The original Grave Encounters was a decent found footage horror movie that earned a little praise and money by picking a simple concept that should have been done long ago and delivering it wholesale. It was the inevitable found footage movie about a ghost hunting show gone wrong, where sleazy opportunistic reality show hosts finally find what they’re looking for and it goes oh so poorly. Written and directed by Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz (who for reasons best known to themselves are collectively known as The Vicious Brothers), the movie was simple, brief, and packed enough scares to make horrorhounds happy. It was also just successful enough for a sequel to be made and so the Vicious Brothers quickly cranked out a script before passing directorial duties onto longtime PA John Poliquin. The sequel is a very different beast, taking the Blair Witch 2 route to make a self-conscious horror flick that also acts as an advertisement for the original movie. It almost works too, before crumbling in a final act as a series that was smart enough to start with simplicity disappears up its own ass into it’s own mythology. At least it’s still better than most hastily cranked out sequels.
Grave Encounters 2 opens with genuine YouTube vloggers chatting about the first movie with most folks mocking it as the internet masses tend to do. We then jump into the constantly documenting cameras of a pair of film students (Richard Harmon and Dylan Playfair) who do the usual drunk and stoned college kid thing: pulling pranks, chasing girls (specifically Leanne Lapp) and making crappy student horror movies starring those girls. One day Harmon gets a comment on a blog from a mysterious user named “Deathawaits” who introduces him to the original Grave Encounters. Harmon becomes obsessed with the movie and is convinced it’s real given that none of the actors did any other work and seemed to have disappeared. He halts production on his student torture porn flick to focus on a documentary about Grave Encounters and soon meets sleazy producer (Jerry Hartfield) who admits that he merely found those tragic tapes years ago and released them as a fiction feature for profit (even revealing that the Vicious Brothers are actually his interns). So, Harmon and some friends head out to the haunted asylum where the original movie was set and discover that yep, it was all too real. Cue ghosts with CGI-elongated faces, night vision shakycam, running, screaming, and jump scares…you know, all the usual found footage stuff.
Aside from a few creepy moments, the scares of Grave Encounters 2 don’t really start until that point and it’s about halfway through the running time. In theory that’s where the movie should take off, but weirdly that’s actually where it falls apart. Even though the concept borrows liberally from New Nightmare, Blair Witch 2 and Human Centipede 2, it’s actually kind of clever. The film school douchebags are all well cast, the jokes work more often than not, the set up gradually slips into suspense n’ tension effectively, and the student film parodies are hilariously accurate. The concept allows everyone to gently poke fun at the flaws of the first film and horror in general, but it all falls apart rather quickly and disastrously. There’s a specific moment when it happens too. While wondering around the set of his failed student horror flick Harmon rants about torture porn being tired and clichéd and how he needs to work on something original. That “original” project ends up being the found footage horror movie that you’re watching and it’s the new overplayed horror genre that’s become even more tired than the spat of Saw/Hostel knock offs. Suddenly all the knowing wit that suggests the Vicious Brothers and co. knew where to take their sequel disappears and it becomes a collection of found footage and sequel clichés.
Did you like the stretchy-face ghosts from Grave Encounters? Good because you’re going to see about twice as many in half the time this time. At this point the “clever is better” sequel conceit disappears to be replaced by “bigger is better” with all of the inevitable sequel failings that implies. The characters are reduced to screaming archetypes and every gag from the original film is repeated endlessly. When a character from the first movie shows up and is revealed to have spent the past nine years going insane and making friends with the haunted asylum, Grave Encounters 2 goes off the rails and never comes back. It’s a shame because most sequels tend to screw up the first act while struggling to set up the scares and then deliver the goods after that, but Grave Encounters 2 is the exact opposite. Sure there are a couple of decent jumps, but nothing particularly memorable. It all ends up feeling exhausting and boring. So, what we’ve got here is a horror movie with a better set up than pay off. In any other genre, that might be enough to warrant a mild recommendation. But with horror, if the scare scenes don’t deliver, then what’s the point? So, as hard as it might be to believe, it turns out that Grave Encounters 2 is a big old waste of time. I hope you can find a way to sleep soundly tonight after hearing that predictable news.