SXSW ’13 – V/H/S/2 Review


Apocalyptic overtones mark a better, scarier found footage anthology

V/H/S/2 manages to improve on its predecessor by taking a strategy completely opposite to most sequels – it keeps things simple. By tightening up the number of segments (only four stories make up the found footage horror anthology this time around) and tightening up the pace of those stories, V/H/S/2 easily becomes the superior film.

Similar to the last go-around, V/H/S/2 is built around the idea of a mysterious network of VHS traders.  In the sequel, a detective is hired to investigate a missing college student with possible ties to the group of miscreants who were at the center of the first film’s bookends. The detective, on the trail of the missing student, discovers a hoard of VHS tapes and tasks his young assistant to sort through them. As each tape is viewed, a story from a different filmmaker (or team of filmmakers) plays out.

The theme of this sequel’s crop of stories seems to be vaguely apocalyptic. Are these tapes glimpses at the way parallel Earths have met their end? Answers to the overarching mythology of the V/H/S series are as forthcoming as true answers to most of the segments’ individual stories. The power of V/H/S/2 is in its ability to take the audience on a ride through the thrill of unknown terror. While each segment is longer than the last film’s segments, on average, this extra bit of running time is not dedicated to layering on exposition. Story, like most of the cameras used throughout the film, is mostly out of focus.

Gareth Huw Evans (The Raid) and Timo Tjahjanto easily steals the show with their segment “Safe Haven” – a story that follows a documentary crew as they explore the compound of a death-worshiping cult. Or perhaps death isn’t exactly what the cult is worshiping – as the documentary crew discovers when shit (and body parts) hit the fan and proceed to slide down the walls. “Safe Haven” shows the strength and potential of found footage in all its glory. When done properly, the format allows for an experience that is not unlike a roller coaster – audiences are tossed and twirled around without being given a chance to catch their breath or take in their surroundings. When made to view the horror unfold through a forced perspective, it is what is just outside the frame that’s most frightening.

Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale, two men responsible for the current rise of found footage with their film The Blair Witch Project, return to the format for “A Ride in the Park.” The segment is a zombie story that takes a novel approach to the sub-genre by telling the story from the perspective of the zombie – or, more specifically, a camera attached to the bicycle helmet of a man recently zombified. At times comical and at other times profoundly tragic, “A Ride in the Park” is a simple horror story told in a decidedly unsimple way. The technical wizardry that went into constructing some of the segment’s cutaways is remarkable. It’s proof of the evolution of the found footage format to compare the story Sanchez was able to tell with his V/H/S/2 segment with Blair Witch Project.

Adam Wingard’s “Clinical Trials” is the slickest looking segment – told from the perspective of a man who has a video card installed into an artificial eyeball. Wingard, who also stars in the segment, has a great screen presence but the story, the test subject discovers he is able to see ghosts through his new eye, feels rushed and half-baked. The scares that are there in the film, though, are strong enough to overcome the basic narrative structure of the short.

Jason Eisener’s “Alien Abduction Slumber Party” is at unrelenting as you might expect a segment from the director of Hobo With A Shotgun to be. A group of kids playing around with their video camera unwittingly record their own alien abduction. Eisner’s initial playful approach to a film about kids is reminiscent of the work Fred Decker – making all the more shocking when the aliens show up and things cease to be funny. Unfortunately, Eisner’s desire to take an authentic approach to capturing the film with a shitty-ass recorder means that half the dialogue is hard to hear. It’s this same authenticity that leads to Eisner’s short being one of the best to properly explore the idea of the unseen terror – the camera during the majority of his short is tied to the back of a lapdog.

If V/H/S/2 is but the start of a yearly horror franchise, horror fans have good reason to look forward to many more installments to come. The producers (led by Brad Miska) have a strong eye for recruiting talent to their project and have easily shown they can learn from their mistakes and make movies that build upon the legacy of those that have come before.

Directors: Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Eduardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale, Gareth Huw Evans, Timo Tjahjanto and Jason Eisener
Writers: Simon Barrett, Jamie Nash, Timo Tjahjanto, Gareth Huw Evans and John Davies
Notable Cast: Lawrence Michael Levine and Kelsey Abbot