Studio: Tribeca Film
Director: John Poliquin
Writer: The Vicious Brothers
Producer: Shawn Angelski, Martin Fisher
Stars: Richard Harmon, Leanne Lapp, Dylan Playfair, Stephanie Bennett, Howard Lai, Sean Rogerson
Believing that the first “Grave Encounters” movie may have been real, a group of film school students begins a paranormal investigation of their own.
The concept behind “Grave Encounters 2” will be somewhat familiar to those who have seen “Human Centipede 2.” The sequel takes place in a world where the first “Grave Encounters” (review here) exists very much like it does in this reality. Unlike Human Centipede 2’s Martin Lomax, however, “Grave Encounters 2” protagonist Alex Wright is not a fan of the original. Alex is a film student whose negative YouTube review of the first film earns him a series of mysterious messages. Alex gradually uncovers a conspiracy that “Grave Encounters” was in fact real footage after all, and none of the “actors” from that film have been seen since. With his film school buddies prepped for making a “found footage” movie of their own, Alex goes in search of what really happened to the ill fated victims of the first “Grave Encounters.”
It is a different spin for a “found footage” sequel, and it works well to bring a fresher approach to a genre where less and less distinguishes itself as a standout. Despite there being only about a year between “Grave Encounters” releases, it does not have the feel of other annualized horror franchises that stretch out old ideas instead of crafting new ones. “Grave Encounters 2” has a genuine desire to exist beyond siphoning bucks with a quick cash-in. It tries expanding its own universe with an atypical setup and with its phantasmagoric tangents.
The Vicious Brothers are having a good time with the sequel and they want it to be as enjoyable as possible for the audience, too. Look for cameo appearances from such “classic” horror film posters as “Tourist Trap” and two Full Moon movies: “Subspecies” and “Vampire Journals” as subtle evidence. Clearly, the filmmakers appreciate the fun side of genre cinema.
Part two kicks off by embracing the negative criticism of the first movie, in particular the ending, with a series of YouTube clips from fans posting their thoughts. The jeers are balanced with an equal number of cheers, although “Grave Encounters 2” does not see itself so seriously that it cannot welcome a few punches at its own expense. If anything, the film is almost too self-referential with deprecating humor, exemplified best by deriding The Vicious Brothers as nothing more than two butterfingered production assistants paid to do press for the original film.
Though the broader goal is to see if they can take the top scenes from the first film and triple the impact. If beating and eating a dead rat induced a dry heave the first time around, wait until someone tries the same thing with a live rodent. And the fourth floor room with the self-opening window has an even greater surprise in store for its new hapless victim.
The frights are still heavily reliant upon jump scares, and the digital FX are much bigger and more prominent on this go. Spontaneous combustion and an entire hallway of doors shattering off their hinges highlight a pair of the most explosive moments. In line with the goal stated above, “Grave Encounters 2” aims to be as in front and as out loud as possible.
While the jolts are still satisfying, the narrative thread is not as consistent, and trips over itself in more than one spot. The extent of entertainment in the first act is largely restricted to juvenile comedy about teabagging drunk friends and farting while on a thermal vision camera. Lead character Alex is also a drag. Toss in a nondescript soundperson on the crew who materializes almost from thin air and you have a cast that needed as much attention as the setup was given. (Mild SPOILER) A character from “Grave Encounters” makes a return as a raving lunatic who seems to be acting in a Tex Avery cartoon instead of a “found footage” film. It is a few slight missteps like these that keep part two just under the entertainment level of the original.
Perusing reviews and message boards related to the first film reveals that some commenters had issues with the “otherworldly” aspect of the “Grave Encounters” climax. Namely, they felt the Silent Hill-esque reality shifting of time and space asked too much from the suspension of disbelief. Those taken out of the first movie’s setting by its surreal fantasy will only have more to dislike in “Grave Encounters 2.” The sequel elevates the dream state of the first film tenfold with the inclusion of mystic gateways and supernaturally operated floating cameras. Anyone requiring his/her fiction to have a firmer tether to reality has been warned. Though really, anybody applying too much real-world logic to a movie about paranormal hauntings in the first place is doing it wrong.
The night before viewing “Grave Encounters 2,” I re-watched the original “Grave Encounters,” which is a double feature I do not recommend. “Grave Encounters 2” keeps the “more of the same” scenes to a minimum, but a collective three hours is a lot of time to spend in this asylum. Jump scares from night vision ghosts with gaping mouths lose their effectiveness after a while, so space these two movies apart for maximum enjoyment.
After only two films, “Grave Encounters” is now a franchise complete with its own iconic horror: black faced night vision ghosts with elongated maws. “Grave Encounters 2” will not convert any new admirers out of those who shrugged their shoulders at its predecessor. Meanwhile, “Grave Encounters” fans will see the new directions the sequel explores while retaining its own signature style. It is not as well rounded as the first film, but give credit to John Poliquin and The Vicious Brothers for being unafraid to take chances. The results are not always effective, although at least they are staying creative in a genre where others are content to remain stale.
Review Score: 70