By Brian Lafferty
Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film
October 12, 2012 (San Diego) – Roughly half the people interviewed at the beginning of Grave Encounters 2 describe the first one as scary, while the other half says they weren’t frightened. I aligned myself with the latter group. Grave Encounters was an average found footage horror film with little originality, cheap special effects, and zero scares.
Grave Encounters, as horror film buffs may recall, depicted a professional reality TV show crew filming themselves spending one night in a supposedly haunted, long ago shuttered mental hospital that was home to society’s most insane and dangerous mental patients overseen by a morally ambiguous doctor. It turned out the hospital was haunted. By the end of the movie, everyone except Lance Preston died.
It's been eight years since Preston went missing and the footage found. Film student and amateur video film critic Alex Wright (Richard Harmon) is contacted by someone or something who suggests the events in the first Grave Encounters were real. He convinces his slacker roommate Trevor (Dylan Playfair), girlfriend Jennifer (Leanne Lapp), and a couple of other classmates to spend a night at the mental hospital and film it. Do I really have to say that bad things happen?
I always believe in giving every movie a chance. The first Grave Encounters wasn’t terrible, but it left a lot to be desired. I went into the sequel hoping that they wouldn't stick with the basics and deliver the scares missing in the first. After all, sequels can be better than the first film.
I could not have been more wrong.
Grave Encounters 2 is not only bereft of chills and frights, but it is a massive step backwards in quality and maturity. The first one looked like it was made with professional, sensible people. Everybody in the sequel is in college, but they behave like immature preteens with a puerile sense of humor. The film introduces the characters through a party sequence replete with pot smoking, beer guzzling, an adolescent view of women, and a close-up of a drunken Alex puking in a toilet.
Just when you think it couldn’t get any more juvenile, Trevor (Dylan Playfair), posts a picture on Facebook of him dangling his scrotum - thankfully pixellated! - in front of Alex's eyes and “tags” him in the photo (for those who don’t use Facebook, it means pretty much everybody who sees his Facebook page will see it, assuming Trevor set it that way). He hopes his "balls will go viral." He may be laughing now (I certainly wasn't) but he won't be when he tries to find a job in this economy and the image will be on the Internet forever; no employer in his right mind would hire him.
Later, in the hospital, the cameraman turns the camera to thermal vision mode. The camera picks up what appears to be a ghostly mist. It looks supernatural until one of the girls holds her hand over her nose. Trevor farted; the thermal vision picked up the methane. Trevor thinks it's funny. You don't get a cookie for correctly guessing that he'll let out a big one. Nor will I allow you anywhere near the cookie jar if you correctly predict that the cameraman zooms in close up to get a clear view of the gaseous expulsion.
In V/H/S, I wrote about how its handheld camera made found footage movies like Chronicle and Project X, both of which were “filmed” by teenagers, look “polished.” Grave Encounters 2 proves my point. A chunk of the film, mostly the beginning, is filmed with a smartphone camera, which is aesthetically ugly, but surprisingly still. This restrained mobility also applies to the professional video camera, and undermines the “intense” and “scary” scenes when the ghosts attack.
The first Grave Encounters wasn't scary. With this elementary school attitude, it's no surprise that Grave Encounters 2 is even less scary, if that's even possible. It relies on jump scares that fall flat because it is so easy to predict right down to the exact moment. The special effects are dopey and cheap. Not that all special effects shouldn't be cheap; even on a shoestring budget, filmmakers should at least strive for ambitious effects. The special effects here are lame and prosaic.
At the end of the movie, Alex advises people not to go to the hospital because there's nothing there. I sincerely hope those who live in this film universe heed his advice and not go there. There’s been enough Grave Encounters, and the last thing we need is a third one.
Grave Encounters 2 is now playing at the Reading Gaslamp.
A Tribeca Film release. Director: John Poliquin. Screenplay: The Vicious Brothers. Original Music: Quynne Craddock. Cast: Richard Harmon, Leanne Lapp, Sean Rogerson, Dylan Playfair, Stephanie Bennett, Howie Lai, and Sean Tyson. Running time: 100 minutes. Unrated.