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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.
The image is 1.78:1 widescreen. Since this is a found footage film, the quality goes from mediocre to quite bad, but this is clearly intentional, with some of the artifacts and other problems being added in post-production. There are heavy shadows, and the screen is often completely black, making the action entirely invisible. But that's sort of the point.
Audio is available in Dolby digital 5.1 and 2 channel, though the 5.1 channel is the clear preference. Sound is very important in the film, and the viewer feels that they are enveloped in all the whispering, creaking, footsteps and whatnot that permeate the film. No subtitles are included, which is a bit frustrating since because of the nature of the endeavor, the dialogue is occasionally hard to pick out. I had to rewind to decipher the phrase "Jesus wept", which is somewhat important to the story. No alternate language track is included.
There are a few extras on the disc. They are:
Sean Stone's Ghost Stories: The Making of Greystone Park
This featurette clocks in at just under seven minutes, and consists of interviews with co-writer / actor Alex Wraith, Sean Stone, Antonella Lentini and various others involved with the film. Mostly they talk about weird experiences they had during production, including lights turning on by themselves, whispering, and a shadow that lived in Sean's room for a month.
The Locations of Greystone Park
Also at almost seven minutes, this one talks about the actual asylums in New York and California that were used as locations. These were fairly decrepit, and not necessarily structurally sound, buildings, with dark histories of their own. Quite interesting.
While the alternate ending featured here is intriguing, it's clear why the producers elected to go with the theatrical ending.
Audio Commentary With Sean Stone, Antonella Lentini and Alexander Wraith
This is the most substantial of the extras included, and is quite effective. If anything, it makes the film even more disturbing than the original viewing. It's clear that all three truly believe in the supernatural, shadow men, and that there were ethereal energies at work around them as they filmed. A couple of the events shown in the film, such as a dark figure rushing out of a room, were not planned, and the reactions we see are genuine, or so they claim. One may choose not to believe these things, but that's not the point. It all plays into the willing suspension of disbelief, and the pleasurable experience of allowing oneself to be frightened.
There are certainly criticisms to be made of Greystone Park, but it's much more fun to simply accept it for what it is and enjoy it. Sean Stone, whether you fully accept his belief in the supernatural or not, has crafted a superb example of an unapologetic horror film, with enough dread, tension and jump scares to satisfy the die hards while never being simply cliché or retread. This is a good one.