Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Grave Encounters 2 :Talking to the Vicious Brothers (plus a kind of mini review)

About two weeks ago I stumbled upon the fact that the sequel to Grave Encounters was due to be released on VOD today and in theaters in a little over a week.  Thrilled at the prospect, especially after seeing the trailer, I contacted the PR people and asked them if there was a way of screening the film before release. Not only did they allow me to see the film, they arranged for me to talk to the executive producers and writers The Vicious Brothers.

Grave Encounters 2 is a melding of found footage with conventional story telling. The film is the story of Alex a college film student who posts a negative video review of the first film on line. Alex is a frustrated filmmaker who is trying to push the boundaries of the horror genre, unfortunately based upon what we see of his film, he has very conventional tastes.

Seemingly out of nowhere he gets an email from someone telling him that despite what he thinks, Grave Encounters is in fact real. Using the clues in the email he begins go down the rabbit hole traveling to LA, interviewing the family members of the missing actors and finally traveling up to Canada where the asylum used in the first film stands. What he finds there will change  Alex forever.

I'm going to write a full review later but right now you need to know that Grave Encounters 2  is not the first film. As I said several times to the Vicious Brothers, the fact that the film is so different from the first film, even as it riffs, steals and alters what went before is rather jarring... and it's going to annoy some people. It’s different enough that I have to really see the film again before I can accurately review the film (I've seen it one and a half times but I need to sit and see it on a big screen with popcorn).  I don’t mean this as anything bad, rather that I have such a great love of the first film that I wanted something that was like the first but better, what I got was something unexpectedly different.

It’s a film that begins in a kind of college horror conventionality before flopping everything once our hero and his film crew gets to the asylum. Once there the film becomes a balls to the wall horror film almost from the instant with more monsters, more shocks and more disorientation.

To be honest I don't feel  the same way about as the first film.  I shouldn't be surprised  because it’s own animal. The film also has a few problems I want to sort out and somethings that bothered me the first time didn't bother me the second go round.

I need to stress that the film does have some really creepy moments, and some jump scares but it comes at some of them from a different direction from the first film. I'm intrigued.  Especially after seeing the film for the second time for this piece when I noticed things I hadn't caught before..

As of right now I’m holding off doing a full review of the film until I can sit down and see the film from start to finish again. As I said earlier I've seen the film about one and a half times and there is much about the film, good and bad, that I want to discuss.

If you see the film before I post the full review I suggest that you keep an open mind and see the film for itself and not compare it to the first film.

And now the interview...

Last Wednesday,  I had a brief phone interview with the Vicious Brothers. The interview took place after I had spent the previous 8 hours in the darkness watching things at the New York Film Festival. I thought I had the perfect quiet place to take the call, but found it was closed off due to construction. I then had to rapidly find a quiet place in and around Lincoln Center-with real cell reception- to take the call. Because of the way cell reception is in the area I was sitting on a ledge outside of Avery Fisher Hall, my legs dangling several feet in the air when the phone call came in.

I need to say that I didn’t record the conversation. What follows is a report on the talk with some rearrangement of the order to make things flow better. I also refer to the Brothers as one entity because I don't know who answered which question.
The Vicious Brothers
The talk began with me going a bit fan-boy as I gushed about the first film. I am still in love with the first film and I told them so. I also related to them how many people I know simply cannot watch the film because it scares them so much, it's afilm rapid leapt over on cable

The questioning began with my asking about where the film came from. They said sequel came about rather quickly. The Brothers had been at work on a spec trailer for a film they hoped to make when the opportunity to make Grave Encounters 2 came in. They had had some ideas for a sequel and then unexpectedly financing came together.  Expecting to be unable to fully devote their full attention to the film, at least they wrote the script and drafted a friend of theirs, John Poliquin, to direct.

As it happened, and despite only getting writing and Executive Producer credits, the Brothers were on set for the entire shoot, helping things along, as well as editing as they went (there was an editing suite near the locations so the film was being cut as they shot). The were also the ones who put the trailers for the film together.

The film, which was partially financed by Tribeca Films, had a much bigger budget than the first film. This allowed the for things to get bigger and better.  I asked them about one scene in particular that impressed the hell out of me where one character is sucked out of the asylum through a window. I had thought, based on this film and the earlier film, that it would have been nigh impossible for anyone to have been pulled out of the window like that at the actual location,  but they said that the sequence, which takes place in a single continuous shot, was done via location footage married, via smoke and mirrors to a constructed set. The effect is flawless and, like many of the rapid fire shocks in the film jarring.

We then spoke about the construction of the script. Grave Encounters 2 is essentially a found footage film, but it messes with the conventions and even occasionally breaks the rules, there is a shot into an elevator that shouldn’t be there in a real found footage film. Where the first film was created as a found footage film because that was the way the story had to be told, the second film was constructed as it was in order to shake things up. The film school opening 35 or 40 minutes were intentionally put there in part to get you used to the idea that people were filming their every action. The notion that people are filming what they are filming is a sticking point in many other similar films. People don’t always except that people would be filming everything. By having the film school beginning where the characters are using their I-phones you believe more that they would film everything even as the shit hits the fan. The Brothers said that the fact that the film shifts perspectives, found footage, security cameras, conventional movie footage was designed to keep the audience off balance.

I asked about the Vloggers who open the film (the film begins with several people reviewing the first Grave Encounters before we see Alex's bad review) since they seemed to be actual reviews from the Internet. Most of them are actual reviews that had been posted to the web. A few were people they knew whom they had given copies of the first film on DVD. They instructed them to watch the film and then record their thoughts and up load it. They were not to provide “good” reviews only what they thought of the film. The reviews were then sorted and  cut together.

I asked them their feeling about the whole found footage genre. They said that the genre is here to stay. They  like the convention when it’s done right. For them the trouble is now that the genre is being used by filmmakers who are using it because it’s “cheap and easy” instead of being the right way to tell the story. They made the first Grave Encounters as found footage because that was the way the story had to be told.

They had been working on several other projects when they came up with Grave Encounters. The idea to turn the reality show and ghost hunter  TV series on their ears hadn’t really been done before.  They then commented that there were several similar films out there since other people seemed to have chosen to go in a similar direction. I replied that having seen  several of them that most of the filmmakers shouldn’t have bothered since they didn’t make good films.

It seemed to me that only they, and a very few others, really understood the rapidly being created rules of the genre.This lead into a roundabout discussion of the co-opting by Hollywood of the genre. What did they think of bigger budget films like The Bay that were now being made by big studios? They felt it was kind of inevitable since Hollywood chases the money. They knew there was going to be avalanche of  films  before they would peter out.  They said that the wanted to see films like The Bay because they wanted to see what was done with the genre and because they like the subject matter.

(I believe I was the last interview of the day and I had the feeling they were tired of the same found footage questions as everyone else probably asked similar questions. The lack of originality was my own fault. I had actually over prepared for the interview and had come up with several complicated questions about their feelings about film and horror film in general  which I abandoned because I had the sense that I should stay on point of the Grave Encounters films and because my talk time was more limited than I thought.)

As time wound down I asked one final question- what’s next? A science fiction film called The Intruder. It’s to be a 180 degrees different in style from Grave Encounters

…And as for Grave Encounters, will there be a 3? A 4? A 5? The Vicious Brothers said,  depending upon the reception of the second film, there is a script for a third film. It wasn’t planned but they stumbled upon an idea. As for any further films beyond that, they couldn’t say. They promised that unless they could come up with a really good idea there wouldn’t be more films.

The interview done I hung up and climbed off the ledge and headed home.

I would like to thank, yet again, Brandon at Tribeca for setting up the interview, and the Vicious Brothers themselves. I had talked to several journalists about the Brotherss in the two days between having the interview set up and it actually happening and every one of them to a man had nothing but nice things to say about them. One even said that he wished he could talk to more people like them. From my stand point they were gracious and open and a pleasure to talk to. Perhaps down the road, when the next film comes out we can talk longer.

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