Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Toronto After Dark 2012: My Thoughts on Grave Encounters 2

Grave Encounters 2
Grave Encounters 2 is the sequel to the 2011 indie horror hit.  Like the original, the film features a group of people traveling to a reportedly haunted former insane asylum to see if they could get footage of the ghosts that haunt the building.  I really wanted to like this film, however, in its efforts to go into a different direction from the original, the film suffers from a major case of sequelitis, with overblown plot developments and unneeded explanations.

Before I go into detail about Grave Encounters 2, I thought I should talk a bit about the original film, which I watched last week in preparation ( you can read my brief review on Letterboxd).  The first film was essentially a satire of the many paranormal investigation reality shows on TV, such as Ghost Hunters.  The film documents a TV crew as they go to shoot what, they believe to be, “just another episode,” but they end up getting much more than they bargained for.  I actually thought that the first Grave Encounters was a decent enough found footage film, with my only main criticism being that I did not find the film all that scary (though I partially attribute this to the fact that I watched it on TV instead of in a theatre). 

My somewhat lukewarm reception to the original Grave Encounters actually brings me to my favourite aspect of Grave Encounters 2, which sadly occurs within the first five minutes.  It is here that we are shown a variety of (apparently real) YouTube reviews of the first film.  Not only does this scene provide fan service, but it also demonstrates an aspect of film criticism that I personally feel is very important – everybody has a different opinion.  These video reviews call Grave Encounters everything from the scariest movie ever to a piece of garbage.  As such, this is good opportunity for me to give a little disclaimer: Even though the rest of my review of Grave Encounters 2 is going to get a bit negative, it does not mean I want you to outright skip the film.  Reading Twitter afterwards, there were definitely people in the audience that liked the film, and I just want to say that, even though I did not respond too kindly to the film, it does not mean that you’ll have the same reaction.  If everyone had the same opinion about films, the world would be a very dull place.  Alright, enough philosophy about film criticism, let’s move on to the film.

The final of the opening video reviews serves to introduce us to Grave Encounters 2’s main character Alex Wright (Continuum’s Richard Harmon).  Alex is a college film student, who somewhat arrogantly believes that he is going to be the next great horror director who is going to revolutionize the genre.  However, as demonstrated through Alex’s (admittedly entertaining) film-within-the-film Slash ‘N Burn, he relies heavily on overblown horror clich├ęs and doesn’t really seem to have a sense of direction. 

Grave Encounters 2 goes in a meta Blair Witch 2 direction and acknowledges at the start that the film was “just a movie,” which Alex pans in his video review.  However, while reading comments on his review, he receives coordinates from a user named “Death Awaits,” which directs him to the location of a former asylum in Vancouver, which was the actual location used in Grave Encounters.  Alex begins to dig in further and eventually finds out from the film’s slimy producer that Grave Encounters was in fact real and they only labeled it as a fictional film to avoid any possible repercussions (in a humourous twist, the original film’s directors, The Vicious Brothers, are introduced by the producer as merely interns, who took the credit solely for publicity sake).

One thing that should be apparent by my description so far is that the film has A LOT of set-up.  In fact, I would estimate that a good 45 minutes passes before Alex even thinks about travelling to the asylum.  This is in huge contrast to the original Grave Encounters, which actually starts off at the asylum.  That film had a lot of set-up as well, but at least it remained in the single location.  In Grave Encounters 2, we have to put up with Alex slowly starting to believe that the first film is real before he finally gathers together his friends and heads over to the asylum.

Once the gang enters the asylum, it seemed like the film was going to pick up.  Indeed, the film started to feel more like the original, complete with some cheesy documentary hosting.  However, for some reason, the film relies a lot on repeating scenes from the original film (which are being watched on an iPad) for many of the early scares.  The ghostly encounters actually start fairly quickly after the action moves into the asylum, however it seemed like there were less ghostly events in this film, in comparison to the first film.  Instead, we get some unnecessary reveals about the nature of the hauntings, which includes the somewhat lame fact that the ghostly entity actually WANTS the hauntings to be filmed.  There is also a “red door to nowhere”, which plays a major role within the plot.  Like the first film, the asylum turns into a structure-changing maze and includes a clever twist to this plot element.  Too bad it just ended up being a cheap visual gag, which wasn’t really capitalized upon.

I do have to give minor props to the filmmakers for playing around different film formats and resolutions within the film.  While most of the film is shot with normal video cameras, there are some narrow shots recorded with iPhones, grainy hidden camera footage, and even some 4:3 black and white film shots.  The film finds a way to all-but-abandon the single-camera found-footage premise for the climax, even though its done in a somewhat lame manner.

In some ways, Grave Encounters 2 is trying to be a satire of the found-footage premise in general.  At one point, a character laughs at people who believe that found footage films are real and chastises the genre for just being a cheap marketing ploy.  Of course, the characters then proceed to set-out to make their own found footage film, with Alex conscious to the fact that they have already been filming everything up to that point.  The film also features an apparently blatant rip-off of the on-camera confession that became so infamous in the Blair Witch Project.  The film does features a little twist involving how found-footage films usually end, which actually ends up disputing this film’s classification as a “found” footage film.

In conclusion, I will say I responded poorly to Grave Encounters 2’s attempts to be “bigger and better” than the original.  The film takes way too long to get us to the asylum and, once we get there, we are given some overblown plot development that actually overshadows the simple original plot of this being a film about an asylum haunted by malevolent ghosts.  I like it best when horror films, especially those that involving hauntings, take a “less is more approach” and doesn’t try to explain everything.  When you begin coming up with crazy explanations for what’s happening, you begin to lose focus about what is important about this type of film.  In fact, I would go on to argue that found footage horror films are inherently stand-alone properties and I have yet to see a found footage sequel that adds something truly great to the mythology.  It’s a real shame.

3 | DISLIKED IT