V/H/S 2 (Magnet Releasing, NR)

film vhs2_75He has a freaking Terminator robot eye! That is crazy!





film vhs2

You know that Godfather quote, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in”? That’s how I feel about found-footage horror movies. The last time I thought I was out was less than a year ago, when Sundance sensation V/H/S was released. I was already sick of the genre and couldn’t wait for a movie to breathe some life into it. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. The film had some interesting segments, but overall it was too long and baggy, and I hated everyone in the movie. Cut to this year’s Sundance, and the sequel is already done. Not only is it done, but people who praised V/H/S suddenly seem to agree that the first film was heavily flawed and that the second one is a vast improvement. So, despite my better judgment, I once again allowed myself to get excited about the found-footage/anthology franchise.

Like the first film, V/H/S 2, uses one segment (“Tape 49”) as a framing device for the other segments. Like in the first film, it involves people breaking into a house where they find a collection of strange VHS tapes, which they watch. And, like in the first film, I really don’t give a shit. At least here, the characters are slightly less repellant than last time, but it’s still just a bridge to the real segments and not much more.

The first real short is called “Phase 1 Clinical Trials,” and it is directed by and stars Adam Wingard. I still haven’t seen Wingard’s long-awaited You’re Next, and he was responsible for the despicable framing segment in the original V/H/S, but having seen his shorts for The ABCs of Death and V/H/S 2, I think I get what he’s about. He never takes himself too seriously, which I like. The story involves him losing an eye and getting an experimental robot eye that records video. Unfortunately, it also allows him to see ghosts. This story is almost directly ripped off from the Chinese film The Eye, and its pretty straightforward ghost stuff. What makes it stand out is that he has a freaking Terminator robot eye! That is crazy! Wingard’s personality also goes a long way. This is easily the weakest of the main segments, but it’s still pretty enjoyable.

“A Ride in the Park” is directed by Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale, two of the people behind The Blair Witch Project. This story is filmed with a GoPro, one of those cute little cameras with a very wide lens, which can be attached to just about anything. In this case, it is attached to the helmet of a cyclist as he rides through the woods. I didn’t know where this story was going, so I won’t get into specifics, but Sanchez and Hale use the GoPro in a very creative way, giving us a fresh take on a subgenre which has been severely overdone. It’s not particularly scary, but it’s very clever, and I liked it quite a bit.

The next segment is called “Safe Haven,” and it is co-directed by Timo Tjahjanto, who made one of the most shocking entries in The ABCs of Death, and Gareth Evans, who directed The Raid: Redemption. The Raid was enough to catapult Evans to the genre A-list, but it was an action movie, so I was very curious to see how he would handle a horror story. “Safe Haven” follows an Indonesian news crew as they investigate a strange cult involving children, and it is absolutely fantastic.

One of the big problems with V/H/S was that each segment had to start with characters acting normally for a while before everything went crazy. The repetitiveness of this mixed with how unlikable the characters were made that movie feel long and tedious. “Safe Haven” is the longest segment in V/H/S 2, and has a pretty long buildup, which is surprising from the guy who made The Raid. But the buildup is done perfectly. The cult being investigated is interesting from the very start, and even though it takes a while for the shit to hit the fan, we can’t help feeling uneasy about the whole thing. Lest I give Evans all the credit, Tjahjanto’s ABCs of Death short dealt with similarly weird cultish activities, although the perversion is much more toned down here. The creepiness keeps us engaged through the slower scenes, and once chaos breaks out, it is masterfully handled. As a standalone short, “Safe Haven” would be strong enough to justify seeing the whole movie, even if the other segments all sucked, which they don’t.

The final segment is called “Slumber Party Alien Abduction,” and it’s pretty much what it sounds like. It is directed by Jason Eisener, who did Hobo with a Shotgun, and involves kids at a slumber party being attacked by aliens. The big twist here is that the camera (another GoPro; I can’t wait for every segment in the third film to be shot entirely with Google Glass) is mounted on a dog, which gives a unique perspective. Because of this perspective, the short features a small dog in peril, which I should mention for those who, like me, are sensitive to such things. It’s not my favorite of the bunch, but I love the look of the aliens, and because it involves kids, it has an old-school ’80s vibe, which I appreciated.

Just about everything that was wrong with V/H/S is fixed in V/H/S 2. There are fewer segments, and aside from the framing one, all of them are good. More importantly, the movie is fun. Modern horror tends to focus on cruelty, and V/H/S played into that: The characters were almost all misogynist assholes, and the brutality inflicted on them was more depressing than enjoyable. Each segment in V/H/S 2 gives the characters moments that make us like, or at least care a little bit about them, and the violence is more fantastical than vicious. It’s available On Demand now, and will be showing at the Tivoli as a midnight movie. As usual, the theater would be the ideal place to see the film, but if you can’t make it there, I still say V/H/S 2 is well worth your time. | Sean Lass

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