The first Grave Encounters won some minor acclaim early last year when released straight to DVD as it went places that Paranormal Activity wouldn’t dare. Here was a film with a set up familiar to anyone who went to the cinema in the hopes of seeing something in the corner of a static video camera.
The advantage was that Grave Encounters actually went and showed you the supernatural force in all its angry, face twisting glory. The result was a genuinely tense ride that was scary amongst so many low-budget found footage cash-ins that clog the shelves. Barely a year later, the sequel is now available and is something of a mixed bag.
The plot gets all Meta for the sequel and oddly reminds one of Human Centipede 2 in a way. Alex (Richard Harmon) is a film student who reviews films on his YouTube channel. His review of the first Grave Encounters film leads to someone posting a weird link on his comments board which then leads to evidence that the first film may not be a film after all. The more Alex digs the more he comes to realise that the film was actually real footage that was sold as a movie by a ruthless producer who even invented the directors of the first movie. Eventually Alex and a squad of loud and obnoxious college kids end up tracking down the location where the first movie was shot and go in there with cameras. What follows is something of a re-tread of the first film with a reveal and more compelling plot line developing in the final act.
Grave Encounters 2 can be divided and assessed in three separate elements because it is a film with three separate big ideas that seem to vie for attention without any really getting its due. The first Meta storyline is perhaps the most ambitious and interesting. It isn’t quite as clever as it thinks it is but moments where the crew visit the house of the lead actor from the first and a scene where The Vicious Brothers (the directors of the first film) are revealed to be a pair of clumsy production interns, do raise a smile.
The next portion of the film is the re-tread of the first film and is the weakest. It’s not as well paced and timed with its scares as the first movie and seems to think that it’s enough to just chuck familiar imagery at you with loud bangs and screaming. Having said that there are a couple of visually pleasant moments with less obvious uses of CG this time around. The final portion is where the story gets interesting again. The crew encounter a man who has been trapped in the bowels of the haunted hospital for nearly ten years and has gone completely insane. Can they trust him? Can he lead them to the way out? Or is he just an agent of the supernatural evil at this point? This section is arguably the best and gets surprisingly brutal and leads to a satisfying and Meta (again) conclusion.
If only Grave Encounters 2 could have found a way to let its three strong ideas gel into a satisfying whole this could have been better than the first movie. The ideas present are strong enough that each could have been taken on its own into a stand-alone sequel. In its final form the sequel has what feels like nearly visible lines where one idea ends in the script and the next begins. Unlike the first film, Grave Encounters 2 doesn’t have any especially likeable protagonists which means once the running and screaming begins, it’s hard to keep track or to care about what is happening to whom. When a character from the first film turns up, it’s a blessed relief and Sean Rogerson gives a great performance that belongs in a better film.
Grave Encounters 2 perhaps aimed too high for its second outing but it’s still considerably better than most of the stuff that takes up the bottom shelf and calls itself horror.