Spoilers Within: Yes
The undeniable success of last year’s dreadfully uneven horror anthology V/H/S meant that there was both room and an audience for a sequel (and beyond?) for those aspiring, established and even returning horror directors to have creative control in becoming part of a collaborative compendium.
After a transitory moment of thought, I have decided that reviewing the four segments (and their connective, wraparound story) individually – with a final thought at the end – to be the best and easiest way of going about this.
‘Phase I Clinical Trials’
Director: Adam Wingard
Cast: Adam Wingard, Hannah Hughes, John T. Wood
Adam Wingard’s second short – after the original V/H/S‘s connective arc ‘Tape 56′ – is the first entry in this sequel, and also unquestionably the least exciting. Wingard himself stars as a man who loses sight in one of his eyes after a car-accident, who is then given a bionic eye with an in-built camera that records everything he sees. If you’ve seen The Pang Brothers’ The Eye, or even the Jessica Alba starring-remake, you’ll be able to see precisely where this takes us. Utilising a much more interesting method of filming than anything seen in V/H/S (or other found-footage features), the film is shot from the POV of the new eyeball, as he has what is at first a mundane evening at home. Shoehorning in another character would’ve been detrimental to the simple story, and though best efforts are taken to add in some instances of fun, the undoubtedly plagiaristic approach means that most of these problems are overshadowed by the notion that it’s been done many, many times before.
After the disappointing first segment, I presumed I was in for a repeat of the mundanity of V/H/S – and to an extent, The ABCs of Death – but Eduardo Sanchez and Greg Hale (the duo responsible for one of the scariest films of all time, The Blair Witch Project) instantly eliminates my trepidations by presenting the second creative way of eschewing the typical found-footage idiocies by way of a GoPro camera fastened to the helmet of an extreme woodland cyclist. Almost straight away the set-up is abandoned to make way for the undead carnage, with bucketful’s of viscera and a mischievous sense of humour made it all the more entertaining once it started to wrap itself up. Most certainly more inventive and tongue-in-cheek than the first segment and yet it didn’t rely on any acting proficiency nor script to make it succeed; just a heady mix of gore and humour to make even the most basic story pleasurable.
The third entry comes from The Raid: Redemption director Gareth Evans and Macabre director Timo Tjahjanto, and is, without a solitary second of doubt, the best, most complete horror short in V/H/S/2, and indeed the history of the sub-genre. If you’ve seen The Raid: Redemption (if not, why not?) then you’ll knowingly expect that this segment could go from restrained to berserk at the flip of a coin, and you’d be correct in your assumptions. With more breathing room than its precursors, ‘Safe Haven’ spends a longer time giving us a nourishing and much welcomed set-up , in which documentary filmmakers (using their cameras and/or secret camera hidden in the buttons of their clothing) infiltrate a doomsday cult with incredibly unpleasant consequences. To say that it goes crazy is an understatement, and to spoil any moment of it would be folly, but the short running time manages to blend sincere eeriness with brief-but-essential character growth, some astonishing practical effects and an unmatched kinetic energy that makes it wholly justifiable to call it a miniature masterpiece.
‘Alien Abduction Slumber Party’
Director: Jason Eisner
Cast: Riley Eisner, Rylan Logan, Samantha Gracie
The final short – brought to you by Hobo With A Shotgun director Jason Eisner – takes the creativity from the previous shorts and multiplies it by placing the camera on – of all things – a very small dog. From the off, the humour of the adolescent characters sets the tone for the most jovial of the segments, with pranks and hijinks giving us motive into the smoothly flowing events that take place. Once the ‘Alien Abduction Slumber Party’ really does begin, it’s a few minutes of run-or-die that gives purpose to why the camera is as erratic as it nauseating, in addition to some decent lighting which lends it a level of much-needed intensity.
Director: Simon Barrett
Cast: Lawrence Michael Levine, Kelsey Abbott, L.C. Holt
There isn’t much to be said for the connecting story-arc, which shows a couple of private investigators breaking in to a house, discovering the video tapes of which the film is based around. It exists essentially as the connective tissue: necessary yet never omnipresent or exasperating (unlike the obnoxious ‘Tape 56′ from V/H/S), even having has a few tricks up its sleeve. It warrants 3 stars mostly due to its finality, but also because of its simplicity and performance of wrap-around duties without ever getting in the way, whilst the final shot captures the impish exuberance seen in the preceding 90 minutes.
In all, the film is a cosmic improvement over its predecessor in practically every sense. There was nary a moment of boredom or disdain; which could be down to the brisk, satisfying flow (against the sluggish, unevenly spaced ancestor) and even the weakest of the bunch was still somewhat diverting. Not only has Evans proven he can do horror (with the help of Tjahjanto of course), but Eisner, Hale et al have brought such an absurdly fun energy to the once floundering sub-genre that it’s no wonder it completely defied my low expectations.