Grave Encounters 2
The first "Grave Encounters" film was a low-budget entry into the found footage genre that took a well-worn premise and injected a bit of ingenuity into it. In it, a ghost hunter, TV host Lance Preston, enters an old psychiatric hospital and gets trapped inside with his camera crew just as supernatural and incidents begin to occur. While not truly terrifying, it certainly had its creepy moments and jump scares. However, as entertaining as it might have been, it didn’t really stick with you once it was over. That said, it was better than a lot of the other "found footage" films of late (including the atrocious "Apollo 18.") Even so, it’s a little surprising that a sequel was green lit for a film that many probably haven’t even heard of. Perhaps the reason is that the original directors - The Vicious Brothers - have come up with an original premise in which to build upon the mythology of the original.
In "Grave Encounters 2", a college student/filmmaker named Alex (Richard Harmon) spends his days making a horror movie with friends Jennifer (Leanne Lapp), Jared (Howie Lai), and Trevor (Dylan Playfair). By night he is a vlogger who rates movies, one of which is the original "Grave Encounters." For the most part, Alex is not a fan and gives the film a low rating. (The judgment is fair as it skewers the original film for its budget and cheapness.)
But a mysterious email from someone named "DeathAwaits" causes him to look into the history of the film and he soon discovers some strange things. One, no actors have worked since making the earlier film; a few of them have actually gone missing. Alex becomes convinced that there’s a possibility the first film was real, not fiction. After a series of odd messages and encounters with the producer of "Grave Encounters," Alex decides to travel to the site of the first movie - the real psychiatric hospital where it was shot. Along with his friends, they make their way to the creepy building only to be run off by the local security guard who accuses them of trespassing.
But after checking into a hotel, the four sneak back onto the property and enter the facility. They set up cameras in the same locations as the first film: a bay of windows, a creepy hallway with a wheelchair in the middle of it, a staircase, and a large bathroom full of tubs. Before you can say "boo," strange things begin happening and the four realize that not only was the first film not a fake, but also they are in grave danger themselves.
Working with a bigger budget, "Grave Encounters 2" actually builds on the original premise and takes the storyline in unexpected and unpredictable directions. First time director John Poliquin takes his time with maybe one creepy moment during the first 48 minutes of the 99-minute running time. He cleverly sets up Jennifer as a scream-queen wannabe and the sequences where Alex shoots his own horror movie with some bad actors is particularly clever.
But what is more clever is how they’ve made the film almost a stand-alone entry into the franchise. You don’t need to have seen the original to enjoy this entry, although it would add to the looming dread once the new cast sets foot inside the building. The extra budget helps in the final act when things get crazy and there are a few genuine frights. Harmon is a fairly interesting lead and keeps things natural and seemingly improvised, as do most of the actors. A surprise return from one of the original cast-members does steer the film into territory that makes it feel like a movie-movie and not actual "found footage," but it just adds to the fun. I’d say Leanna Lapp is the standout here. She has shades of being a great comedienne and pulls off the frightened college student and devoted friend naturally. She’s one to watch.
Poliquin is also a director to watch. While the film ends on an expected note and you don’t get many answers to what is really going on in this facility, it’s a uniquely unsettling twist on the "Ghost Hunter"/"found footage" genre and a fun way to spend an hour and a half. Kudos for the filmmakers for trying something different and for the most part, succeeding. I’d be curious to see what they do with a third installment.
"Grave Encounters 2" will be On Demand beginning Oct. 2, and in limited theatrical release Oct. 12 in Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Denver, & San Diego. It also opens theatrically in Columbus, OH on Nov. 30.