Meta horror came back hard last year thanks to the release of long-delayed The Cabin in the Woods, which turned out to be a successful, wink-wink genre-baiting thrill ride. Self-aware horror films are nothing new. There is Wes Craven's New Nightmare, which ushered in a genre renaissance on the back of Scream, where Craven again proved we all go a little crazy sometimes. I kind of hate saying "meta;" it sounds douchey, like "fusion" and "nuanced," but whatever. In 2011, the Vicious Brothers directed Grave Encounters, which unspools as footage discovered after the crew of a crappy Ghost Hunters rip-off reality show go missing in an abandoned asylum. That film was sort of clever, but its sequel, Grave Encounters 2, is a dud. The film works overtime to prove to viewers that it KNOWS they know what is going on, but forgets to entertain and, more importantly, scare.
The original film has some nice moments. Spoilers ahead, so be warned. The film crew goes inside an asylum to fake some bumps in the night, but the building turns out to be a real bitch, trapping them inside another dimension where demons shriek and kill at will. The Vicious Brothers nailed the creepy asylum atmosphere, and, while the found-footage camera work and mediocre acting are expected, the film does create some decent tension before going off the rails during its finale. Grave Encounters 2, directed by John Poliquin, opens with real(?) YouTube reviews of the first film. Opinions are split. Some commentators praise the jolts and Twilight Zone vibe of the original, and others trash the acting and effects. OK, I see what is going on here. The filmmakers want me to know they get it. I may or may not have liked Grave Encounters, but, here's the thing, that shit is REAL.
The goings-on here start with student filmmaker Alex (Richard Harmon) initially dismissing Grave Encounters. The audience is then treated to a few scenes from Alex's own films, which are then dissected by other, equally in-the-know cast members. When a YouTube commenter going by the name "Death Awaits" contacts Alex about Grave Encounters, Alex begins to think the events of that film may have actually happened. What does Alex do? He gathers a bunch of his film-geek friends and treks to the very asylum where death may or may not await.
You can guess what happens next, and it's basically a retread of the first film coupled with the reappearance of an original character. Grave Encounters saw its impact fade exponentially when it began throwing the kitchen sink at the audience late in the game. Grave Encounters 2 opens with some interminable character development, but, once it gets to the evil place, the film substitutes incessant shrieking and shaky camera work for tension and jolts. The characters are universally irritating, and I cared not who lived and who died. The film wraps things up with more meta prophesying, but nothing outside the clever opening resonates. The demons, creepy ghost-face screamers, lost their edge in the first film's trailer, and Grave Encounters 2 makes no further efforts to frighten the audience. With all its leering and nudging, the film is too clever by half.
The 1.78:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer looks mostly awful, but that's intentional. The film is comprised mostly of HD video shot in low-light environments by people running for their lives, so detail and texture obviously take a hit. The YouTube clips are accurately pixelated, and clips from Alex's movies aren't exactly eye-popping. A few scenes of narrative exposition are more traditionally filmed, and color, detail, and skin tones are accurate here. It's found footage and shot by amateurs. You get what you ask for.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is more polished, and does its best to scare the audience. Dialogue and all the screaming can be heard without distortion and hiss, and the subwoofer is used to ramp up the energy with crazy, guttural noise. Horror effects clang and bang through the surround speakers, and there's actually a good bit of immersion here. A 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is also included, as are English SDH subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set from Tribeca Film includes the Blu-ray and a DVD copy of the film. The discs are housed in a standard Blu-ray case, which is wrapped in a slipcover. The only extra is an Interview with the Vicious Brothers (3:27/HD), in which the producers give a synopsis of the story and nothing more.
This one's a little too clever for it's own good. The follow-up to a decent if forgettable found-footage indie, Grave Encounters 2 sees its cast operating as if the first film were real. The aspiring filmmakers go to the asylum where a reality TV crew vanished, and basically meet the same fate. There's lots of exposition to bore you before the movie slams into a reel of dull jump scares and constant screeching. Skip It.