Written by: The Vicious Brothers
Directed by: John Poliquin
Starring: Richard Harmon, Shawn C. Phillips, and Jennica Fulton
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“He opened a gateway, you know?"
There’s a clever hook to Grave Encounters 2, at least if you haven’t exhausted yourself on meta-horror lately: it acknowledges that the original film was just a film indeed—or was it? Maybe it was something more sinister, like a glorified snuff tape—you know, actual found footage after all. As such, the sequel proceeds with the most logical question: how was the footage found, and what does it mean? Actually, I suppose all of this is also only clever if you forget that Book of Shadows did it fourteen years ago, but bear with me: at least Grave Encounters 2 isn’t looking to do more of the same (well, until it is, unfortunately).
In one of the oddest openings I can recall, the sequel fires up a montage of YouTube reviews for the original film (thus signifying just how self-indulgent this is going to wind up being). One of the critics is Alex Wright (Richard Harmon), a film student and horror aficionado meant to act as a surrogate for the hardcore fans in the audience: during a Halloween party, he bemoans the state of modern horror, and vows to right that by joining the ranks of Carpenter and Craven himself. He’s got a long way to go, though: stuck in the middle of filming his own shitty horror movie, he becomes frustrated and decides to chase down a lead concerning Grave Encounters, the film that’s been fascinating him for the past few weeks. A cryptic comment left on his video review inspires him to track down the truth behind the film, which inevitably leads him to unwittingly filming his own sequel.
To put it bluntly, Grave Encounters 2 has a tough time getting much of anything right. The first half of the film should be the most intriguing, as Alex and his buddies chase the paper trail started by the commenter. However, it struggles to find its footing and gain momentum here, especially when it takes time out to focus on Alex’s ill-fated, ultra clichéd slasher (it’s one of those faux-Grindhouse deals, replete with obviously stilted acting and over-the-top effects). Even worse, this set of characters is quite irritating—Alex himself is a whiny prick masquerading as a tortured, misunderstood genius, while his friends are the sort of bros who will make fun of an old lady’s dementia (thus undercutting the effectiveness of the scene where they encounter one of the original stars’ mother).
The second half of the film is similarly aimless, as the group finds themselves back at the abandoned asylum from the previous film, at which point the film becomes exactly the sort of retread expected from a sequel. It’s sort of ironic: Alex quits his brain-dead slasher movie because it’s been done before, only to land the leading role in a clichéd sequel that repeats many of the bits of the original film. At times, it feels more like a retrospective, with the group recalling pivotal moments of Grave Encounters and essentially reliving them. Anyone familiar with the first film won’t be surprised by the formula here: it’s another funhouse ride, predicated on loud jolts and bizarre creatures popping up around each corner. That it eventually grows tedious is also unsurprising: in its insistence at repetition, Grave Encounters 2 once again renders the asylum inescapable in order to ramp up the feeling of total despair, a trick that was cool the first time but has grown a little tiresome now, especially since the film doesn’t do much to advance the overall mythology (despite the reappearance of a key player from the original).
Instead, Grave Encounters 2 is content to allow willful obfuscation act as a mind-fuck, which makes for a hollow experience: it’s all sound and fury, with the occasional creepy hint that it might mean something (there’s something involving a door that apparently goes nowhere but might hold secrets or something—I dunno). There is a clumsy attempt to infuse the film with a bigger, meta-fictional meaning: at one point, Alex encounters the sleazy Hollywood executive that came across the original Grave Encounters footage, peddled it as a film, and took credit every bit of the way. Throughout the film, there’s question of authorial control, as multiple characters (including the unseen, demonic spirit haunting the asylum) become obsessed with finishing their film. Alex himself is especially driven to hit it big, even if it means selling out in the end. I suppose it’s also amusing that an anonymous internet commenter sends everyone on a path towards their doom.
But none of this stuff coalesces into anything meaningful—there’s something juvenile about the entire shtick, like it’s a calculated attempt to make a definitive horror film, with its creators pointing it out every step of the way. For all its tricks and its hook, Grave Encounters 2 is ultimately more of the same: a bunch of jolts, shrieks, and chaotic camerawork working to exhaust the senses and every cliché imaginable (of course there’s another teary-eyed confession scene when the characters become despondent). Unlike its predecessor, this one stumbles right out of the blocks and, despite recycling an awesome location and incorporating surreal elements with ease, it never coheres into anything memorable. Well, except for that introduction: I suppose I should always be wary of any sequel that opens with YouTube reviews of the original film from here on out. Rent it!
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