Hollywood likes a cheap horror movie, but they absolutely love cheap horror sequels! Nothing screams profit like an inexpensively made sequel to a film with an existing fan base, and in the years since the first Paranormal Activity was released, studios have been clamoring for the next bargain basement franchise to become their proverbial cash cow. Magnolia Films struck gold with 2011’s much-hyped V/H/S, which, while not a theatrical success (Magnolia’s limited release approach was shrewdly geared toward building fan anticipation, no doubt aided by producer, Brad Miska’s, influential Bloody Disgusting website) proved to be a big hit on VOD and home video. While it seemed most fans didn’t feel the first film lived up to the hype (myself included), a sequel was already in the works. A new roster of up-and-comers (The Raid’s Gareth Evans, You’re Next’s Adam Winguard, Hobo with a Shotgun’s Jason Eisener) as well as one of the founding fathers of the found-footage genre, Eduardo Sanchez (The Blair Witch Project) were enlisted for V/H/S/2 (previously known as S-VHS).
V/H/S/2 opens with Simon Barret’s Tape 49, which serves as this film’s “wraparound” segment, and involves a sleazy private investigator, Larry (Lawrence Michael Levine), and his assistant, Ayesha (Kelsy Abbott). Larry’s been hired to find a missing college student, so the duo’s first stop is said student’s apartment, which, much like the first film, is littered with hundreds of VHS tapes, several television sets, and a laptop. While Larry explores the apartment, Ayesha is given the task of wading through the tapes for clues as to the missing student’s whereabouts.
This leads us into our first tape, Adam Winguard’s Clinical Trials, in which a young man blinded in an automobile accident is fitted with an experimental cybernetic eyeball that, conveniently, records everything he sees. When the man returns to his home, however, his new eyeball starts to malfunction, causing him to see dead people! He’s soon visited by a formerly-deaf young woman from the clinic from which he received his new eye who tells him that, after she received a cochlear implant as a teenager, she, too, began to experience the phenomena.
Clinical Trials has a few effective scares early on, but, once it gets going, it’s primarily played for laughs. Winguard’s direction is quite solid, employing a tunnel vision aesthete that’s really quite unnerving, especially as his protagonist wearily navigates the narrow halls and rooms of his house anticipating yet another undead sighting. As is often the case with anthology installments, this one stumbles a bit as it rushes toward its inevitably bloody conclusion, but it’s still a lot of fun, and leaps and bounds better than anything from the first film.
The second tape is A Ride in the Park; Eduardo Sanchez’ extremely entertaining and surprisingly fresh take on the zombie genre. Here we have a mountain biker fitted with one of those helmet-mounted Go Pro HD cams that are all the rage in the extreme sports community these days. The biker has a last chat with his girlfriend before taking to the trails, where he happens upon an injured woman being pursued by a trio of shambling undead. The woman turns out to be infected, herself, and bites our hapless protagonist, who undergoes the transformation into a flesh-hungry zombie, himself. I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve seen a zombie movie from the zombie’s point of view, and it’s both laugh-out-loud funny and a touch sad. While I don’t think I could sit through a full-length feature utilizing this “zombie cam”, it’s quite the treat in this encapsulated form. I’d say this was the best entry in the film were it not for the next tape Ayesha puts in!
Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto’s A Safe Haven revolves around a young news crew and their attempts to get an exclusive interview with an enigmatic cult leader known as “The Father” (Epy Kusnandar) at his secluded compound. The reporters appeal to the cult leader’s egotistical nature, and are given permission to shoot, but only what he deems appropriate. Of course, being journalists, these kids have myriad tricks up their sleeves, including a variety of hidden cameras, so, when they are granted access to the compound, we’re given several perspectives of the visit. During the interview with The Father, a bell rings out, and the cult leader addresses his flock that their moment has come, leaving the news crew trapped in the compound with a small army of suicidal followers hellbent on bringing their chosen deity into this world so that they may move on to the next.
I wanted to see more of this terrifying little universe Evans and Tjahjanto created, and found this to be one of the few anthology segments in which ambitious ideas like this are tackled successfully and satisfyingly. It’s scary, gory, and incredibly well-executed stuff, and, to me, this short, alone, is worth the price of admission.
They always say “save the best for last”, so it defies logic that Jason Eisener’s rather pointless (and loud) Slumber Party Alien Abduction was chosen to close out the set. A Safe Haven is an admittedly hard act to follow, but this is easily the least effective part of the anthology. In this, a trio of siblings is left alone at their family’s lakeside manse, whereupon the older sister and her boyfriend are victimized by her brothers and their friends relentless pranking. This leads to the sister and her boyfriend striking back by fitting the family pooch with a camera in order to catch one of the brother’s masturbating in his sleeping bag. Suddenly, the house is awash in light and sound, and a gaggle of extraterrestrials begin snatching up the house’s terrified inhabitants. The entire thing is caught using the “dog cam”, including an ending that my fellow animal lovers will no doubt find tasteless and entirely unnecessary.
The film’s wraparound segment…well…wraps things up (as a wraparound should!), but it’s pretty weak stuff, and, by its nature, only here to serve as the thread which ties the shorts together.
All in all, V/H/S/2 is a marked improvement over the first film in the series, which bodes well for the inevitable V/H/S/3. I’m actually looking forward to seeing what talent they can wrangle up next, and hope they continue to mine for international offerings from some of the great horror auteurs currently working out of Spain and South America. Definitely worth checking out!