Grave Encounters 2 - the follow up to a film that was one of the biggest surprises of 2011 for me - is one of the most bizarre sequels I've ever come across. Making a sequel to a found footage horror film is never an easy task, and the folks behind Grave Encounters 2 - producers The Vicious Brothers and new director John Poliquin - show their intention to be self-referential throughout this film. They have to believe in the first film - because this film insists that what we saw in Grave Encounters was real.
Of course, that's exactly what Grave Encounters insisted too, but the tone has certainly shifted over the past year. Now we're supposed to believe that the thing which was presented as real was actually a lie, while this thing that's presented as real proves that the thing that was presented as a lie was actually real. It's like we've gone one step further down the proverbial rabbit hole, which seems to be exactly where the filmmakers want us. If you're confused by that, you're not alone. I'm right there with you.
Grave Encounters 2 follows student filmmaker/amateur YouTube critic Alex Wright - who doesn't appear to be related to the former WCW wrestler of the same name - who becomes obsessed with internet rumors that Grave Encounters was a real reality show in which real people were haunted in a real asylum. Thanks to emails from an anonymous source known only as "Death Awaits", Alex and his friends slowly begin to strip away the lies about the film, and soon find themselves inside the same asylum facing some of the same problems.
By presenting this multi-layered look in to found footage horror, Grave Encounters 2 runs in to a few problems. The first thing that really bugged me was the set up, which seemed to drag on for far too long. One of the main reasons that The Vicious Brothers' original film worked for me was that it seemed to seamlessly transition from its brief set up to the haunted asylum showdown that really got under my skin. The sequel seems too focused on building its characters and too interested in providing inside jokes about the production, and it left me wishing for a simpler premise that would get down to the scares. The number of characters involved in the sequel goes up as well and some of them seem like filler characters that serve only as victims for the delayed asylum trip. The first film wasn't a picture of character development, but the sequel seemed to add characters on a whim and drop them even more quickly.
The other problem with Grave Encounters 2's structure is that the tension seems to be broken far too often. To an extent, all found footage films rely on whiny characters wheezing about their predicament, but Grave Encounters 2 seems to completely break from the action at hand far too often. The first film seemed to shake off the supernatural and cross-dimensional twists in the name of tried and true shocks, but this sequel spends too much time wading through explanations and trying to make sense of everything that's going on. Thankfully, the film's not very good at explaining away its mysteries.
Which brings us to an area where Grave Encounters 2 succeeds. The unraveling reality that we found the characters in during the first film only seems deeper and darker here, with the mid-film return of a character from Grave Encounters only adding to the intrigue. One of my favorite parts of the first film was watching the characters realize how weird the environment they were trapped in could be, and the sequel only takes us further down that bizarre path, and sequences like a near escape in the middle of the film really do a great job of showing the shifting reality in the film. These sequences help lead to some of the film's better scares, though they don't come with the same build up as the first film.
When I really break down Grave Encounters 2, I can't help feeling the whole picture is a mixed bag. I liked the first film despite some obvious flaws, mostly because the filmmakers took a complex idea and made it pretty simple and effective. Grave Encounters 2 seems to be pushing too hard in too many directions at times, and I struggled to sift through everything as I watched it. There are a lot of high points in the scare department and some perplexing moments of shock and awe, but too much of the film is spent trying to achieve too many goals. There's a little bit of everything in the horror spectrum here - everything from Scream to "torture porn" to Donnie Darko to the old fashioned haunted house is represented - but I don't think Grave Encounters 2 does any of these things extremely well. I still think it's worth a watch if you were a fan of the first film, but I'd warn you to be prepared for some perplexing changes in the film and some unwelcome confusion. Grave Encounters 2 just doesn't come together as well as the first film did, but I still want to watch it again to try and figure out how all the creepy twists in this universe come together.
If you're interested in seeing the film for yourself, it becomes available through online rental and VOD sources today. Head over to the Tribeca Films website if you want to learn more, or just check out the trailer below.