Like the Human Centipede sequel, the first Grave Encounters exists in the world of its follow-up, in which an obsessive film student comes to believe the original found-footage movie was real—that its heroes were real people who were actually killed or lost in the spatial madness of a shuttered, haunted mental hospital. So he and his classmates set out to make a documentary—shot on cell-phone cameras, webcams, and borrowed school equipment—that eventually brings them back to the asylum, where of course many of them meet fates similar to their forerunners’.
Their documentary is more like Catfish than any horror movie—more about themselves than their ostensible subject. But that works here, not only because it establishes identifiable (if not relatable) characters but because it helps the movie avoid the most common horror-sequel trap: getting bogged down in mythology. The first Grave Encounters fell apart as it tried to fuse its scares with exposition. This movie, directed by John Poliquin, doesn’t build on that backstory; it takes it for granted and explores other, more interesting ideas.
Grave Encounters 2 might not be as effective as its predecessor, but it does feel both smarter and less serious. We see several YouTube clips of people hating on the first movie; we visit the producer’s production office and meet the first film’s “directors,” who are just interns. (The Vicious Brothers even play themselves.) As much as it’s about angry ghosts, Grave Encounters 2 is about movies, specifically the contemporary camera culture: obsessive documentation is not just killing us, literally and not, the movie suggests, but also making us its slaves, charged with finding more victims for it to feed off of.
Grave Encounters 2 will screen at midnight this Friday and Saturday at the Village East.