Saturday, October 13, 2012
Kudos to the Vicious Brothers for coming up with a clever way to try and jump start their career in horror. Last year their first film "Grave Encounters" barely registered a blip on the horror radar yet this year they are back with "Grave Encounters 2" (opened October 12 at Reading Gaslamp Stadium Theaters).
Okay, when I received the screener for "Grave Encounters 2" I have to confess that I didn't know there had been a "Grave Encounters 1." So I looked for it on Netflix and checked it out. And after it was over, I had nothing but respect for the marketing ingenuity and drive of the makers, The Vicious Brothers. The Vicious Brothers (not sure they are actually brothers, they seem to be Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz) delivered the found footage film "Grave Encounters" last year. It gave us a reality TV crew going into a supposedly haunted and closed down asylum to see if they could record any paranormal activity. As with "The Last Exorcism," "Grave Encounters" starts by showing how we can get scammed. "The Last Exorcism" showed how the main character pulled off fake exorcisms, and "Grave Encounters" gives us a host who pays people to say what he wants for his show. But both films end with something that appears to be paranormal and very real.
For the Vicious Brothers, "Grave Encounters" didn't make that big a splash yet they have devised a sequel (writing only in the second film) in which an Internet video blogger becomes obsessed with their "Grave Encounters" film and insists that what was depicted in that film and dismissed as fake was in actuality real. This sets up a kind of hall of mirrors self-reflexive and ultimately pretentious nightmare in which we have two films, with two sets of characters, crossing over into each other, and each pretending to be real, insisting on being fake, and then trying to convince us it's all true.
"Grave Encounters 2" opens with some promising humor as a montage depicts people ranting about "Grave Encounters" and most giving it a thumbs down. But not Alex (Richard Harmon). He's obsessed with the film. He thinks it's a genuine found footage film and he's going to uncover the mystery by making his own film about it. So he and his friends grab some expensive gear (not sure where he got the money for it) and head back to the asylum where the first film was shot to uncover what evil lurks inside.
There's definite potential in this idea, the only problem is that it takes a really good filmmaker to pull it off effectively. "Grave Encounters 2" works best when we think Alex is crazy but when the film starts to take his side and show that the horrors are real, well that's when it loses us and begins to become just laughable. As with most found footage horror films it backs itself into a corner so that when the scares should be coming fast and furious, all the audience can think about is who the hell is shooting all that found footage (sometimes even from multiple angles!) if everyone in the scene is scared sh-tless, running for their lives, and being pursued by some supernatural creature? Plus the sequel has so many drawn out multiple endings that you become almost as exhausted and frustrated as the characters trying to escape the asylum.
"Grave Encounters 2" disappoints because it cops out to so many current horror clichés and can't seem to come up with anything fresh or original. Then it intensifies the problem by having Alex make his own films -- one is a torture porn style horror narrative while the other is the documentary on "Grave Encounters" -- and having him constantly rail about how bad modern horror films are. All I can say is, "Dude, if you plan to make the same mistakes, don't be drawing our attention to it." Additionally, my son raised a point that brings up a valid problem in these supernatural found footage films. If we are to believe the found footage then whatever appears in the images must be real and that means that there's no ambiguity, and in a sense that removes part of what can engage us in a supernatural horror film, which is the debate over what might really exist in our world and what might not. So in the case of the "Grave Encounters" films, either what we see is real or what we see is fake. There's no interesting ambiguity or mystery to mull over. And once you decide it's fake (which comes pretty early on), it all becomes quite boring.
John Poliquin is credited as director. His most recent previous credit is being a grip on "Santa Buddies" in 2009. The Vicious Brothers get writing credit and appear (not sure if it's them or just someone playing them) in the film for a gag about who made the first "Grave Encounters." Together they collaborate to deliver a film that is mostly disappointing. The things haunting the asylum look kind of cool, although one of the characters dismisses the creatures in the first film as looking lame. But the main problem -- and the main problem with most films in general -- is just the lack of originality or a fresh idea.
"Grave Encounters 2" (apparently unrated but contains language, some drug use, violence and some sexual content) is more ambitious than its predecessor yet both film ultimately come up short. Although its viral campaign has some fun elements. Maybe if they had just made this as a series of short webisodes it might have played better. Not every idea is worth making and not every idea merits an entire feature.
Companion viewing: "The Blair Witch Project," "Rec 3" (to see how a found footage franchise can reinvent itself), "Paranormal Activity"