Again, let me offer up this defense before I go any further: I’m not opposed to the whole ‘found footage’ phenomenon. As I’ve said, I think there’s a spark of brilliance behind every one of these films. If there’s any fault to this entire movement, it’s that too many stories that would be better served and received by being built as a regular feature (meaning NOT as a found footage vehicle) are, instead, being done on the fast and the cheap by taking this somewhat easy-way-out. Still, if the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchise teaches us anything, it’s that “if you build it, people will come” … so settle in for the long haul, society. It looks like ‘found footage’ is here to stay.
(NOTE: The following review may contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
I didn’t see the original GRAVE ENCOUNTERS, so I’m only going on what I’ve been able to ascertain from some quick reading; but it looks like that 2011 flick tapped a vein: budgeted on a slick $1 million, it at least had legs strong enough to start a franchise, and it’s second installment, GRAVE ENCOUNTERS 2, even garnered the embellishment of the Tribeca Film series, so that’s none too shabby. While the first feature explored what happened when the production crew of a ghost-hunting program actually ran afoul of real ghosts, the second tweaked the formula just a bit.
Film student and horror enthusiast Alex Wright (played by Richard Harmon) believed that GRAVE ENCOUNTERS was a legitimate conspiracy released to audiences. He contends that what happened in the “film” was actually a true story, but it was only “marketed” as a fictional film in order to get it before the masses. Out to prove his point, he enlists the aid of his fellow classmates to scout out the real location of the original ‘encounters’ so that they may probe the condemned psychiatric hospital for true spirits. What he finds brings him face-to-face with some grim truths that might spell doom for those who joined him for such a personal haunting.
This horror schlock is brought to you by the same team who did the first outing: the Vicious Brothers. At a glance over on IMDB.com, it would appear this franchise is presently the only thing they have to their name, but, in their defense, there’s enough charm, gore, and inspiration that I wouldn’t be all that surprised to see more from them. Granted, not every stone turned over here is all that original, but there’s a pleasant enough mix of solid performances, predictable developments, and harmless scares that they’re probably destined to do another one, at least, or launch some other screamer on unsuspecting audiences.
What I didn’t like was the blatant stupidity of so many of these characters. Yes, I realize that a ‘working stupidity’ kind of goes hand-in-hand with horror films. But you would think that a group of young film nerds – ones who have made a college career out of mildly sending up the same genre with their own little pet projects – would know best what trips and traps to NOT fall into here. Once they’re deposited in the psychiatric hospital, all of what they knew before seems to vanish quicker than the first virgin (another horror film staple), and that’s sad. If they were so smart, why didn’t they plan this all out better? If they were so creative, why didn’t they expect some of what awaited them? If they truly believed everything in the first film was a legitimate spectral event, why wouldn’t they have gone in better prepared than they did?
I know, I know, I know. It’s a horror film, after all, and that’s what suffices for a horror film in this day and age. Put your brain on ‘pause’ and you’re liable to enjoy this one a bit more than I did.
GRAVE ENCOUNTERS 2 is produced by Death Awaits Cinema, Twin Engine Films, and Pink Buffalo Films. The film appeared as part of the Tribeca Film series. DVD distribution is being handled by New Video. As for the technical specifications, much of it looks and sounds solid, though there is some obvious distortion done deliberately due to the nature of the ‘found footage film’ phenomenon; however, I didn’t find any of it unusually distracting from the experience, though some muffled audio was tough to hear. Sadly, there’s only a single special feature; it’s listed as “An Interview with the Vicious Brothers,” but it’s essentially a 3-minute blurb about the film – I’m guessing it was almost what they said when they pitched this idea – and it’s disappointing.
RECOMMENDED only for fans of horror and/or found footage films. Outside of the basic storytelling premise – that the Vicious Brothers kinda/sorta intended for this to be ‘respected’ as a legitimate found footage flick – there’s nothing new here. As I’ve tried to be clear above, it’s kinda/sorta sad that the whole ‘found footage phenomenon’ has come full circle to the point now where fully realized stories that may’ve been better served by not being filmed this way (as ‘found footage’) are still being churned out by an industry that apparently never heard a bad idea. I think GRAVE would’ve been better constructed as a traditional horror film – the very ones it thumbs its nose at – but maybe that’s just me. Odds are that, if ‘found footage’ is your thing, you might enjoy this one more than I did.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at New Video provided me with an advance DVD screener of GRAVE ENCOUNTERS 2 for the expressed purpose of completing this review.