Directed by: Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Gareth Evans, Gregg Hale, Eduardo Sánchez, Timo Tjahjanto, Adam Wingard
Premise: A sequel to the 2012 film. Like its predecessor, this is an anthology of short found-footage horror stories. Private investigators come upon a house and discover a cache of video recordings.
What Works: The original V/H/S was a nostalgic ode to the low budget horror films produced during the VHS era. The second film comes from the same place and it continues much of what worked in the first film. Its flaws are considerable but every segment of V/H/S/2 includes at least a couple of jump scares and the film has a consistent atmosphere of dread, and so it succeeds as a horror film at least on the most basic level. One of the advantages of short-form moviemaking is that it allows for creativity and the opportunity to do things that might not be sustainable in a feature length format. The filmmakers of the better segments of V/H/S/2 take advantage of that opportunity and the movie has a broad selection of concepts including a first-person zombie short, a haunted house tale, an alien abduction narrative, and a cult story. Of these segments, the best of them, by far, is “Safe Haven” directed by Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto. In this story a group of documentary filmmakers visits the compound of a mysterious Indonesian cult. “Save Haven” is better shot than the other installments and it includes a credible rationale for the existence of the footage. This segment is also the most ambitious as it builds slowly, uses effective cross cutting, and sets up plot points that pay off later. By the end, “Safe Haven” goes off the rails in the right way, with unexpected twists and some very strong visuals.
What Doesn’t: The original V/H/S was an act of nostalgia for the low budget horror films of the VHS era in the same way that Grindhouse pined for the exploitation cinema of the 1970s. The problem is that nostalgia is never enough. Movies cannot rely solely on fond memories of the media of days past and sequels especially have to move on. The filmmakers of V/H/S/2 rehash the same low-fi thrills but don’t add anything new. In fact, they tend to exacerbate the flaws of the first film. The 2012 anthology tended toward repetition and stupidity and although the sequel has a little more diversity in its subjects and ideas it is still frequently silly or uninspired. Segments like “A Ride in the Park” present a cliché zombie scenario but aside from shooting from the zombie’s point of view nothing else about the short is creative or interesting. The weakest element of the first V/H/S was the wraparound and in the sequel it’s worse. The action is unclear, it’s not very scary, and the movie could do just as well without it. Some of the segments of V/H/S/2 have a perverted feel about them; the plot of “Phase I Clinical Trials” isn’t far departed from the premise of a porn film and “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” has a leering, exploitative gaze. Merging sexuality and horror is fine and exploring the seedier parts of life is the genre’s raison d’etre but the sexuality in these short films is unrelated to their stories and the filmmakers give the impression that they are being smutty for its own sake. The filmmakers of V/H/S/2 also overuse analog defects and shaky camerawork. Instead of adding a layer of authenticity the breaks in the film and wobbly camerawork become distracting and sometimes make the imagery incomprehensible. The quality of the visual effects of V/H/S/2 also varies greatly. Some visuals are quite convincing but the more ambitious effects frequently look silly or plastic.
Bottom Line: V/H/S/2 is scary enough to satisfy horror fans but the quality of the segments is more uneven than the original film and several of the moviemakers don’t take enough creative risks. Horror fans, especially those who grew up in the 1980s, will get a kick out of it but like a lot of horror anthologies it probably won’t be of interest to general audiences.
Episode: #448 (July 21, 2013)