“Grave Encounters 2″ sends a new crew of intrepid filmmakers to the shuttered asylum of the first film, trying to find out if what their predecessors shot was real or faked. No one but the characters themselves will be surprised at the answer. Adding additional layers of self-consciousness to a story that was already pretty derivative, this sequel could be worse (as in “Blair Witch 2″-worse), but is still likely to disappoint fans of the atmospheric, fairly scary original. Already available as VOD, it commences limited U.S. theatrical dates (mostly weekend latenights) Oct. 12. Ancillary sales offshore should be healthy.The premise is that the earlier film has become a cult sensation, dividing fanboys and girls in the usual “It rules”/”It sucks” way — and raising arguments as to whether the footage is documentary or fiction. Was it really shot by a since-missing cable crew, or were they just pseudononymous actors making a convincing faux-found-footage scary movie? Determined to solve that puzzle is college student and self-proclaimed Next Genius of Horror Cinema Alex (Richard Harmon), who starts getting cryptic online messages on the topic. Finally he abandons his in-progress campus horror-movie shoot, dragging his star (Leanne Lapp), wise-guy producer/best friend (Dylan Playfair) and crew (Stephanie Bennett, Howard Lai) across the Canadian border to the purported site of earlier events — a shuttered mental hospital where rampant patient abuses were said to occur. Initially chased away by a hostile security guard (Sean Tyson), the five manage to break into the building that night, setting up surveillance cameras around the premises just like their antecedants. It doesn’t take long for malevolent spirits to make their presence felt, or for the hospital to become a maze in which walls suddenly materialize to isolate protagonists for their grim fates. After a half-hour of screaming and running from apparitions in gaping Edvard Munch-mouthed fashion, the now-winnowed crew meets a survivor of the old cast (Sean Rogerson) who has gone a bit too theatrically crazy during his long imprisonment here. His arrival adds a hammy note to a character lineup already lacking much in the way of sympathy or other interest. Once the roll call of the living has been reduced almost as far as it can go, epilogues ensue that only dissipate any sense of lingering supernatural threat. Returning as scenarists (and making a cameo appearances), the Vicious Brothers turn over directorial duties this time to musicvid vet John Poliquin. He does a decent job of making the overexposed faux-footage gimmick fluid if not exactly fresh, and the pacing is brisk, arguably too much so; there’s little breathing room in the script for the kind of atmospherics that made first pic effective despite its paucity of novel ideas. As a result, “Grave Encounters 2″ isn’t particularly frightening; nor does it elaborate on the original’s backstory in any way that suggests further sequels will unlock a larger mystery, a la the “Paranormal Activity” series. Tech/design contributions are solid within pseudo-docu bounds.
A Tribeca Film (in U.S.) release and presentation, in partnership with American Express and Darclight, in association with Death Awaits Cinema, Pink Buffalo Films and Twin Engine Films. Produced by Shawn Angelski, Martin Fisher. Executive producers, the Vicious Brothers, Kim Arnott, Oliver De Caigny, Martin Fisher, Angelski, Arni Johannson, Darren Reiter, Chris Perry, Gary Hamilton. Directed by John Poliquin. Screenplay, the Vicious Brothers.
Camera (color, HD), Tony Mirza; editors, Poliquin, Vicious Brothers; music, Quyne Alana Paxa; production designer, Paul McCulloch; costume designer, Alecia Ebbels; set decorator, Jacquie Miller; sound, Mark Noda; sound designer, Miguel Nunes; re-recording mixers, Greg Stewart, Angelo Nicoloyannis; assistant director, Peter Dashkewytch; casting, Laura Brooke Toplass. Reviewed online, San Francisco, Oct. 11, 2012. Running time: 99 MIN.
Richard Harmon, Leanne Lapp, Dylan Playfair, Stephanie Bennett, Howard Lai, Sean Rogerson, Sean Tyson, Garry Garneau, Brenda McDonald.