What sets Grave Encounters apart from its brethren is its tongue-in-cheek attitude. The film follows a television crew ghost hunting in an old mental institution. For fans of shows like Ghost Hunters or even MTV's long-abandoned FEAR, the film shows what we don't see in supposedly real paranormal shows: bribery for stories, long waiting periods, boredom, and lies. More importantly, the plot allows the use of multiple cameras in a much more dynamic way than, say, Paranormal Activity; it's only normal that a television show would set up static cameras while also utilizing handhelds. This allows the film to use cinematic devices like static and nightvision without being compromised or distracted by 100% handheld footage (aka the Blair Witch phenomenon).
But while the TV crew is camping out in the asylum, their cool-for-television exteriors belie the fact that they don't know much about real ghost hunting. As they're approached by real ghosts -- something that's seemingly never happened to them before -- they aren't sure how to communicate with the spirits or how to react. Frankly, I find this hysteria more aligned with humans' natural reactions in panic mode. From a selfish perspective, it's much more interesting to watch people not know what to do in a dangerous situation. It's a movie, after all, and the audience needs to be kept engaged.
The film also does a great job of incorporating lots of different types of ghosts into the mix. It's easy enough to show scary doctors or nurses, but they also include activity normally associated with poltergeists and malicious spirits: moving doors, scratching, and distorted time. The scares are about more than graphic violences; they're about confronting the unknown. While the ending isn't my favorite, Grave Encounters still does a great job of updating the classic ghost story and making it appeal to the modern audience.