Posts Tagged ‘Ben Wilkinson’

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I was warned — in fact, I was warmed by more than one person.

After posting a generally positive review of 2011’s Grave Encounters the other day, a few folks whose film opinions I generally respect cautioned me via facebook and twitter to avoid the 2012 sequel like the plague, and I sincerely thank then for doing so — even if, as you’ve no doubt already figured out, I didn’t listen.

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Should I have? Well, that’s a question I’m still trying to answer, so I’ll give a rather noncommittal “yes and no” response at this point. Yes because there’s no doubt that Grave Encounters 2 just isn’t a very good movie. No because, as a case study in how to completely fuck up a nifty premise, it’s actually rather interesting.

I guess a statement like that deserves an explanation of some sort, so here goes — ripping a page from Tox Six’s playbook for his Human Centipede sequel, The Vicious Brothers (nee Stuart Ortiz and Colin Minihan, who wrote the screenplay this time out but passed the directorial reins over to John Poliquin) have opted for the “metafilm” angle here, starting the flick out with actual snippets of YouTube reviews for the first Grave Encounters before introducing us to the fictitious Alex Wright (Richard Harmon), both a wannabe- critic and wannabe-filmmaker who didn’t care for Ortiz and Minihan’s “found footage” horror number too much but has become strangely obsessed with it regardless.

I kinda feel bad for Harmon since, within the first five minutes of “meeting” his character we see him jerking off, dressing in drag, and puking — but hey, college kids are crazy, right? In any case, thanks to some rather dubious”research,” he’s become convinced that Grave Encounters was the real deal, and flies cross-country to Tinseltown to meet the show/movie’s producer, Jerry Hartfield (Ben Wilkinson), who spills the beans that, hey, the junior sleuth is probably onto something. A visit with the supposed mother of the film’s lead actor, Sean Rogerson, only confirms his suspicions, and in fairly short order he’s off to Vancouver with his girlfriend, Jennifer Parker (Leanne Lapp) and fellow film students Trevor Thompson (Dylan Playfair) , Tessa Hammill (Stephanie Bennett), and Jared Lee (Howie Lai) to investigate the unnamed facility that doubled as the haunted Collingwood Psychiatric Institute the first time around (“off to” being a relative term here given that Playfair’s thick Canadian accent is a dead giveaway that this entire production was made in the Great White North).

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That’s when things get both boring and, soon enough, stupid. We’re given a fairly steady dose of the exact same shit that happened in the first film for some time before being hit with the major revelation that somebody we thought was dead is actually alive and still trapped in the joynt, which is actually a kind of mystical netherworld that co-exists in both the material and spiritual planes at the same time. This development not only cheapens the impact the first flick had, but also saddles down the second with a horrifically OTT performance by someone who did fairly solid work last time while simultaneously undercutting the “found footage” element because Poliquin has to resort to standard filming techniques in order to make this individual’s presence fit in with the story. Or maybe he just gets lazy and doesn’t figure you’re paying all that much attention by this point, anyway.

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The end result is a total mess that can’t decide what it wants to be — standard “mockumentary” fare, limp horror/comedy hybrid, or homage to other (and better) flicks — notice, for instance,  that the photo above is a direct thieving from both REC and its Americanized remake, Quarantine. This movie simply ran out of ideas at about the 30 minute mark, but kept going for 90-plus, anyway.

Still, I can’t say I shouldn’t have seen it — even if , by any rational standard, I shouldn’t have. Why?  Because Grave Encounters 2 is the definitive textbook example of how to make not just a lame sequel, but one so bad that it causes the original to lose a fair amount of its luster, as well. That’s definitely an accomplishment — just not a good one.

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Maybe I’m an eternal optimist, or maybe I’m just stubborn, but the idea of a “found footage” horror flick set in abandoned mental hospital that was notorious for its brutal methods of “therapy” is something I found too —- what’s the word I’m looking for here, appealing? — for me to just give up on no matter how badly Sean Stone’s Greystone Park (which we reviewed here the other day as part of our “Netflix Halloween” series) sucked. And frankly, it sucked in more ways than I can count. It sucked so bad, in fact, that I probably shouldn’t have bothered when I noticed that elsewhere in the Netflix instant streaming queue right now is a little indie number from 2011 called Grave Encounters that has more or less exactly the same premise, and it seems reasonable enough to assume that  I could could especially be forgiven for giving this one a pass given that it was written and directed by a pseudonymous gestalt entity that goes by the ultra-lame handle of The Vicious Brothers (in reality Stuart Ortiz and Colin Minihan). Still,  I think you know where I’m headed here —

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Yup, I watched it anyway. Why? Well, as I said, I find the basic premise to be at the very least intriguing, and hey, this one came out first, beating Greystone Park to the punch by a full year. A quick glance at the IMDB also showed it to have received at least a handful of good reviews by armchair critics/contributors to that site who I generally find myself in agreement with, so — what the hell, right? Why not give it a go?

Right off the bat, Grave Encounters has a bit more personality than Stone’s celluloid abortion, as we’re introduced to “reality” TV mogul Jerry Hartfield (Ben Wilkinson), who informs us that the film we’re about to see is “assembled from  raw footage” captured on camera by the crew of a supposedly-ahead-of-its-time paranormal “ghost hunter” show called — you guessed it — Grave Encounters , and that said individuals have  dropped off the face of the Earth after paying a visit to the sprawling grounds of a multi-building facility formerly known as the Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital. Cliched, sure, but a decent enough introduction to the proceedings.

Next up we meet the principal players themselves, host Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson), camera operators T.C. Gibson (Merwin Mondesir) and Sasha Parker (Ashleigh Gryzko), tech and sound guy Matt White (Juan Riedinger) and, a short while later, “famed psychic” Houston Gray (Mackenzie Gray). The Vicious Brothers waste little time in exposing the fact that the show is — as all of things are, sorry to burst your bubble — a complete fraud, with Preston and Gray, especially, being nothing but jive Hollywood phonies, but  tonight is the night when — after locking themselves into the facility — all that paranormal shit they’re supposedly going after but never actually find comes back to bite them all in the asses with a vengeance. Their show may not be real, but shit’s about to get real anyway.

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What follows isn’t necessarily the greatest horror movie you’ve ever seen — or even the greatest “found footage” horror movie you’ve ever seen — but Ortiz and Minihan go about their task with a clearly visible degree of style and know-how, and are helped along the way by reasonably strong performances from their cast, a genuinely creepy location, and a solid script that keeps upping the ante as things progress. No, it’s nothing super extraordinary by any means, but it’s at least competent, and provides a few genuine chills along the way as we venture fairly firmly into Twilight Zone territory with time getting screwed up, corridors that lead nowhere, walled-off exits, etc. Oh, yeah — there are ghosts, too, and they’re plenty vicious and actually even kinda scary.

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So, hey, guess I was right after all — the idea of a horror “mockumentary” set in an old lunatic asylum isn’t such a bad one, if the right people are both behind and in front of the camera, and I’m obviously not alone in that opinion given that Grave Encounters spawned a sequel just over a year later that is — surprise! — also available on Netflx, as well, so ya know what? I think I’ll give that one a whirl this evening, and  unless it’s a complete cluster-fuck disaster — or maybe even if it is —ten to one you already know what the next movie I’ll be reviewing here is going to be.