We’ve discussed some found footage recently haven’t we? I’m not sure if I call it a shooting style or a genre. Do I call the camera an actor in the film at this point? Is the camera the next Dracula or Frankenstein? Nah, that’s just pretentious and “artsy” and you know me better then to think I’d feed you lines like “the camera is the actor”… but then again I might just do that. I might say that John Poliquin’s follow up to Grave Encounters as directed by the Vicious Brothers has just that very element much as it can be seen in the first film and any found footage flick worth its wait in camera shake (the sequel is also written by the Vicious Brothers). It’s the twelfth man on the field in football. It’s a player. Does Grave Encounters 2 have a new a bright budding star in it’s protagonist, the camera? Roll ’em.
Synopsis from over at the good folks at the Tribeca Film:
GRAVE ENCOUNTERS was a found-footage horror phenomenon that many people believed was just a movie. Film student Alex Wright is out to prove them wrong in GRAVE ENCOUNTERS 2. Alex is as obsessed with the first film, as the 20 million people who viewed its viral trailer on YouTube. While he and his friends research the events and visit the real psychiatric hospital depicted in the original film, they find themselves face-to-face with unspeakable evil, banking on the hope that their knowledge of the original film will help them survive the sequel.
Trailer (and don’t watch this if you like surprises… these found footage flicks are raped by their trailers almost intentionally):
The first thirty minutes of this movie had me deeply concerned that I was watching Blair Witch Project 2. You remember that one, right? The movie that took all the subtlety, mystery and clever camerawork and flushed it straight down the shitter. Sure it had a kick ass soundtrack, but it let us down. Horror fans… you were let down. Whether you likeBlair Witch 2 or not, whether you could find something pleasurable in that movie, you deserved a better sequel. You probably deserved what happens after those very difficult first thirty minutes in Grave Encounters 2. Those first thirty minutes are playing on the most common social/technological criticisms and are old fairly old hat. Just tonight I watched the new film Smiley which incorporates some of the things that gave me an extreme case of ants in the pants about Grave Encounters 2. It’s a clever ruse. It’s a false start. The film disarms the viewer while it’s loading a up a brutal onslaught of nasty imagery and fun spectral mind fucks; the key word there being fun. The casual ghost hunter becomes the hunted. The guy who grabs the Weird NJ magazine off the rack and plan an assault on an urban legend attacked from the shadows and a new, powerful found footage movie comes to life. You need to make it past those first thirty minutes though. I won’t lie. I had some serious doubts and was ready to call the GA2 bluff and label it a cash hungry swine at the trough. It’ll punch you in the balls (and you clearly forgot to wear your cup after you thought the whole movie was gonna suck).
That is not to say that this sequel is better than the Vicious Brothers’ original. You know the trick. You know the set up, and this time, you’re pretty much ready for anything right? Granted you don’t know the whole trick, but you can see the whole in the table from where the rabbit will inevitably emerge. For all the mystery you find in the first installment the second is overbearing and effects driven. We’re not talking about the next Poltergeist here. It’s more like a really great spook house at a carnival. While the original tried to play with your mind, confusing the characters and by proxy the audience, Grave Encounters 2 makes use of a more direct, force pounding camera/actor dynamic. It’s simply different than the original in that regard and not necessarily better or worse for it. The sequel does not outdo the original, but it drives the story in a unique direction; some might even say in the same direction that Human Centipede 2 drove that series.
The cast is solid. Not much will compete with Sean Rogerson in the original film, but Richard Harmon turns from annoying, para-nerd to ultra-creep in the blink of an eye. Versatile is the word I’m looking for. Of course there’s always the camera as an actor. The camera driving the film in certain directions and forcing the viewer to see its own unique perspective. The director can really get a performance out of a camera. Poliquin, took the best of what he saw in the use of the camera as the narrator in the original film and spliced it with some of the common elements being used in substandard found footage films. In a way, he creates an environment where we become aware of the camera. That we are watching a movie and that even though we are watching a movie, we are still interested. Grave Encounters and its sequel both use the camera to create a meta horror environment for the audience. Yes, I am watching a movie, but I still find it frightening even though I am not hypnotized by it. I sympathize with the camera.
The effects didn’t impress me much at first but gradually they grew on me and became quite strong toward the finale. I wanted some ghosties. I got my ghosties. I wanted bubbly blood… I am a satiated viewer. Squeamish and weak stomached folk, this isn’t an out and out gorefest so you can keep the toilet lid down. I didn’t have to deal with an overabundance of CGI although I did find some of the camera shake/recording disruptions to be somewhat obnoxious. I did get a strange Predator/Predator 2 vibe out of some of the camera effects, but you’ll have to see what that’s all about. They build the tension nicely.
I’m a no-spoiler kinda guy so we’ll skip the blow by blow plot analysis, but the twist you’ve come to expect will rear it’s ugly head. You’ll most likely give a laugh and if you can hold your tongue long enough, you might find yourself a happy horror fan. Will this compete with the likes of Paranormal Activity, its sequels, V/H/S and the rest of the FF gang? Yep, but try not to expect too much from it. It’s not going to be your favorite found footage movie. Give it a chance to show you what its got to offer. Let the camera seduce you and let the camera slam your face into the ground.
Check out the site over at Tribeca Films HERE.
Grave Encounters 2 hits VOD October 2nd. It’s right on time for Halloween. Definitely seasonally appropriate. You can search the Tribeca Film site for carriers in your area via zip code.
Also, make sure to catch a screening if you can find one in your locale:
New York, NY: Village East Cinema – October 12 (Fri 10/12 & Sat 10/13: midnight)
Baltimore, MD: Charles Theater – October 12 (Fri 10/12 & Sat 10/13)
Phoenix, AZ: Valley Art – October 12 (Fri 10/12 & Sat 10/13)
Denver, CA: Denver Film Center – October 12 (Fri 10/12 & Sat 10/13)
* Part of Watching Hour series.
San Diego, CA: Gaslamp 15 – October 12 (Fri 10/12 & Sat 10/13)
Columbus OH: Gateway – November 30