Unlike many anthology films, V/H/S 2 maintains a steady pace, offering a steady stream of suspense that delivers through every moment of the film. Following in the footsteps of V/H/S 1, this sequel surpasses its predecessor in every way, providing horror fans a well-written vignette chronicling a series of unfortunate fates at the hands of the unbelievable.
Through its procession, this movie tackles the even more unimaginable task of pleasing the sharply divided fans of both classic and modern horror films, offering up one and a half hours of suspenseful gore, anxiety, and every other attribute that makes a horror film worth watching. Essentially, V/H/S 2 tells four stories, each shot by a different director whose name carries weight in the horror genre. Employing found footage shorts akin to Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project, viewers join private investigators Larry (Lawrence Michael Levine) and Ayesha (Kelsey Abbott) on their self-filmed search for a missing college student. After breaking into the student’s seemingly abandoned apartment, the duo finds a collection of VHS recordings of unnerving content, all of which tie into a larger, equally as horrific plot that the investigators themselves face.
The overall plot of the movie is vague – though intertwined, each story does little to define the overall story unfolding before filmgoers. Yet this does nothing to diminish the quality of the film, instead embracing the ambiguous nature that can either make or break a horror flick. The most notable of these stories is “Safe Haven,” an inventive segment that follows a news crew documenting an Indonesian cult and its bloodthirsty leader known as “the father.” Comprised of suspense-building, elusive dialogue (a small child tells the journalists, “I’m not a little girl anymore. Father took care of that.”), disturbing rituals, and a series of twists and turns that spirals into a supernatural foray including a demon and zombie-like figures, this story portrays everyday personal dramas, an unusual yet plausible place, and an imaginative spiraling into the supernatural.
Mostly viewed from the first person, a rare feat accomplished by films like Enter the Void, the audience is treated to a truly frightening, tension-building series of events that deserves its own place among memorable horror moments. And it’s in good company, too. Without being campy, stories like “Phase I Clinical Trials” embark on the genre’s clichés without doing them injustice. This segments blend of mundane events like boiling tea and playing videogames with encounters with ghosts terrorizing his home lends the first person view a unique, almost realistic feel, as if the viewer is within the action. Despite appearing rather typical, the ghosts in this story are more frightening then those usually encountered in films about the dead. Viewed from the perspective of the main character’s prosthetic camera eye, the ghosts linger on screen longer than they often do in films, often staying in focus when the view momentarily shies away in disbelief. Lending to its more realistic feel (at least on the scale of ghost stories), the main character’s reactions and hesitance to reenter the ghosts’ dwellings seem more genuine than those typically shown on the big screen. Perhaps most surprisingly successful are the script’s attempts to fully explain the plot unfolding before viewers (the ghosts are viewed on a frequency that the eye can detect). Though implausible, their true-to-form nature elegantly pushes the film onward.
The only moment risking the film’s otherwise fluid tempo is the segment “Slumber Party Alien Abduction.” Directed by Jason Eisner (Hobo with a Shotgun, The ABCs of Death), this story employs all the usual disappointments analogous to the found footage scene – self-thwarted suspense, awfully constructed horrific figures, using the tactics of a cheesy horror flick while seemingly attempting to be serious. Though not terrible, “Slumber Party” fails to captivatingly embrace the horror standards reflected in its sibling stories. Its saving grace is the uniquely realistic dialogue between the teenage characters carrying out the action. Given this, “Slumber Party” successfully makes the viewer feel part of the teenage antics used against one another. That is, until the aliens attack. From then on, it is the only story in the series that makes you wonder when this movie may end.
Overall, V/H/S 2 serves as a sort of ode of the VHS days of horror, incorporating all the tricks of the trade with a spin for the updated, all the while succeeding in the production of a tasteful, fun, and surprisingly scary film. It’s worth a watch.
V/H/S 2 opens nationdwide July 12th. Watch the trailer here.