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Quickly after The Blair Witch Project kicked off the found footage craze and blurred the line between fact and fiction, the supposed authenticity of found footage became relegated to little more than a marketing gimmick. No one believes it to be real, no matter how much you try and sell it as so. Last year’s Grave Encounters, written and directed by The Vicious Brothers, plays up the angle that it’s real footage, adding a sequence featuring a producer discussing how he came across the tape and what the audience is about to witness. Of course, we all know it’s not, but it proved to be a suitable avenue through which The Vicious Brothers can develop a sequel.

Directed by John Poliquin, Grave Encounters 2 dives into meta territory, with our protagonist Alex (Richard Harmon) wrapping up a video review of the first film. Intent on becoming the next big horror director, Alex soon begins to receive a series of mysterious message and video files from someone known only as “DeathAwaits,” all of which point to the idea that Grave Encounters wasn’t just a fictional film. Alex and his friends thus make a trip to the same building and begin to film their own documentary before being thrust into the same nightmarish Hell that befell Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) and his team.

Grave Encounters 2 deserves to be lauded for its attempt at injecting a modicum of subtext into its tedious and distinctly meta story, even if it’s mostly abandoned after the first act. In the beginning of the film, we get several moments of Alex filming his thesis product, an incredibly unoriginal and poorly acted slasher flick described by the producer as “torture porn,” chosen solely because the audience will eat it up. Given the state of found footage, its popularity, and the obvious connection to the first film, Grave Encounters 2 can be seen as a commentary on the sub-genre and unnecessary sequels; Alex abandons the film in favor of something new, thus coming full circle in a sort of self-deprecating nod to the filmmakers and the sub-genre as a whole.

After an overlong first act filled with mostly filler, they finally arrive at the asylum, emulating the setup and introduction of the first film before things begin to quickly go south. While the first film employed far more sporadic scares, many of which just appeared haphazardly and with no real context, Grave Encounters 2 fires on all cylinders with a second act that’s intense, never letting up with a mix of new frights and updated scares from the first film. Giant, pale creatures with gaping and stretched out mouths are only scary so many times, but Poliquin manages to make it more than a quick scare, with one scene giving it a far more threatening presence than a quick shot accompanied by a scream.

Unfortunately, any momentum gained from the second act comes to a halt in favor of a half-baked attempt at diving into the fate of Lance Preston and backstory of the asylum, culminating in a poorly made finale that conjures up images reminiscent of Evil Dead 2 and the recent found footage super-villain flick Chronicle. Left to the wayside is a more thorough explanation surrounding the building’s labyrinthine appearance, relegated to a single line that fails to go into any real detail. It’s suitable, sure, but it’s so quickly glossed over that it feels like it was an afterthought.

Grave Encounters 2 tries really hard to stand apart from its predecessor, but the inherent problems associated with making a meta sequel to a found footage film prevent it from doing anything truly original. Any attempt to do so ultimately finds the film falling further into the world of the first film, which is precisely what the film needed to avoid.

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Brad McHargue

Brad McHargue

Brad McHargue likes horror movies, Corgis, and his beard.