V/H/S/2 is enough of an improvement to suggest there’s still a reason to keep making these films.
It comes as no surprise that a sequel has already come out less than a year later after the success of V/H/S. The quick turnaround is also not a surprise considering the low budget and format of the anthology itself (in fact, this movie was ready to go before the first one officially hit theatres). People discover a pile of VHS tapes and put them on one by one, with each piece of found footage on the videos making up a short. The predecessor’s lazy appropriation of found footage aesthetics are still here, but the conceptual insanity of the tapes have been upped considerably. The trade-off between committing to the format and maximizing entertainment value works enough to make V/H/S/2 an improvement over V/H/S, even if it’s only a marginal one.
Simon Barrett handles directing duties for “Tape 49,” the wraparound segment which is just as forgettable as V/H/S’ “Tape 56.” This time the poor souls discovering the tapes are two private investigators who break into a house and find a pile of videos waiting for them. There are some vague pieces of information in this short that expand the series’ mythology, but none of it is particularly interesting or memorable. Its only purpose is to act as a palate cleanser between segments, a job it does well even if it’s not for the right reasons.
Adam Wingard, who directed “Tape 56” in the last film, is first up with “Phase I Clinical Trials.” This short is the most derivative one, as it feels like The Pang Brothers’ The Eye ported into the found footage genre. After getting an eye transplant that uses a camera to help regain vision, a man (Wingard) begins seeing ghosts as the transplant picks up on the same frequencies the undead exist on. The segment, filmed entirely from the eye-cam, feels like a leftover from the first film. It’s lazy, filled with bad jump scares and eye-roll worthy excuses for exposition and nudity.
The next tape is the first one by a new director in the series. Eduardo Sanchez, the co-director of The Blair Witch Project, tries his hand at a zombie film with “A Ride in the Park.” The main selling point on this tape is its unique gimmick, where a biker with a helmet cam gets bitten by a zombie and turns into one. The POV zombie twist is definitely original, but that doesn’t mean it’s especially good. The segment’s ending, a surprising attempt at making the zombie protagonist human, doesn’t work due to the truncated nature of the storyline.
The third short, which functions as a centerpiece of the entire film, is Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto’s “Safe Haven.” Since V/H/S/2 premiered this has been the one thing everyone’s been talking about, and it more than lives up to the hype. A documentary crew profiles a cult leader and, while visiting his compound for an interview, get caught up in the middle of something far worse than anyone could imagine. This is not only the series’ highpoint by a country mile, it’s also the best horror film of the year (even if it’s only 30 minutes). Evans, who wowed people with The Raid: Redemption last year, once again seems heavily influenced by John Carpenter with his slow building of dread before unleashing pure apocalyptic insanity. It won’t be a surprise if people end up buying V/H/S/2 on video only so they can get their hands on this segment.
Unfortunately for Jason Eisener, he has to follow Evans and Tjahjanto’s gonzo horror masterpiece with “Alien Abduction Slumber Party.” Thankfully it’s a good closing short for the film, and the only one that feels committed to the found footage format. The self-explanatory title sums up the story, as a group of young kids partying while their parents are away get attacked by aliens. The footage comes from a camera that was mounted on their pet dog, which makes most of the segment incompressible, but it’s largely the point. There are only hints of the insanity going on in “Slumber Party,” and the frantic nature makes it a more exciting watch.
By simply reducing the number of tapes in this film by one, V/H/S/2 is a leaner and meaner sequel. It continues in the first film’s tradition of adapting old horror subgenres (ghosts, zombies, apocalyptic horror and aliens, respectively) into the found footage format while ramping up the absurdity. It’s a predictable direction for the series to go, but a welcome one nonetheless. Only time will tell if a second sequel will provide diminishing returns for the series, but as of now V/H/S/2 is enough of an improvement to suggest there’s still a reason to keep making these films.