Reviewed by Michael Ferraro
It’s impossible to name a found-footage movie that doesn’t take forever setting up its premise. Even passable titles, like The Blair Witch Project or [Rec], take a while to get going (although the exposition in those films are way more interesting than others to follow). The first 25 minutes of Cloverfield are almost impossible to get through, as well as Paranormal Activity (1-3), with only slightly more interesting openings. What all of these films have in common, however, is that once they do finally get going, those moments aren’t too bad. But is it worth it to sit through half of a dreadful film just to get to a few good moments?
Grave Encounters, directed by The Vicious Brothers, is such a film that might have slipped under your radar. The film follows a television crew into an abandoned asylum to record some paranormal phenomenon. The film begins slowly, almost painfully slow, building to a pretty good last half hour of some decent thrills. It shouldn’t take that long to establish the characteristics of the crew (as each fit some sort of stereotype) and would have been infinitely better if only the scares started sooner. It’s not a bad film, but it does fail to live up to the premise it spends so much time building upon.
Grave Encounters 2, this time directed by first-timer John Poliquin, is more of a meta-extension of the first film. It opens with numerous video reviews from people all over the internet, commenting on the validity of the film (both positive and negative), before cutting to a Halloween party where we meet our new characters. Alex Wright (Richard Harmon) is a film school kid obsessed with the horror genre (we haven’t seen that before, have we?). He yearns for a time when CG didn’t exist and Wes Craven still made good films. Don’t we all?
Alex writes reviews to get him name out there, when someone known as “Death Awaits”, provides him a video link for a never before seen clip from Grave Encounter. He is a bit obsessed with the film and urges his internet fans to provide him any information they can about the crew involved with the film. This exposition is nowhere near as interesting as the first go-round (thus further cementing the found-footage genre into the grave they have so well dug for themselves). The show’s crew, although familiar, were a touch more interesting, as they were each engaged in the happenings of the asylum. Here, Alex is the only one who cares about the events of the first film being real. Everyone else thinks he is insane.
36 minutes in, Alex and his friends walk through the door of the insane asylum of the first film. The group sets up cameras in almost the exact same places as the crew from the first film. After a few more minutes of exploration (and a thermal fart gag), the film gets going. Strange stuff starts happening a tad more rapidly than the first film (which is a good thing at times). There are elements of this film that ramped up the creepiness factor of the first film in certain respects. Grave Encounters took its time to provide scares. This entry rushes it all out (after that slow opening of course) thrills one after the other in a much more violent fashion.
Though the Vicious Brothers passed the camera on to a new director, they did indeed write the screenplay. At times, the scares feel like leftovers or effects they simply didn’t have the budget for the first time.
If the first Grave Encounters could be compared to the original Blair Witch Project, then Grave Encounters 2 might easily be the closest thematic relative to Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows in existence. It lives nicely in the world created by the first film and expands on the mythology of the asylum in ways you wouldn’t expect. Is it better than its predecessor? It is hard to say. The third act of this film goes so far out there that it is clear the filmmakers didn’t care much about their audience believing this is real anymore. Why then use this style of filmmaking to tell this type of story?
The world may never know.