The Vicious Brothers’ original Grave Encounters is a perfect depiction of passable found footage horror conjured from a solid idea and decent execution. Not great or game changing, but decent. John Poliquin’s sequel on the other hand, Grave Encounters 2, is a far different beast.
Still written by The Vicious Brothers, their genre-mashing return to Collingwood mixes the idea of self-aware horror with inner meta workings (a la The Human Centipede II: Full Sequence) and found footage delivery, culminating in a roller coaster ride of bizarre highs and lows, each act feeling like a different film.
Sure, it’s something to marvel at, hitting so many themes in one simple film, but at the same time, the final product feels like a messy and convoluted heap of footage bound together by a few stand out moments that show promise for our horror loving “brothers.” Sadly, they just aren’t there yet with Grave Encounters 2, and take a sad step backwards in quality.
So for Act 1, we’re introduced to a party hardy group of film students hell-bent on making the next big horror smash hit. Film nerd and blogger Alex (Richard Harmon) seems particularly perturbed by the suffering horror genre, looking for the next big thing. Ideas start to churn though when an online user named DeathAwaits comments on his Grave Encounters vlog review, sending him cryptic messages which suggest unthinkable circumstances surrounding the movie.
Here’s what really happened. The Vicious Brothers set up their sequel with a Project X type party scenario being filmed by two attendees, who’d rather lug around recording devices than participate in the fun, and watch main character Alex as he foolishly follows nonsensical clues that eventually lead him to Collingwood with some film buddies. It’s boring, tedious, questionable, has little continuity worth anything, and cheaply splices in moments from the original Grave Encounters for a stupid one-off “gotcha” moment. As the viewer, you’ll sit there mumbling “Well that’s a bad idea” over and over again, having Alex’s actions make little sense even in the film universe. After Act 1, I was all but checked out.
The other thing is, the whole idea is in Grave Encounters 2, the original Grave Encounters has blown up into a horror phenomena, discussed by critics and fanboys alike. A little pretentious and overblown I’d say, considering their original film barely warranted a second.
Now enter Act 2, where Alex and his crew set up cameras in the same places as Lance Preston and his team. Knowing full well the horror that could possibly await them if Grave Encounters were real, here’s where the actual found footage horror kicks in. Things start getting increasingly creepy, paranormal occurrences heighten, and it’s Grave Encounters all over again.
So again, what really happened is we get some really poor horror choices from college students who are supposedly genre buffs making their own horror movie. How did splitting up work for Lance in the original? What about forgetting the house shifted once inside? Oh yea, why on Earth would you enter a house you thought was actually haunted when you know from the original it doesn’t let you out?! Alex is obviously a horror poser who doesn’t even know the simplest of clichés.
But, I digress, because there were some excellent moments of terror, specifically when our ambitious filmmakers enter the children’s wing. I kept replaying that scare over and over in my mind, trumping any ghoul Lance had to face. Otherwise, again, it’s a lot of repetition, and even a near mirror shot duplication in Tessa’s case, limiting variety between the two films, and seeming like just more of the same. As I said, great moments are thrown in amongst messier material. Certainly far from the best material possible, but Act 2 still managed to pique my interest, as I checked back in.
Then came Act 3, and this is where the Vicious Brothers almost lost me for good and blew my mind simultaneously.
Cut down to only a few survivors, Grave Encounters 2 spins the house itself from just a mere setting to an actual interacting character, abandoning the normality of straight forward hauntings and hopping on the train headed directly into the heart of Crazy Town. Cameras start floating, events start being tied back to Grave Encounters, but I really can’t say any more without revealing far too much information. Just know you definitely aren’t ready for the path our characters are forced down, building from Grave Encounters much like the new doors [REC] 2 opened after [REC], except the [REC] guys do it infinity times better – sorry team Vicious.
Ultimately, Grave Encounters 2 is a much more ambitious and worse off project than the original, opening a Pandora’s Box of horror insanity that comes right around and bites the Vicious Brothers where it hurts. Seemingly grabbing ideas from thin air, their script is both relentless and silly, producing impressive ideas which bring the film to unexpected yet sometimes undesirable places.
Just listen to me, I’m still stuck in a mental tug-of-war, digging the peaks and regretting the valleys. Did I love it? Did I hate it? Both, and unfortunately, for every reaction, there’s and equal and opposite reaction pushing back, with all that shifting happening in one tiny film.
The Vicious Brothers sure know how to script a flashy show, even if they weren’t directing this time, getting halfway to making a hit. Too bad the other half falls on execution, praying a spooky mind-freak is achieved from their convoluted sequel which is ten times more involved, but somehow less effective than their original.
Let’s just hope the encounters are done, leaving this franchise alone in the grave. See what I did there?!