Directed By: Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Eduardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale, Timo Tjahjanto, Jason Eisner
By David Mayne
Rarely does a found-footage film do well. Hell, even the genre’s granddaddy, 1994’s The Blair Witch Project, had its fair share of negative press to welcome in this most hotly contested genre of film. In a now over-saturated market of shaky-cam, cheap scare, popcorn-matinee snoozers, there is little room for a “found-footage” film to bring anything new to a table built for 4 that now seats over 100. With 2012’s V/H/S, an ensemble cast of directors brought to the screen a slightly skewed version of the genre not “quite” done before with a central theme being surrounded by 5 sub-stories all directly related to the main plot. While not every video in the first film was created equal (this in part to multiple directors filming their own scenes), the overall story and effect was successful in reinvigorating a tired genre and creepy enough to keep my attention and fascinate my inner horror-geek.
With Wingard’s latest entry, the simply titled V/H/S 2, things are actually done much better this second time around, aside from some particular scenes that just fell flat. Arguably, V/H/S 2 is the better installment into what I can only assume will eventually have a third and perhaps even a fourth film to its name.
As did the first film, V/H/S 2 starts us off with a “setup” story, this time of two private (and shady) investigators who are looking into the disappearance of a missing college student. While investigating said student’s home, they all-too conveniently discover a stack of VHS tapes and an equally large stack of televisions. Yeah…cliche, we know. The first film, V/H/S is oddly enough playing on one of the televisions as they enter the room. The man then tells the female investigator, Ayesha, to watch the tapes for clues as he goes off to have a rather predictable look around the house. Sounds completely groundbreaking, right? This is when the first “video” begins, as Ayesha is now watching VHS tapes and we see them as if they are now part of the film.
The first tape is titled Clinical Trials Phase I (directed by Wingard), and deals with a man who has lost his eye in a car crash and is having a bionic implant installed. Unbeknownst to him, the company that makes the implants are also able to monitor, via a nano camera inside the implant, everything that he sees. Upon returning home, a pretty cool segment follows as we come to realize that the man’s home is haunted. This segment, while somewhat predictable, is easily the most frightening of the lot in V/H/S 2.
The second installment is called A Ride in The Park (directed by Sanchez and Hale) and is shot on a GoPro camera from the perspective of a doomed cyclist caught in the middle of a zombie outbreak. After being bitten himself (camera still attached), the carnage kicks into overdrive…big time! Let’s just say that things get pretty awful when the cyclist, now a flesh-eating zombie, inadvertently comes across a birthday party filled with young children. I felt equal parts humor and disgust as this gory video came to a bloody close, but suffice it to say that this episode pretty much nailed home the notion that V/H/S 2 wasn’t fooling around. It was also fun to see Eduardo Sanchez, who did The Blair Witch Project, back in action.
Coming in at number 3, the next short is called Safe Haven (directed by Evans and Tajahjanto). Ever wondered what it would be like to take a small film crew directly into the creepy heart of a religious cult? This segment does it. “The People of Paradise Gate”, led by a mysterious leader called the “father”, seeks to purify themselves from the evils of the world. The most stylish entry in V/H/S 2, Safe Haven switches camera views, characters, sub-stories, and action often, all the while leading us on a dark and twisting journey that’s perhaps the best-crafted in the film.
The last tape is straightforwardly titled Slumber Party Alien Abduction (directed by Eisner), and pulls no punches with its roller coaster descent into chaos as aliens attack a group of naughty teens, caught mostly from the perspective of a mini-camera attached to a dog.
Oddly enough, up to this point, V/H/S 2 had been a thoroughly enjoyable flick, probably better with a few beers, and didn’t under-impress me the way I was sure it would. The setup, while indeed cliche, was admirable enough…relying on the video segments themselves to carry the weight of the movie, which they did. Where V/H/S 2 finally trips up is in the conclusion to what should have been a powerhouse ending, one worthy of the work put in to the middle of the film. Predictable and a tad anti-climactic, the wrap-up to the investigator’s story arc falls short of the impressive legs that the rest of the movie manages to stand on.
V/H/S 2 is unquestionably better than the first film. It’s tighter, more concise, and offers a little more variety in the way of horror and chills. With an entirely underwhelming ending, I’m taking a point away, yet the rest is sure to keep you interested and come back for a 2nd and 3rd viewing. Cheers!