From the innovative minds that brought you last year’s V/H/S comes V/H/S/2, an all-new anthology of dread, madness, and gore. Searching for a missing student, two private investigators break into his abandoned house and find a collection of mysterious VHS tapes. In viewing the horrific contents of each cassette, they realize there may be terrifying motives behind the student’s disappearance.
eyelights: its improved shorts. the reduced amount of shaky-cam.
eyesores: its wrap-around story.
Though I had many opportunities, since initially watching ‘V/H/S‘ over a month ago, it took me a while getting around to ‘V/H/S/2’. It’s not for lack of interest: in fact, I’d heard that it was an improvement over its predecessor. It’s just that the last one had made me feel so ill-at-ease that I couldn’t imagine trying that again.
Thankfully, this 2013 sequel isn’t nearly as heavy on the shaky-cam stuff as the original; while it’s still of the “found footage” variety, most of it is relatively steady, giving us a first-person perspective without the stomach-churning nausea. In fact, at no point did I feel out of sorts watching this – nor did I take a break.
That’s not to say that ‘V/H/S/2’ is a far superior horror film anthology, however; it’s better, but it’s still not great. But what I find the most interesting is that each of its four main parts are greater than the whole; each would be perfectly fine on its own, but bunched and taped together with a wraparound, they’re weaker.
The wraparound story consists of a private investigator going off on a missing persons case, looking for a wealthy woman’s son. Going to the lad’s place, he and his female partner find it deserted – aside for a room filled with televisions spewing white noise, a laptop, a VCR, and a bunch of VHS tapes. There’s no sign of the guy.
So they look at his laptop for clues and, after finding a curious video that their quarry made, they begin to go through some of the many VHS tapes littering the floor.
1. Phase I Clinical Trials: In the aftermath of a debilitating car accident, a man has a cybernetic eye implant installed by his doctor. When he returns home, he begins to see shifts in the positioning of household items, as though someone were in the house. Soon thereafter he begins to see a form in his bed and people lurking about the house. Panicked, he calls his doctor and asks to have his implant adjusted, thinking that it’s a software issue. But then he receives the visit of a young woman who had an ear implant installed by the same company; he discovers that the danger is very, very real.
This one was pretty good, though I was annoyed with how glitchy his implant seemed to be – would it make sense that there’d be digital distortion? Otherwise, it was a bit creepy because beings would just pop up randomly and interact with him and/or his environment. Perhaps if there had been more of a poltergeisty element it might have been more appealing, but this was scary because we had no idea what the beings wanted – even after the girl came by to reassure him. Um… and have sex with him, which I felt was really gratuitous. And the ending, in which he takes a razor to his implant, was really stupid. 7.5
2. A Ride in the Park: I enjoyed the simplicity of this one, which finds a guy cycling in a park with a camera fixed to his helmet. During his ride, a woman comes running out at him screaming for help for her and her boyfriend. As he goes to check on the boyfriend, he starts to see zombies in the woods. Soon he’s attacked by her and turns into a zombie himself. And then the carnage spreads, with him attacking a couple of bikers and then a horde of zombies coming down on a kid’s birthday party.
What was great about this one was that it was basically a first-person zombie attack. That was a novel approach. At first it shows the cyclist get infected, die and turn (which is mostly off-camera since it’s on his head). There’s a great scene when he gets hit and run over by a truck. Wow… how’d they emulate that? It’s not a scary short, though it can get pretty gruesome, what with the zombies’ appetite for flesh (though, as he discovers, not their own). I’m not a big zombie fan, but this was good. 8.0
3. Safe Haven: A documentary crew go to Indonesia to interview a cult leader, in the hope of being granted access to his compound to investigate the cult further. To get exclusive footage, they are all wired with hidden cameras, though they also bring a traditional camera and boom mic as cover.
They are greeted warmly, but peculiar behaviour from the residents -and especially their leader- disquiet the group. Then they start digging up the cult’s secrets and, not long after, it all goes to hell, transforming their visit into an orgy of violence and death. Very few will get out of this alive.
At first, this one was interesting because it had a real-world quality to it – cults are scary. However, I found some of the character dynamics unrealistic and the notion that the “end times” would happen mid-interview was absurd. Add to that a ridiculous creature birth and the ending was ruined. 7.5
4. Slumber Party Alien Abduction: The title says it all: A bunch of kids are left alone by their parents overnight, with the daughter and her friends planning to party all night – whereas her younger brother and his friends intend on being pests and railroading the older kids’ fun. Soon the conflict is sidetracked by the appearance of aliens, who stalk and kill them.
Honestly, I like the idea of creepy aliens (of the traditionally pasty, hairless variety) swarming people in this way, but the set-up wasn’t super exciting, being just a bunch of teens acting out. And the aliens weren’t really that scary, especially in light of the fact that much of the footage was shot on a dog cam, which added a kitschy quality to the proceedings. Oh well. 7.0
During the viewing, which is predominantly done by the P.I.’s assistant while he’s looking around the house, we see someone lurking in the background. Midway, she’s feeling unwell and has completely dazed out while watching a video, so the P.I. goes to get her something at the pharmacy. Upon his return, however, she’s worse.
Much, much worse.
Naturally it all devolves into a final outburst of violence. And that’s perfectly fine, but I had an issue with the notion that she would be sick and, instead of quitting for the night and taking her to the pharmacy, he would leave her alone to continue watching videos. It lacked empathy to such a degree that I simply didn’t buy it.
Further to that, the whole concept of people finding TVs, a VCR and some tapes has already been done in the first one and it was already a stretch. This one’s no better because we’re not quite sure what the young man in the video is on about and what the purpose of all these tapes might be. It’s all so sketchy that it feels superfluous.
And that’s too bad. With a decent wraparound story (which is a rarity in these anthologies, I must admit), ‘V/H/S/2’ might have been a decent product. As it stands, however, it’s merely a collection of good short films cobbled together poorly. It’s nonetheless a better film to its predecessor – but I guess that’s not saying much, is it?
Post scriptum: Since the third one, ‘V/H/S: Viral’ is by all accounts the worst of the lot, it’s unlikely I’ll get around to it. But you never know, I suppose…
Date of viewing: September 17, 2016