The first found-footage Grave Encounters film became somewhat of a YouTube sensation when it went viral in 2011, so naturally its success prompted a sequel to be made, but trying to re-create and top what made the first movie so much fun would prove to be the real challenge behind making the second one. While the first film chronicled the adventures of a paranormal reality TV crew (think Ghost Hunters but really cheesy and not so much searching for truth as putting on a show) as they investigate and seemingly die in an abandoned mental institute, this second film follows one young student, Alex Wright (Richard Harmon, The Killing, Continuum, etc) whose obsession with finding the truth behind Grave Encounters leads him to research the shooting location of the first film and attempt to shoot the sequel with his friends. Alex’s goal is to find out the truth behind the events of the first film – what he gets is more than he bargained for.
I enjoyed the first film, but I wasn’t in love with it – like Alex, I was frustrated with the ending because it felt almost like a cheat, but at the same time, I was interested to see how they’d deal with that particular twist this time around. This second film also did something that the first one did not – it let us get to know the characters before sending them into the asylum of doom. We meet Alex, a student, who podcasts regularly about his thoughts on movies he’s seen to the unseen online masses, almost to the extent of ignoring the actual live people in his everyday life. His friends have to almost carry him out of his room to join them at the big Halloween party, reminding him that there is a girl, Jennifer (Leanne Lapp, The Killing, Continuum, etc), who’s been throwing herself at him for awhile, so if he doesn’t get out there and talk to her soon, she might be gone by the time he gets around to it.
So, donning a ridiculous costume – that Harmon somehow pulls off, in a strange way – Alex joins the partiers and gets his drunk on. He and Jennifer finally connect somewhat, even if it is largely due to alcohol consumption, and she joins the rest of them in helping Alex make the next great horror movie. The scenes from his epic that we get to see inside the filming of are nothing short of hilarious, and the whole first half of the film is filled with similar self-referential humour, which I love. Alex starts receiving strange messages from someone named “Death Awaits”, giving him the idea that – not only could the footage from the first film be real, but also that some of the original GE crew may still be alive. His obsession grows the more research he does, and by the time the kids decide to film a documentary about the original Grave Encounters crew (instead of Alex’s fictional film, which he decides is too already-done to spend any more time on), we already have a good idea of who they are and what they’re about. All of them have seen Grave Encounters at least once, so even the most skeptical among them believe they have a pretty good idea of what to expect when they arrive at the asylum where the first movie was shot.
It’s possible that some viewers will feel there was far too much set-up for this film, as a good deal of time goes by before they even get to the asylum, let alone go inside, but I actually really enjoyed the movie even through all of that. I liked the characters, and I liked how almost tongue-in-cheek some of it seemed to be. The kids aren’t the brightest bulbs in the drawer, but they are far from the dumbest, and they fancy themselves to be a form of expert when it comes to horror films, so it actually worked for me that they went into the asylum looking to meet the mysterious Death Awaits entity in the middle of the night. Especially after already having had a run-in with a security guard when they went they’d gone to check out the grounds earlier in the day.
The sense of doom grows as we watch the kids set up their equipment in all of the same spots as the ill-fated original crew had placed theirs, and aside from the fact that asylums are just creepy, seeing some of those rooms again was definitely the awesome side of disturbing for me. Also, the fact that, once they get everything all set up and start their investigation of the building, nothing happens at first. At all. Their disappointment is palpable, but at the same time, you can feel them start to relax – and you know that’s the last thing they should do. When they find a make-shift “spirit board”, it’s only natural that they’d try and have a little fun with it – and it’s only natural that all hell would break loose from there.
The building’s shape-shifting aspect got started early on, and this time there was a lot more done with it, to the point where I actually enjoyed that side of it this time (it had frustrated me in the first film). I want to say that I loved the map – but in the interest of remaining fairly spoiler-free, that’s all I’ll say about it. On a side note, though, one thing anyone who’s seen a horror movie should know is that – if a creepy little ghost kid asks you if you want to play, the answer is always NO. No thank you, creepy ghost kid, I do not wish to play your creepy ghost kid games. It’s best if you don’t engage them in conversation at all, let alone to the point of being able to ask you that question, actually. Just – walk away.
Unless you’re in The Orphanage, when playing the creepy ghost kids’ game may have actually helped.
I think I was on board with the way the film was going up until everyone still alive decided to take a nap. From there, my suspension of disbelief pretty much snapped, and I felt like things were dragging on way too long, at that point. It’s fine with me if the first two acts go by before we get into the asylum, but then make that 3rd act as intense and frightening as possible in what’s left of that third of the film. It’s rewarding for an audience to be at the height of fear for awhile, IF the fear can be sustained. I felt that it wasn’t sustained in the latter part of this film, however, and I think that’s where they lost me. I think the first film made me angry because I was getting frustrated by no one even attempting to do anything logical, and this one frustrated me because, even though they kept coming up with possible ways to get out, they opted to nap instead of heading off to try them and see if anything worked. Now, understand, it wasn’t specifically the nap that set me off, but it did slow the momentum for the viewer, and for me, it never really picked back up after that.
I will, however, say that I actually kind of enjoyed the ending of this one, so if you look at the complete picture, there was only a chunk of time in the third act that I wasn’t happy with. But that’s a crucial third act, and if I could change anything about this movie, it would be that pacing element. Chop some scenes here and there to keep building suspense, keep the momentum going, and it’s actually not a bad little flick at all!
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