FEBRUARY 21, 2013
By my count, Grave Encounters 2 is the 65th "mockumentary" film I've watched for the site, and all but a couple of them are what we'd call "Found Footage" movies, so I think you can take my word for it when I say that a lot of these movies tend to blend together after a while, since it's such a restrictive approach and practically REQUIRES a lengthy section of "nothing happening". Indeed, my biggest problem with the first film was that I had trouble finding anything new to it that I hadn't already seen in a couple of other movies, and that was a year and change ago - now I've seen even MORE films that basically have the same plot (ghost hunting teams and institutions). And that's why, for all its faults, I didn't have much of a problem with the sequel, because they were at least putting some effort into mixing things up a bit.
For starters, as with Blair Witch 2 (which was a traditionally shot film with a few camera sequences), this takes place in the real world where Grave Encounters was just a movie - and not a well-loved one at that. Kudos to the filmmakers for starting things off with a selection of (real?) Youtube reviews of their first movie, which are both positive and negative (that they honestly let someone trash the ending was a nice touch, for me), before introducing our lead character, an uber-fan who like I do with Community or Armageddon or whatever, annoys his friends by talking about the movie all the time. But he's more than a fan - he's also convinced that the movie is real, because no one has heard from the actors since (not true for the most part - but for the 1-2 leads that HAVEN'T: ouch!) and no one can find the shooting location and blah blah blah. The script by the "Vicious Brothers" (STOP WITH THIS SHIT, seriously! You're not brothers, you're not vicious, and it was stupid enough with the other guys calling themselves the "Butcher Brothers". So hacky.) stretches this stuff to the breaking point, but just when I was about to tell the movie to fuck itself, it moved on to something interesting - he goes to see the mother of one of the actors, who thinks he's still there filming the movie.
Plus he's also shooting his own horror movie, and goes to see the producer of the first who admits the first film was real footage and that the "Vicious Brothers" are just PAs that they paid to do press, so it's got this goofy conspiracy to enjoy, and actually does a better job at blurring the lines between movie world and our world than Blair Witch 2 did. In that one, as here, the fans knew it was a movie, and there was plenty of evidence proving it WAS (like the Newsweek cover), but then they'd say it was a real thing whenever the plot demanded it. Here, they stick with this notion that it was real for the entire time, and thus becomes a true sequel in a roundabout way (meaning, for you the rational thinking viewer, this one isn't actually more "real" than the original - both exist in the movie world). Also, with all of this stuff, it keeps it from being a retread - it takes a while for them to end up in the hospital and start recycling bits from it.
And even this stuff works fine; I was actually surprised to discover that the original DID leave an impression on me, as I instantly recognized key locations (like the hallway with that big window) despite the fact that I've seen around 600 movies since then - my memory can only retain so much info about this sort of thing! It's also fairly hectic as soon as they get there - a security guard shows up and gives them shit (more conspiracy stuff), one of their guys disappears almost instantly, etc. They're also not "trapped" - after 15-20 minutes they are able to escape and check into a hotel, only (SPOILER) to discover that the hotel elevator opens back into the hospital. As with the first, there's something screwy with the time/space continuum, so they do a good job of retaining that idea without actually recycling the same sort of scenes.
But unfortunately it exacerbates the problem with the first, which is that it gets so "out there" that it loses the ability to scare, and new director John Poliquin seems to hate the found footage approach, or at least wants to ignore it as much as possible. Taking a page from Chronicle, huge chunks of the 3rd act are filmed with cameras that are just floating around on their own, giving the big fight at the end a cinematic flair not possible if the participants had at least one hand tied up holding a camera. But if you're wondering why they don't just put the cameras down, the movie has you covered in the best most idiotic/awesome way possible - I actually paused the movie and took a break because I was ready to shit myself. As with 813563 other movies of this type, eventually there's a Ouija board scene, and as always it will do something creepy that sets the next plot point in motion. However this is a first - the message they get is, wait for it... "FILM EVERYTHING!" Out of all these stupid movies I've seen, that is by far the most inspired (albeit ridiculous) explanation I've heard for why they keep filming. The Ouija told them to do so. Amazing.
But it's pretty goddamn stupid, and when you add in the mumbo-jumbo and increased use of CGI effects, it just starts to resemble a regular, kind of silly supernatural horror movie like The Covenant or something. Worse, neither of the two male leads have proven to be likable heroes, making it hard to get invested in the outcome or care much if either of them survive. There's also a big plot twist I won't spoil regarding the fate of one of the characters from the original, but this also includes some confusion that's not worth sorting out. Being as vague as possible here - I didn't get the "nine years" thing? I'm sure there was a line or two explaining it (the audio was soft at times so I missed a few lines until I finally just turned on the subtitles), but does it also explain why the guys nine years ago had access to modern day equipment in 2002?
So it doesn't totally work, and I can see why some folks hate on it (I got a couple of "OOF. Good luck!" type reactions when I said it was today's HMAD), but I admire that they tried to avoid the "same old shit" approach of the Paranormal Activity movies while also not going too far out of the wheelhouse like Blair Witch 2 (which I like, but again, can see why it's not exactly a treasured sequel in many circles). After seeing so many of these movies where no one is even trying, the presence of effort (and with the horrid/similar Greystone Park fresh in my mind) it was enough to more or less satisfy me. Plus a character takes a shot at Apollo 18, so that's another way to win me over.
What say you?