I see V/H/S/2 as a sign that these bruised and battered anthology pieces could become something very exciting.
The series started on a raw note with V/H/S. An extremely raw note. The set-up that a group of ruff-and-tuff thugs start dying from watching mysterious found footage located in a skeezy house was a bit too vague to go off on. It didn’t help that the acting by those random criminals all felt forced.
V/H/S was also a film that was done in by its dedication to its grainy medium. Some of the short films shot with shabbier cameras had an idea that started off as creative, but soon became nausea-inducing. It’s also partly because the filmmakers in charge of the short films didn’t have the quick-wittedness to helm a complicated project like V/H/S.
It’s good to see the V/H/S series has learned some lessons between the first film and its sequel. This time around, more talented filmmakers are invited to invent grotesque and off-kilter short films. These filmmakers include Hobo with a Shotgun’s Jason Eisener, The Raid: Redemption’s Gareth Huw Evans teaming up with director Timo Tjahjanto, The Blair Witch Project’s Edúardo Sanchez teaming up with Gregg Hale, and You’re Next’s Adam Wingard.
Speaking of You’re Next, the screenwriter from that impressive lower end horror-comedy, Simon Barrett, has directed and written the scenes that tie these short films together.
I’m still not a fan of those middle pieces that glue the anthology together. This time, a couple break into a seemingly vacant house. One of them stumbles on multiple video cassettes and starts watching them with dazed eyes. These bits still feel like they aren’t at the level of subtlety they should be. What’s supposed to read as smooth transitions from one film to the next ends up coming across as someone hosting an open mic and strictly there to introduce the next act. Barett’s dialogue of straight horror isn’t memorable, suggesting that maybe the filmmaker needed that extra hint of humour to make his material stronger.
Funny enough, the same goes for Wingard. His piece Phase 1 Clinical Trials is the weakest of the bunch because of how much it relies on ordinary jump scares. It’s a short film that actually reinforces my worries about a sequel to V/H/S. I was worried V/H/S/2 was going to follow in similar footsteps being that the filmmakers have interesting ideas and premises, but end up being confused as to how their execution should be laid out. Phase 1 Clinical Trials has a spooky set-up about hidden spirits always being present but invisible to the human eye, but the short turns into a by-the-numbers haunted house ride.
Luckily, with Wingard’s contribution out of the way, V/H/S/2 focuses on more successful shorts. Sanchez and Hale’s grisly zombie movie gives a new dynamic to the undead genre, offering a consistently intriguing first-person view from a zombie’s perspective. It has a nostalgia factor as we witness Sanchez going back to the woods for scares, and the originality is effectively chilling.
Evans and Tjahjanto’s Safe Haven feels like the longest film of the bunch, but for good reason. It feels a lot longer because the directorial duo manages to suck us in and never let go. When the intensity gets to be too much, movie goers want to resist. Fortunately, the duo takes us for an eerie trip through an off-putting, blood hungry commune. It has enough gore to supply two more movies and some of the effects will have you wondering how those gunshot wounds look as realistic as they do. This is a fantastic little movie.
The film finishes with the most surprising contribution. Eisener completely redeems himself from his embarrassing short in The ABC’s of Death with a sci-fi creature feature that will have your skin crawling. Like Safe Haven, the effects will have you in awe and you’ll be completely involved with each tense scare. It’s also a film that allows Eisener to work in those very skilled qualities he has when it comes to portraying juvenile, unadulterated activity.
By the frenetic end credits of V/H/S/2, I wanted more – and fast. The impressive anthology is very, very close to being at the level it wants to conquer audiences at. With a bit more fine tuning, horror hounds could have a series that’ll be an essential viewing tradition come Halloween.