New York Observer film critic, Rex Reed, reviewed the new anthology film, V/H/S/2, even though he walked out of the film around twenty minutes in. Reed gets paid to sit through films, no matter how bad, so you can judge what you thought of his behavior. I watched the whole thing, and given Reed’s pompous attitude, I doubt he would have seen anything else he liked if he had stayed. But I’m not Rex Reed. I’m an unpaid critic who happens to have an educated yet enthusiastic love of the horror genre.
So, how V/H/S/2 stack up for someone more receptive to its content? Not bad, but even I admit that the novelty is wearing off.
This is the sequel to last year’s anthology film, V/H/S. Magnet has latched onto a smart strategy. They have figured out that if they are doing anthology films, they don’t need to spend time putting sequels into production that cultivate a single storyline. They can hire a number of talented, hungry filmmakers who can all make their own, low-budget shorts and they can all be filming their parts of the sequel separately and simultaneously This is why Magnet also has a sequel to THE ABC’S OF DEATH in production.
Like the first, V/H/S, the sequel goes by the conceit that all the segments of the film are of the found footage variety – strange occurrences being viewed on VHS tapes. The branching storyline introduces a private investigator trying to find a missing college student. He is led to a house, the same house as the first film. He and his assistant find the mountain of video monitors and tossed around VHS tapes. They watch the footage and are drawn deeper into a nightmare.
There are four segments this time out, not including the branching storyline. That’s one less than the previous film. “Phase I Clinical Trials” involves a man who gets a missing eye replaced with a camera. Soon, he starts seeing ghostly images and learns he can pick up frequencies normal humans can’t. It was at the conclusion of this first segment where Reed walked out. The second segment, “A Ride in the Park,” is a twist on the zombie motif taken from the helmet cam of a bicyclist. We then move onto “Safe Haven,” which takes up a full half hour of the running time. It involves a camera crew investigating a controversial cult that seems to be preparing for an apocalyptic event. From there, it’s onto the accurate yet deceptively cheerful title, “Slumber Party Alien Abduction.” In it, a bunch of adolescent kids filming their pranks when they accidentally capture footage of their slumber party being invaded by alien abductors.
As mentioned previously, each segment has their own team behind it. Another issue with Reed’s review was that he dismissed all the directors involved as nobodies, despite their achievements. This is a wholly inaccurate and petty assumption, and one I do not agree with. However, just because all the directors on board are talented does not mean all the segments work in V/H/S/2.
As was the case with the first film, the first segment is the best. Adam Wingard (YOU’RE NEXT, A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE) takes what could have been a standard ghost story with a dumb gimmick and turns it into the most purely enjoyable mood piece of the entire film. In it’s short time, it makes you feel like you’re going on this horrifying ride along with our anti-hero. Wingard also does a good job, playing this part and he is aided by a charismatic co-star, Hannah Hughes.
If there is competition for the best segment of the bunch, it’s the third one, “Safe Haven,” directed by Gareth Evans (THE RAID: REDEMPTION) and Timo Tjahjanto (MACABRE). Like many of the shorts in V/H/S/2, this one plays fast and loose with the rules, featuring footage which has been edited together and even subtitled. But enough about technical squabbles. It’s a chilling tale with lots of drama contained within it, so much that it feels like it might play better expanded to a feature-length film of its own. Some unfortunate CGI does not blend well with the practical effects, but the story is still quite riveting.
The other two segments don’t really work. Worst of all is “A Ride In the Park,” directed by Eduardo Sanchez, whose BLAIR WITCH PROJECT arguably started this whole found footage mess in the first place (And yes, I know all about films like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, GHOSTWATCH and STRAWBERRY ESTATES, but BLAIR WITCH was the one everyone initially copied). It doesn’t do much with the motif that’s new aside from offering the chance to see both sides of a zombie apocalypse. Similarly, Jason Eisener’s (HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN) segment does some interesting things with lighting, showing how low-rent practical effects can be scarier than computer manipulation, if done with style. Unfortunately, nothing else in the sequence from the characters to the progression of events, does much to recommend itself. There are no terrible moments of V/H/S/2, but there are quite a few underwhelming ones.
V/H/S only had one segment that disappointed. V/H/S/2 has two segments that don’t work at all and none that even match the quality of the first’s films average segments. We’ve seen a lot of this found footage stuff at this point. You have to be really inventive with this material, without getting too gimmicky, in order to hold our interest. Unfortunately, only half the material in V/H/S/2 really delivers. The film has its moments, but this is getting old really fast. If they decide to do a third installment, maybe they should take a little more time developing something we haven’t seen before. ★★½ (out of ★★★★)
– Not rated, but the equivalent of an “R” for graphic violence, strong language, wonderfully gratuitous nudity and sexual situations.
– Running time: 1hr 36mins.