Directed by Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Eduardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale, Timo Tjahjanto, Gareth Huw Evans, and Jason Eisener
The horror anthology V/H/S deserves credit for figuring out a good way to present mediocre found-footage ideas. When watching a bad found-footage horror film the main problem is that it goes on too long and can’t keep its gimmick fresh, but if many of those films were cut to short-film length, their shortcomings would be well camouflaged. So it goes with the sequel V/H/S 2: there are some good ideas, and some awful ones, and the best thing that can be said about the bad ideas is that they don’t hang around.
Like its predecessor, V/H/S 2 is shaped around a framing story. This time, the framing story involves two private investigators searching for a missing person. Turns out this particular missing person liked to collect videotapes which depict weird supernatural occurrences. The private eyes decide to watch some of his tapes, which are the four short stories at the film’s core. That framing story is a problem: it’s so boring and un-scary that at first it seems the entire movie may turn out to be a waste of time. It might have been better just to have five short horror tales, presented without the pretense of being part of a larger conspiracy, because having to end the film on the conclusion of the framing tale just isn’t worth it.
Once the short stories themselves begin, the film improves quite a bit. “Phase I Clinical Trials” by director Adam Wingard is the story of a man partially blinded in an accident, who becomes part of a clinical trial to replace his damaged eye with a video camera. Said camera is soon picking up frequencies from beyond the grave. “Phase I” is mostly just jump-scares without a lot of storytelling, but that’s not an awful way to start an anthology since it will get the audience warmed up for better stories to come. It also has a rather dark sense of humor, which is perfect for its Tales From The Crypt-style concept.
“A Ride in the Park,” directed by Eduardo Sanchez (The Blair Witch Project and last year’s highly underrated Lovely Molly) and Gregg Hale (who produced The Blair Witch Project), is the best of the five shorts in a walk. A zombie film which contrives a reason to be shot from a first-zombie point of view with a GoPro camera, it is both a chilling zombie-assault story in itself, and a cunning commentary on why audiences love zombie films. It establishes the rules of its universe so easily and effectively that its conclusion – which would seem to break the “rules” of most zombie stories – seems organic, totally earned, and even a little heartbreaking.
“Safe Haven” was co-directed and co-written by Gareth Huw Evans of The Raid: Redemption fame, but don’t expect it to contain any penjak silat fights. It’s the story of a documentary film crew that attempts to investigate an Indonesian cult and gets far more than they bargained for. “Safe Haven” is possibly too long, jam-packed with story and camera angles when it seems like it could have done just as well with less. It also relies far too much on extreme amounts of gore to deliver its terror. However, there are a few atmospheric non-gory scares, and the film ends on a perfect button – almost a Twilight Zone style of joke ending – which causes “Safe Haven” to leave a decent impression despite its flaws.
The final short, “Slumber Party Alien Abduction,” is simply the worst – both within this movie, and in the general category of bad horror films. Its title is fairly self-explanatory, but the film’s visual gimmick is that it’s shot from a camera mounted onto the back of the family dog. Of course no dog would ever be confused for a Steadicam operator, so the movie is actually just shot badly on purpose, to simulate the effect of having a camera attached to a dog. The horrible visuals are compounded by the use of strobe lights for no reason – the strobe effect is never once used to construct an effective shot. Worse, the movie is not frightening at any point, and doesn’t even have gore to fall back on like “Safe Haven” does. The most horrifying aspect of this film is that it seems it’s going to end two minutes after the aliens arrive, and then the audience realizes there are still ten more minutes to go.
Thus, the biggest problem with V/H/S 2 is that it ends on its two worst notes – the atrocious slumber-party short, and the yawn-worthy conclusion to its framing story. This is an anthology which does its best work in the middle, when it displays some fine efforts from some real talent. The rest of it is better left unseen.