Written by Brad Miska, Simon Barrett, John Davies, Jason Eisener, Gareth Evans, Jamie Nash, Eduardo Sánchez and Timo Tjahjanto
Directed by Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Gareth Evans, Gregg Hale, Eduardo Sánchez, Timo Tjahjanto and Adam Wingard
What can be said about V/H/S/2 that hasn’t already been said about its predecessor? As it turns out, not all that much. After just a year since V/H/S was first released, the second installment comes out with minimal changes, and thus should divide audiences into similar camps as the first did; that is to say, into a “don’t mess with a good thing” crowd, or a “you can’t polish a turd” circle.
Like V/H/S, V/H/S/2 (electric boogaloo?) centers around a set of mysterious tapes, each, when played, revealing a harrowing video. This time around, the poor souls that stumble upon them are a couple of private investigators who are called upon to investigate the sudden disappearance of someone’s son. Their search leads them to a somewhat derelict house where they find the tapes, a sketchy-looking laptop and more than they bargained for.
As a whole, V/H/S/2 is more of an exercise in genre than it is in effective storytelling. With segments that feature aliens, zombies, haunted houses, creepy little girls, and, refreshingly, practical special effects and makeup, the film is a paean to the horror genre and all the aesthetics that it entails. The first-person shaky-cam can be a bit noxious at times, but the craftsmanship behind each segment is quite impressive overall, and is often successful in immersing the viewer in the horror.
Story-wise, however, V/H/S/2 is rather loosey-goosey and inconsequential. Although each segment carries with it a pretext of a meta-narrative, these are only ever used to frame the oncoming and inevitable abattoir, nothing more. Each chapter ends without leaving any residue in terms of importance, or meaning in a holistic sense, to the central/framing story. Add to this the fact that not all segments are created equal (the highlights are a Jonestown-like cult and a zombie POV), and you have the story behind V/H/S/2 wearing increasingly thin and increasingly fruitless rather quickly.
Without a narrative anchor to hold the film together, watching V/H/S/2 is, in essence, like browsing the ‘Not Safe For Life’ section of Youtube if it had one, but without the luxury of skipping the parts that don’t work or that frustrate. The film is not so much an improvement over the original as it is just a simple continuation, carrying with it the same endemic narrative flaws and occasional spooky rewards.
– Justin Li
The Toronto After Dark Film Festival runs Oct 17-25.