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We’ve got a rarity, folks. More than 2012’s solid horror short amalgamation V/H/S which was primarily an assault on our primal fears (and descended into emotional bleakness at times because of it) this follow-up, while still hitting the right nerves, is also funnier, more self aware, more emotionally potent, and unafraid to venture into the far reaches of the genre. Instead of just ghostly tales presented in the found footage format we get infinitely clever approaches to zombies, aliens, demons and, for good measure, spirits as well.
It is such a rarity because everything about V/H/S/2 is superior to the original even if I would have loved to see the veritable Ti West (who directed a segment as well as feature fare House of the Devil and The Innkeepers) return for another go I can’t raise any other grudges. This sequel is leaner by a good 30 minutes, as I mentioned the segments are more varied in their sub genre, the framing story (i.e. the context as to why we’re watching these vignettes) is scarier and lastly the film is more effective and as a whole because, simply put, the segments are aggregately stronger.
Also for round two, behind each story are better known directors, though of course notoriety isn’t always an indication of talent, their experience behind the camera and in the genre is certainly on display. Returning for another go are Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard who contribute the wrap-around entry and Phase I Clinical Trials respectively, and are joined by Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale (The Blair Witch Project) with A Ride in the Park, Gareth Evans (The Raid) with Safe Haven and lastly Jason Eisner (Hobo With a Shotgun) with the wonderfully titled Alien Abduction Slumber Party.
By far the two strongest stories are A Ride in the Park and Safe Haven. Though I may be biased, my personal favourite is the former. Why you ask? One word: zombies. With my affinity for the flesh chompers through the roof, any unique take on the genre wins my affection to an extent and when it is as fun, gory and bittersweet as A Ride in the Park my heart belongs to it indefinitely. This segment follows a mountain biker with a helmet cam running into a hoard of the undead, is subsequently bitten, and then gives birth to zombie vision (by far the best type of vision). The camera work, dark humour and understanding of the tragic, damned nature of these creatures gels to truly wonderful effect.
Safe Haven on the other hand is just balls-out insane, taking the kinetic blood letting of Evans’ The Raid and blending it with the sensibilities of Rosemary’s Baby and Martha Marcy May Marlene. When Evans isn’t directing the hell out of his short, he’s presenting us with some truly unsettling imagery before going all Cabin in the Woods and setting us down in a completely different place then when we started. One scene in particular that showcases his filmmaking prowess comes during a sequence involving a car crash. How anyone could pull off such a shot is beyond me but to do so with no budget is another achievement entirely.
The other two main segments aren’t quite as strong but what they lack in sustained ingenuity they make up for in straight up efficiency. Phase I Clinical Trials is essentially a mechanized blend of The Eye though the scares are certainly present. There is a sense of déjà vu in how a number of the sequences unfurl but if they can still make you grip your own fingers, then something is going right. Alien Invasion Slumber Party is a fantastic exercise in the use of sound as a force of Greys terrorizes a group of teens at a lakehouse. Anybody versed in horror will be no stranger to how important sound and musical chords are (and how often they’re abused) and their significance is literally amplified here. Eisner’s contribution may not be as scary as some of the others, but its urgency and sense of dread make up for it.
I already iterated the upgrade that was the connecting material (featuring a pair of private investigators looking for a missing college student) though it suffers from the same inherent fault of that from the first film, that in having to break it up, tension is lost along the way. But far less then the original does it feel like a slog or burden – a watch-watcher while we wait for the next instalment to begin.
Horror fans should ultimately love what V/H/S/2 is dishing out, if not for its startling competency for the fact it has something for everyone. Not only that it uses its found footage format not to pander to fans of the popular gimmick but to both enhance the experience and approach it as a barrier – one that needs to be overcome using creative means. This anthology is a blast from beginning to end and the rare sequel of any genre to recognize the shortcomings of the first and not only fix them but freshen everything else up as well.