Title: Grave Encounters 2
Director: John Poliquin
Starring: Richard Harmon, Dylan Playfair, Stephanie Bennett, Leanne Lapp, Howard Lai, Sean Rogerson, Ben Wilkinson
Using Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz’s found-footage horror flick “Grave Encounters” as a self-referential leaping-off point, “Grave Encounters 2″ gathers up a head of loose-limbed steam and bundles it up in a rather impressive technical package, but ultimately fumbles it away on a story that buckles under the weight of layered self-consciousness.
Film student Alex Wright (Richard Harmon) is one of many folks obsessed with the original “Grave Encounters,” whose YouTube trailer was a viral sensation. Opinions on the movie are wildly divergent, but some people believe it to have actually been real and, based on a bit of digging he does, Alex is inclined to agree with them. So, rounding up his best friend Trevor (Dylan Playfair), the leading lady from his own film project, Jenn (Leanne Lapp), and a couple other pals, Alex spearheads a trip to the abandoned Vancouver mental asylum that served as the shooting location for the film. Naturally, bad things ensue.
Director John Poliquin – taking over for Minihan and Ortiz, aka the “Vicious Brothers,” who pen the script and actually make a little cameo here — does a good job not only wringing some fresh life out of the found-footage format (in terms of overall conception as well as angles and what not), and the production design is quite solid. There are some good ideas here, both narratively and visually. To the extent that genre fans will give bonus credit, “Grave Encounters 2″ deserves a small tip of the hat for at least trying some different things.
But the story, as executed, doesn’t match its rangy ambition. Sure, it’s basically a papier-mâché mash-up of “[REC],” “Paranormal Activity,” the “Blair Witch” sequel, a couple other flicks and the “Ghost Hunters” TV series, but the notion of re-framing the story of the original movie as an investigative impulse expands the narrative playing field in a manner that isn’t so much satisfyingly creepy as yawningly familiar, and hewing to expectations.
Then there’s this: “Grave Encounters 2″ isn’t really all that scary. Certainly not for its first 40 minutes — a draggy, dreary preamble that sets things up, but also lacks much in the way of either originality or foreboding. Once it’s locked down in its main location, there’s a small burst of energy and tension, but too many sequences are redundant, and full of irritating, do-nothing cross-talk. At 98 minutes, the movie feels much longer — padded out by wrongheaded story choices.
The acting and characterizations, meanwhile, are so-so. Harmon’s performance isn’t bad — he’s actually probably the strongest performer here – but Alex isn’t a particularly believable or well rounded character. We’re asked to accept that he’s a film student (and a fairly talented one at that), but his preoccupation with his own web-posted reviews (to “get his name out there”) is silly, as is his focus on the mysterious comment that kick-starts the road trip to the filming site. The other characters are thinly sketched, save one wild-eyed returnee from the original movie, played by Sean Rogerson.
Written by: Brent Simon