Dir. John Poliquin, 2012, 91 mins. Unrated.
When The Blair Witch Project first hit theatres back in 1999, some viewers were so convinced the events that occurred onscreen were real, they called the town of Burkittsville (in which the film is set) and offered to help in the search and rescue efforts for the three characters who went missing in the film. Grave Encounters 2 is based on this sort of audience response: five film-school kids head out to the Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital (the abandoned, creepy-in-real-life Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam, B.C.), where the first Grave Encounters was filmed, to meet a source—ominously named “Death Awaits”—who has been sending them evidence that the first film was real.
Alex (Richard Harmon), the leader of the expedition, is working on his thesis film (an atmospheric slasher) when he begins receiving online messages from Death Awaits. He quickly becomes obsessed with the idea that the events depicted in Grave Encounters are real, and he decides to drop his other project and make a documentary about this frightening fact instead. Alex’s crew comprises his cute if a little dumb love interest (Leanne Lapp), his loud-mouth jock friend (Dylan Playfair), a hot gothy-but-not-too-gothy chick (Stephanie Bennett), and the token quirky Asian guy (Howie Lai). While his crew doubts him at first, they are quickly convinced that Alex is right—the events of Grave Encounters really did occur.
If you didn’t want to slap the obnoxious little brats before, watching them enter a mental institution that they know almost certainly hosts malicious spirits should get you to that point. And despite the 40-ish minutes of “character development” and no scares that precede this, Alex and his crew remain unsympathetic. This doesn’t always have to be a bad thing in a horror film, and as the Vicious Brothers seem to know and respect the genre, maybe it’s a conscious decision: some of the most famous slasher flicks feature the villain as hero—Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street are two popular examples of films that encourage audiences to root for the villain.
While many found-footage flicks emphasize atmosphere over visual effects, with a lot of the scares occurring offscreen or at its peripheries, Grave Encounters—both 1 and 2—are purposefully less subtle. As the Vicious Brothers explained in an interview with horrornews.net on the release of their first film, “We wanted to make the ultimate ‘ghost hunting show gone wrong’ where you definitely DO see something.” The same goes for the sequel: the Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital hosts a variety of entities, from invisible yet highly kinetic forces, to doctors and nurses in corny white-face/black-eyes ghost makeup, to gigantic monsters with gaping maws. All of these make for some fun scares, but my favourite character in the film is the hospital itself.
Because the hospital is such a fantastic, spooky setting in itself, some viewers might wish that Grave Encounters 2 spent more time exploring the wonderfully creepy hallways and eerie, rotting rooms instead of jumping impatiently from scare to scare. I know I’m not the only person who loves spooky old haunted house movies in which the terror comes not from physical manifestations of the evil that lurks within, but rather from an atmosphere that instills in the viewer a deep sense of dread, building to a pinnacle moment in which something occurs that quickly transforms the dread into pure terror. In short, scares are like spankings: if you inflict them on someone repeatedly, after a while the inflicted just gets numb and your efforts become ineffectual.
Despite its flaws, Grave Encounters 2 was still enjoyable enough. I appreciate that the filmmakers tried to do something different with the sequel as well as the found-footage mode of storytelling. I would mostly recommend it to fans of the first film who are interested in spending a bit more time in the horrifying halls of Collingwood. If you haven’t seen Grave Encounters (1), hit that first before you decide to watch Part 2.
The Blu-ray includes a behind-the-scenes featurette that I found more entertaining than the film. In it the Vicious Brothers and director John Poliquin talk about their inspiration, the script-writing process, and—most interestingly for this writer at least—their practical effects. While they don’t go into great detail on these effects, it’s still fun to see how they made the Tall Man look so enormous, among other things.