V/H/S, the first anthology in a series of found footage horror, has its admirers, but I don’t count myself as one of them. I loved the concept, but found (with one or two notable exceptions, themselves cliched stories saved only by fun execution) the whole thing rather lazy and underwhelming. So much so that the reviews and the success of the thing baffled me. Is this what horror has become? Shoddily produced stories with not an ounce of originality getting by by virtue of their approach, itself dangerously overdone?
I swore I wouldn’t bother with the sequel, but when a screener copy landed on my doorstep, courtesy of someone who remains almost psychotically eager to change my mind about franchises I don’t like, I decided, despite my absolute lack of enthusiasm, to watch it.
The setup of course is the same: A duo of private investigators (Lawrence Michael Levine and Kelsy Abbott) looking for a young man who has gone astray, find themselves in an abandoned house full of old V/H/S tapes, which (naturally) one of them ends up watching. These tapes provide the installments that make up the core of the film.
The first segment “Phase One”, directed by and starring Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die, You’re Next) is easily the worst of the four, and suffers the exact same problems that characterized almost all of the entries in the first film: the concept is neither novel nor new, there are plot holes galore, and it relies too much on telegraphed jump scares and bad makeup effects to compensate for the lack of story. And while I’m far from a prude, if you’re going to have nudity in your story, it should serve a point and not be blatantly shoehorned in there as a plot device that isn’t. So bad is Wingard’s juvenile contribution, essentially an old Twilight Episode with tits, that it left me with no desire to see anything else he’s done, and it did nothing to make me think this second anthology was going to be anything but the same kind of overhyped mess as the first.
But then, to my pleasant surprise, things started to look up. The second entry “A Ride in the Park”, directed by The Blair Witch Project alums Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale, starts with an unpromising setup. Indeed at the sight of zombies shambling across the countryside, I wanted to put my foot through the TV. But then things get funny, and rather clever, with the directors using the found footage format to maximum effectiveness. Played almost strictly for laughs (anything else would have meant failure), there’s one scene of gut-munching, specifically one zombie’s reaction to being interrupted, that had tears rolling down my face. So after this unexpected delight, I found myself heartened a little.
And I didn’t expect to find myself saying this, but not only is the penultimate segment “Safe Haven”, directed by Timo Tjahjanto (Rumah Dara) and Gareth Huw Evans (The Raid) far and away the best entry in the V/H/S series to date, it’s also perhaps one of the most effective entries in any horror anthology to date, and if the creators of this franchise have any sense, “Safe Haven” will set the standard for all that follows. I won’t spoil the story for you, but this one is batshit crazy, over the top, well-acted, well-shot, terrifying, and grim. It’s also the longest entry and could easily have been a full movie on its own. Suffice it to say, “Safe Haven” more than justifies the price of admission. All by itself. This, ladies and gentlemen, is horror done right.
Admittedly, when I learned that the last entry, “Slumber Party Alien Abduction”, came courtesy of Jason Eisener, the guy who directed Hobo With A Shotgun (a movie I only made it thirty minutes into before turning it off), my hopes, soaring after “Safe Haven”, began to recede again. But again I was surprised. While this one conforms to the safe and typical formula, with little in the way of surprise, it is–like “A Ride in the Park”–how the subject matter is handled that keeps it from being a dud. Rather fun and low-key with a simple premise dynamically done, I found myself tense through this rip-roarer of a finish. While I didn’t love the final shot (a bit of cruelty that left a bad taste in mouth), this was a great way to end the anthology.
The wraparound story (another problem in the first one), while still the same old stuff we’ve seen before, ends on a surprisingly creepy and effective note.
So, color me surprised. V/H/S 2 was everything I’d hoped for the first one. It is, like all horror anthologies, a little uneven, but where the first seemed content to languish in its own self-congratulatory staleness, V/H/S 2 reaches for a higher bar, and in one instance (“Safe Haven”) blows right past it. The end result (and I say this while eating a fine plate of humble pie) is a damn good horror anthology, and has me eager to see what comes next.
- ‘V/H/S/2’ is for serious found-footage horror fans only (newsobserver.com)
- V/h/s/2 (2013) (horror-movie-a-day.blogspot.com)
- Movie Review: “V/H/S 2″ (rogersmovienation.com)
- V/H/S/2 – Theatrical Trailer for the Awesome Horror Anthology (geektyrant.com)