nepotism going on and it's just because of Sean's connections that the film got made. But all of these things don't matter, and / or aren't true. Greystone Park is a truly disturbing, if unoriginal, ghost story that delivers genuine chills. There's something to be said for doing the same old thing with craftsmanship and passion.
The film is based on a real life trip to an asylum taken by Sean Stone and Alex Wraith, the day after they met at a dinner party at Sean's father's house. (Most of the characters, including Oliver Stone, are playing themselves.) Alex begins talking about his belief in shadow men, though Sean is skeptical. Everyone chips in with their own ghost stories and brushes with the supernatural. Even Oliver regales the group with an encounter he had as a youth at camp with the ghostly Crazy Kate. Alex invites Sean to accompany him to abandoned asylum Greystone Park, and the next day, along with Sean's friend NYU student Antonella Lentini, they drive into the New Jersey countryside to explore the abandoned building and spend the night.
The filmmakers used actual abandoned mental institutions to film in, with very little set dressing, and the creepy atmosphere fairly oozes out of the screen and into your living room. The environment they are shooting in does half the work already of scaring the audience, and the deft hand of Stone, along with fine performances from him and his cohorts, does the rest. (And, at least according to those involved, some of the reactions and events filmed weren't staged and happened on the day, adding to the authenticity.) As any experienced horror aficionado knows, night time trips to the abandoned asylum are rarely fun, and even less often end well, and this is no exception.
Sean Stone knows how to manipulate his audience, and I mean that in a good way. There are constantly man shaped shadows in the corner of the frame, just for a second, or whispering noises that could be demons creeping up. And shadows. Lots of shadows and inky darkness and flickering lights and half seen figures. At every moment, we are waiting for the next thing to jump out, and sometimes it does, but more often doesn't, drawing out our discomfort. But, one might object, the film doesn't really make sense or cohere together, despite the thematic beats it hits. This view discounts the fact that horror is an experiential genre. The ride is as important as the destination, and often more important. (I'm talking to you, all those who complained that Haute Tension didn't logically work. Of course it didn't.) The most important question about a fright film is not "Can I diagram the plot like I did sentences in Sister Mary Clare's third grade class?" but "Did it scare me?" And Greystone Park certainly does. Your mileage may vary, of course, but Sean Stone takes a relatively tired trope of the horror genre, the overnight stay in the haunted building, and executes it about as well as it can be. That's an accomplishment. Highly recommended.
Sean Stone's Ghost Stories: The Making of Greystone Park
The Locations of Greystone Park
Audio Commentary With Sean Stone, Antonella Lentini and Alexander Wraith