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Movie Review: V/H/S 2 (2013)

Updated on January 3, 2014

Director(s): Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Eduardo Sánchez , Gregg Hale, Gareth Huw Evans, Timo Tjahjanto and Jason Eisener

Cast:
Adam Wingard, Lawrence Michael Levine, Kilsy Abbott, Hannah Hughes, John T. Woods, Jay Saunders, Fachri Albar, Hannah Al Rashid, Oka Antara, Epy Kusnandar, Samantha Gracie, Zack Ford, Riley Eisener, Corey Hinchey, Josh Ingraham

The idea behind the original V/H/S was that it was a showcase for its young directors and actors. It was a horror anthology that told five or six (I really don't remember) different tales, and each one was directed by a different and fresh young talent (Ti West; Adam Wingard; and many others). The idea for the film was intriguing. The results were appalling. Unscary, nauseatingly gory, and stunningly boring to boot, the original movie was easily the worst time I had at the movies last year, and it left me with feelings of hatred so extreme that they could not be expressed in a review.

Because the original movie was such a hit on video, a sequel was inevitably in the works. What's surprising about V/H/S 2 isn't that it's a better movie than the first (it'd have to be), but that it's actually a pretty good horror movie overall. None of the stories here will get any points for originality, but as the late great Roger Ebert use to say, "It's now what a movie's about, but how it's how about it." The filmmakers of V/H/S 2 take story ideas we're all familiar with, and manages to do some creepy and inventive things with them.

The first story, Tape 49, is, unfortunately, dispiritingly dumb. A private investigator (Lawrence Michael Levine) and his assistant (Kelsy Abbott) are hired to investigate the disappearance of one of the kid's from the first film's framing narrative. Their investigation leads them to an abandoned house with lots of buzzing televisions and stacks of VHS tapes. Populated with characters who constantly split up and hide in the closet when they should be getting out of the damn house, the two things that can be said in this story's favor is that 1) it's the shortest of the lot, and 2) it at least doesn't have characters who sexually assault a young woman in the very first scene of the movie.

Buuuuuuurrrrrrrp!
Buuuuuuurrrrrrrp!

With Abbott's character watching the stacks of VHS tapes and the PI snooping around the house, we are eventually led into four separate short stories. The first story, Phase 1 Clinical Trials, is a devilishly entertaining treat. It tells the story of a single guy named Herman (Adam Wingard, who also directed this short), who receives an artificial eye implant that also doubles as a camera. Everything seems fine until he returns home and starts seeing dead people lurking around every corner of his house. The bulk of the story involves the ghosts jumping out at us at the camera, a usually tiresome trick that actually manages to elicit a couple of genuine shocks here, and gives the short the feeling of a haunted house attraction.

The second story, A Ride in the Park, follows a nice guy bicycler (Jay Saunders) as his ride through a wooded park is cut short when he's attacked by zombies. It's a pretty standard premise, but one that's ingeniously executed. The entirety of the story is filmed from the biker's camera helmet, so as the biker is bitten and dies, comes back and bites two other bikers, it's all filmed from the biker's point-of-view. The technique is enthralling, and the story climaxes on a surprisingly haunting note that is best left for you to discover.

The longest, darkest, goriest, and most nightmarish story is easily the third one, entitled Safe Haven, which follows an Indonesian news crew as they're invited by a cult leader (Epy Kusnandar) back to his compound for an exclusive interview. Suddenly, a bell tolls on the premises, and what follows is a series of scenes so unthinkably graphic and horrifyingly disturbing that it should have garnered the movie an NC-17 rating. That it managed to walk away with only an R rating is a joke.

"Hold still! You have a fly on your throat!"
"Hold still! You have a fly on your throat!"

The final story, called Slumber Party Alien Abduction, shows what happens when a group of kids are left home alone while their parents go out for the evening. Things start off innocently enough, with the youngest of the kids playing pranks on their older sister (Samantha Gracie) and her friends, but as the night wears on, the kids find themselves at the mercy of an army of alien beings. While this segment contains some of the worst shaky camera shots in the film (the camera is, for the most part, attached to the family dog), the story itself works thanks to the natural performances, frightening creature effects, and the dark and harrowing tone established by the director of the piece, Jason Eisener.

V/H/S 2 certainly isn't going to be for all tastes. The level of gore alone would be enough to turn people off, and some might not buy into the film's pervasively dark humor (I chuckled a couple of times). Yet V/H/S 2 works well enough on its own terms, and a lot of that has to do with the way some of the stories play on universal and very human fears. Whether it's fear of the unknown, losing control and becoming a monster, or simply being alone in a big house, the movie incorporates them into a raw, entertaining, and skillfully directed package. If the inevitable third film should follow the example set by this film, it might be a movie worth looking forward to.


Final Grade: *** (out of ****)

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