V/H/S 2 (Simon Barrett et al., 2013)
I went into V/H/S 2 with no small amount of trepidation, given how much the first had been talked up and how mediocre it ended up being. This was reinforced when I saw that some of the usual suspects were back, but Adam Wingard turned in his best film in six years with You’re Next, and one of the new guys who signed on is the inimitable Jason Eisener, who helmed the mighty Treevenge before gaining fame and fortune with Hobo with a Shotgun, so I figured maybe it would be better this time around. And it is; lessons were learned from the first flick, and as a result, the editors had much freer reign in the cutting room; the film weighs in at a trim ninety-five minutes.
This time, the frame was directed by Simon Barrett, who you saw in front of the screen in the first movie (and who wrote both the frame and “Phase I Clinical Trials”), and it starts out leagues better than the frame in the first movie. A PI, Larry (Gayby‘s Lawrence Michael Levine), and his partner/girlfriend/something-or-other Ayesha (TV character actress Kelsy Abbott) are hired by the mother of Kyle (You’re Next‘s L. C. Holt), a college student to find him after he’s been missing a week. They break into his house and find much the same setup as we saw in the first movie, and while Larry looks around the apartment, Ayesha starts digging through his computer and, after finding a vlog where he makes reference to the tape sitting right next to her, she pops it into the player.
“Phase I Clinical Trials”, directed by Wingard, is the first of the shorts, and in many ways it’s the best of the lot. Herman (Wingard) lost an eye in an auto accident and has been fitted with a prosthetic (with recording capability, natch). All is relatively well until that night, when he sees a couple of apparitions. All is not right in Herman’s head, it would seem. (Don’t worry, that’s only the first cheesy TV show reference in this review.) The next day, Clarissa (Awakened‘s Hannah Hughes), a woman who was at the doctor’s office with Herman, shows up on his doorstep. He blows her off until she tells him he’s not the only one having weird paranormal experiences. I haven’t read any reviews or commentary yet, but I’m guessing a lot of people are complaining about the ending. Don’t listen to them.
Next comes “A Ride in the Park”, from Eduardo Sánchez (Lovely Molly) and Gregg Hale (Say Yes Quickly). A zombie apocalypse, from the zombie’s point of view. Not awful…until you get to the ending. Then it is.
“Safe Haven” comes next, and I’m still trying to decide what I think about it. While I was watching the movie, it blew me away. While there’s obviously a supernatural element to it all, this story about a crazy Indonesian cult, brought to us by Timo Tjahjanto (Macabre) and Gareth Huw Evans (The Raid: Redemption), most has the ring of the possible about it, at least until the final third. Even then, the shenanigans the piece gets up to are creepily effective, and when the punchline hits—or splatters—it’s still pretty amazing. Then they tacked on the final three minutes and the whole thing becomes a shaggy dog joke. I grant you, it’s a funny shaggy dog joke, but still, it doesn’t really fit with the rest of the piece. Despite that, it’s very artfully done until then, and I’ll be looking for more from these guys.
The last of the batch is Eisener’s contribution, “Slumber Party Alien Abduction”, and I wish I could say I liked it better than I did. Eisener’s strength has always been his ability to combine humor and gore in a way more effective than most directors this side of early Sam Raimi. Here, however, he ditches the humor and plays it straight. Bad idea. A large part of me wants to compare it to M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, but it doesn’t suck that bad.
And throughout, I’ve been forgetting to talk about the gradual, but in hindsight kind of inevitable, decline of the frame story, which is thrown into pretty stark contrast when you compare its ending to that of Wingard’s piece, which goes for the same style (without being spoily, we’ll call it “ambiguous, but in such a way that you know exactly what happens after the camera dies”) and pulls it off much more successfully than Barrett does here.
All in all, I liked it well enough. It’s still not the second coming of the horror anthology we were promised with the first movie; the Southeast Asian film market is still kicking our asses when it comes to anthology films (viz. Zoo or Rampo Noir for excellent Asian examples of the genre). But if the guys behind this series keep up the same increase in quality when the inevitable V/H/S 3 comes around, they may be within spitting distance of the first really good American horror anthology flick since 1983’s Nightmares. ** ½
Red band trailer.