With apologies to Bob Dylan: How many times can a group of attractive young males and females go into a dank, deserted building in the dead of night and pretend that nothing bad is going to happen to their numb skulls? Yes, ‘n’ how many gorefest clichés must the horror-movie audience endure before it cries enough? Yes, ‘n’ how many ridiculous, gratuitous deaths will it take till the movie business knows that too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is not found in Grave Encounters 2, just as the answer was not found two years ago in Grave Encounters 1. Instead, Grave Encounters 2 is one more plod down the “found footage” path of horror trod, hand-held cameras on non-stop record, by The Blair Witch Project and followed in the 14 years since by umpteen others, with increasingly decreasing results, at least in the thrill/chill department.
Grave Encounters 2 operates on the premises that the first Grave Encounters was an epochal moment in the supernatural horror idiom and that its story (a cable-TV crew equipped with the most sophisticated ghost-hunting equipment heads to a former lunatic asylum circa 2002 to investigate mysterious goings-on, never to return) is horrific fact, not fiction gussied up to look real. No one deems these truths more self-evident than Alex Wright (Richard Harmon, a Canadian like most of the movie’s cast), an ambitious, cocky, foul-mouthed student/horror auteur wannabe at an unnamed U.S. film school who, on the thinnest of pretexts, convinces four fellow cineastes that they “can get into Sundance” pronto if they just drive to the former asylum – which, it turns out, is near Vancouver – and shoot a bunch of footage. “Listen to me!” he shouts. “Grave Encounters is real! I just need proof!”
In short order, the three dudes (Harmon, Dylan Playfair, Howard Lai) and their bodacious female companions Jennifer (Leanne Lapp) and Tessa (Stephanie Bennett) are in Canada, breaking into the asylum and setting up a mess of night-vision cameras to record whatever action may be coming their way. Malevolent spirits, natch, inhabit the hospital as does a survivor of the original cable-TV crew, one Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson). Completely off his rocker, Lance – whom Alex and Co. call Sean because, like, Grave Encounters was real, doncha know – seems to have survived the decade on a diet of rats and scenery-chewing. The hospital quickly becomes an unnavigable labyrinth, the filmmakers hoisted on their own feckless arrogance. Glass breaks. Doors crash. Tables fly. Ouija boards ouija. Creatures with faces like that guy in Munch’s The Scream put in appearances. And people run, scream, die – yet, somehow, the cameras keep a-rollin’ as characters say things like, “I have a bad feeling about this guy,” without ever acting on that intuition. Meanwhile, Alex keeps telling Jennifer: “I’m not gonna let anything happen to you, okay?” – a promise, as any horror fan knows, with about as much weight as a condom-less swain telling a virginal date: “Believe me, babe, no one gets pregnant the first time.”
Not frightening, burdened by familiar tropes, bereft of tension and with a plethora of truck-sized holes in logic and plot, Grave Encounters 2 is not so much a sequel as a retread of the original – one of those low-budget exercises in cinematic postmodernism where director (in this case, Torontonian John Poliquin, best known as a music-video helmer) and screenwriter (the Vicious Brothers, who also directed Grave 1) strive to be at once clever and convincing, in on the preposterousness of it all yet sufficiently committed to the gore to hope they can rouse the odd shriek, gasp or goose-bump.
But rather than being an iteration of the found-footage/supernatural idiom, Grave Encounters 2 finally feels more like an end. A dead end.