V/H/S/2 - Review
V/H/S/2 opens with a what appears to be a voyeur, filming a couple having sex in an apartment. Two minutes later we discover that he was getting evidence for a woman who suspected her husband of cheating on her. The opening sets up expectations, and then subverts them. The entire of V/H/S/2 is about subverting expectations.
Unlike many, I thoroughly enjoyed the first V/H/S, released last year. Don't get me wrong, it had its problems, but as a horror movie it was genuinely enjoyable - a celebration of horror and all the forms it can take. V/H/S/2 takes those issues that the original had, corrects them, and then adds even more great stuff to boot. Of course, if it's the actual found-footage format that you dislike, then this sequel won't do anything to change your mind. It sticks to the anthology format: four short films, with a fifth acting as a framing narrative, each by a different director. The sequel has had a lot of fat trimmed off it too, with a significantly shorter runtime.
Despite being a better film than the original, the opening is rather mediocre. Adam Wingard's Phase I Clinical Trials is easily the weakest story out of the lot. It's not necessarily bad, it's just not all that engaging. We follow a man about, quite literally, at eye level, after he's had a prosthetic eye with a built-in camera inserted into his head. It's the ghost story of the bunch and while there's an interesting contrast of using technology to reveal spirits, it does nothing with its premise and is far too reliant on jump scares in order to frighten.
What Wingard's film does do however, is prepare the audience for a much more self-aware series of short films than the original anthology had. These are horror films, not horror- comedy, but there's a distinct dark sense of humour that runs throughout almost all of the directors' pieces and even Wingard's movie succeeds in this regard with a particular scene, that I won't spoil, that will inevitably raise a smile.
After a bumpy beginning however, V/H/S/2 quickly gets on track with the brilliant A Ride in the Park, directed by Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale, best known for their work on The Blair Witch Project. Sanchez and Hale's film isn't the first to attempt to use found-footage in the zombie genre (both REC and Romero's Diary of the Dead got there first) but it is the first to use the format to subtly comment on the nature of zombies, and how they're presented to us, the audience. They manage to create a film that is both creepy, and surprisingly sad, once its ending rolls around.
Not wanting to waste any time, V/H/S/2 quickly gets to what is quite easily the highlight of the movie with Safe Haven, directed by Gareth Evans. Set it in Indonesia, it follows a group of filmmakers who are producing a documentary on a mysterious cult. The first half builds up the suspense perfectly, you know it's going to give, and that this cult is up to something freaky, but you're unsure what exactly. After building up some amazing tension, Evans just goes nuts in what is frankly fifteen minutes of pure visual horror. It's fantastic, and after two rather slow-burning short films, the catharsis that he delivers is timed just right. There's some heavy referencing of the Forbidden Siren video game series if you know what to look out for as well. Evans also happens to craft what is possibly the darkest movie here, there's a lot of disturbing tidbits he points to, without explicitly telling us that they happened.
After the fantastic Safe Haven, you really do have to feel sorry for Jason Eisener's Alien Abduction Slumber Party which is tasked not only with coming after Evans' film, put also finishing off the entire movie. It's actually a really well put together abduction flick; short, punchy, with an almost Spielberg feel to it. The opening sequence in particular is memorable, as two brothers play around on the drive, dressed as alien-robots, pretending to eat their dog. In any found-footage movie, even the best ones, there's that "why is this being filmed" thought running through the back of your mind. In Eisener's film though, the camera seems completely plausible: this is the kind of things people would be filming. Eisener's best idea however, is to have the camera strapped to the pet dog for almost the entire time, it sounds silly, but it ends up being a really great idea to have most of the film from the dog's point of view.
V/H/S/2 is a huge improvement over the original movie, although it's still not without its shortfalls. It has a much weaker start for instance; V/H/S was able to lessen the effect of its weakest film (Tuesday the 17th) by nestling it in the middle of the feature. In V/H/S/2's case we have to eat our soggy greens first before we can get to the juicy stuff. Also, neither film does a great job making its framing narrative work, if anything, V/H/S/2's is even less compelling than the first film's was.
If the original wasn't your cup of tea, and going by numerous reviews a lot of people apparently disliked the movie, then I'd still recommend checking out this sequel. It just might change your mind.
V/H/S/2 was released on VOD on June 6th, and is released in theatres July 12th.
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