TADFF 2012: ‘Grave Encounters 2’ counter-intuitive on two fronts

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Grave Encounters 2

Directed by John Poliquin

Written by The Vicious Brothers

Canada/USA, 2012

Remember when The Blair Witch Project caused a bit of a kerfuffle back in 1999? Thanks to a potent concoction of viral and apocryphal marketing, the film caused a bit of a furor amongst the movie-going public, with heated debates over the story’s strongly implied authenticity. However, by the end of the movie’s fifteen minutes of fame, even the most ardent of the ‘it’s real’ crowd succumbed to reason and accepted it as a work of fiction. Now, imagine if those fifteen minutes were stretched to a hundred, and into a film that tries to prove the veracity of itself and the contended sequence of events it’s documenting, while simultaneously looking like a clichéd found footage horror movie, and you have Grave Encounters 2, the sequel to the marginally effective 2011 predecessor.

In it, we meet Alex Wright (Richard Harmon), a film student looking to be the next big thing in horror cinema, the great redeemer of all things terrible with the genre. In his Youtube review of the previous movie, Grave Encounters, which is treated as a real phenomenon in this universe, Alex pans it by giving a one skull out of four rating, as any genre snob would. Soon after, his review puts him in touch with an anonymous user who spurs Alex into exploring the mythos of the movie further. Driven more by his ambitions to make a cool documentary than by his drive to know what really happened, he is slowly convinced that there are shenanigans afoot, rounds up a group of friends (Stephanie Bennett, Howie Lai, Leanne Lapp, Dylan Playfair), and heads to an abandoned Vancouver mental asylum, where Grave Encounters was shot, in order to uncover the truth.

Just to reiterate, Alex is already semi-convinced that there are paranormal activities going on at the mental ward, but chooses to go there anyway – where most of the cast in Grave Encounters met their gruesome fates, fates he semi-believes to be true. If you believed that a place was haunted, and that people died there while filming inside it, would you embark on the same kind of expedition and to the same place as the aforementioned? Most rational people wouldn’t, but Alex and his friends do nonetheless, and the results are nearly identical to that of the first Grave Encounters. This kind of cognitive dissonance, which undermines our ability to sympathize with the actions of the protagonists, is an epidemic in the horror genre and is ironic considering the movie’s underlying theme.

More self-conscious and referential than its precursor, with references to films of similar ilk, like The Blair Witch Project and the [Rec] franchise, Grave Encounters 2 attempts to be a Meta critique on the nature of found footage filmmaking and the sorry, banal state of the horror genre as a whole. But without a sense of depth or dimension to its claims, this aspect of the film is simply mentioned rather than really explored, and despite the clever floating camera metaphor, is nowhere near as incisive as something like Cabin in the Woods. Also, in its own pretense, Grave Encounters 2 tries its damndest to convince us that it’s real and not just another horror flick, but the movie’s execution, which is full of jump scares, ethnic people dying first, and open-mouthed monsters à la Edvard Munch, self-actualizes the most dubious, trite, and seen-it-before horror movie tropes imaginable; the same kind it begrudges. A bit counter-intuitive on two fronts, isn’t it?

– Justin Li

The 7th annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival runs from October 18-26. For a complete schedule and ticket information, please visit the offical website.

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