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By LastCaress1972 January 30, 2017
Are you just about done with the anthology horror mini-revival? Sick to death of cinéma vérité? Well... I was about to say, "Move along, then; there's nothing for you here," but that wouldn't be fair on this movie OR you. If you're through with first-person perspective found-footage portmanteau horrors then fine, but just stay for one more. Please? Because it's a belter, this one.
Last year's V/H/S was IMO terrific, but it had its flaws. The wraparound story and the first story proper gave the movie a disturbing early feeling of misogyny thanks to both stories' protagonists having sexual gratification of one manner or another as their principal reason for filming their actions, the film's running time struggled to cope with six tales being told, and the shaky first-person cameras were the shakiest of shaky, nausea-inducing cameras in the history of the first-person perspective. Thankfully for the sequel, nobody's shooting footage for the sake of amateur pornography (an early tit-shot establishes our wraparound-segment protagonist as a private investigator, but that's it until some much lighter, more jocular sex-filming exchanges in the last segment, of which more later), V/H/S/2 is telling five stories in all rather than six (hopefully by V/H/S/3 they'll have learned a further lesson: The wraparound stories are completely redundant, so let's ditch 'em), and that extra time is put to good use, and the shaky-cam... it's still there of course - goes hand-in-hand with the territory - but it's just nowhere near as bad. For the most part.
So, to the stories themselves:
"Tape 49" - The wraparound segment, directed by Simon Barrett (who wrote the wraparound segment for V/H/S - "Tape 56" - as well as the segment "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger" for that earlier movie; he also wrote You're Next and the IMO excellent horror/western Dead Birds). Concerning a private eye and his partner on the trail of a missing student, they come across a house not unlike the one in the first picture, full of not much but stacks of old switched-on CRT televisions and VHS cassette players, and even larger stacks of VHS tapes themselves. They find a laptop with footage of the missing boy, sitting in that very room and explaining about how watching some of these VHS tapes in a certain order will... affect people. Quite how, I'll not say. Suffice to say though that while our private dick searches the house, his partner sits and watches the tapes (these are the four segments making up the main body of V/H/S/2), and trouble abounds. It's a big upgrade on the unlikeable wraparound from the first movie but it's still largely unnecessary and despite some good horror action towards the very end, it made little sense and was subsequently by virtue of its nature the weakest tale of the lot.
Segment 1. "Phase I Clinical Trials" - Directed by Adam Wingard (You're Next, V/H/S segment "Tape 56", The ABCs of Death segment "Q is for Quack"), this is a fairly straightforward and derivative piece (The Sixth Sense? The Eye?) about a guy who, following an eye operation to replace his blind right eye with an experimental electronic eye which for the purposes of data collection records everything it "sees" (a fairly ingenious if slightly laboured use of the first-person perspective I thought, also neatly sidestepping the thorny "Why are they still FILMING?!?" issue that besets all of these sorts of films), starts seeing - you guessed it - dead people. Nothing original to see here in terms of the story, but Wingard's ever-improving directional skills keep the tension levels up and interesting throughout. Not an especially strong start, but a decent start.
Segment 2. "A Ride in the Park" - Co-directed by the criminally-underrated Eduardo Sánchez (yes, him. Co-director of found-footage great-grandaddy The Blair Witch Project; also did the absolutely fantastic Altered, plus Seventh Moon and Lovely Molly) and his long-time producer buddy Gregg Hale, and co-written by Sánchez and his long-time writing partner Jamie Nash, this one came with heavy expectations and it didn't disappoint at all. A cracking flat-out zombie fest filmed almost entirely from the perspective of a cyclist's helmet-mounted Go-Pro camera. Our - hero? - Mike takes his bike out for a lovely early-morning spin through the park and is immediately attacked and bitten by a zombie, one of several ambling through these woods. He escapes, runs away, staggers, falters, drops to the floor and dies. Then he gets up. From there on in it's a zombie's-eye view of the carnage and gore, finishing with a flourish on a surprisingly touching note. For zombies, like. Excellent short story. Probably the best segment not only of this movie so far (it's certainly that) but of the V/H/S franchise so far.
Segment 3. "Safe Haven" - Another strong directorial collaboration here, this time between Gareth Huw Evans (The Raid) and Timo Tjahjanto (The ABCs of Death segment "L is for Libido"). Taking up 30 minutes of V/H/S/2's entire runtime (and worth every second), Safe haven concerns a documentary news crew who - using both conventional professional cameras and mics plus hidden "button"-cams - go to film the shenanigans at a remote Indonesian compound, in which is housed a "Heaven's Gate"-style Doomsday cult comprised of their enigmatic leader - The Father - his "family" of wives/lovers and (many) children plus other assorted cult members. It is implied that "The Father" is promoting and engaging in underage sex with some of the members, and it's this angle the news crew most want to pursue. They end up however with something very different.
Managing to look and feel like an exquisite blend of the co-directors' other works The Raid and "L is for Libido" with a good dollop of Doom 3 or some other survival horror game thrown in for good measure, this short represents the best thing that either V/H/S movie has offered us thus far. It's creepy, then it's tense, then it's frantic and as gory as gore gets (all justifiably and within the context of a good tale well told, I might add). If there's a teeny-tiny criticism it could be that a practical visual effect at the very very end of the short (you'll know it when you see it) doesn't quite work and against the otherwise staggering look of all that preceded it, it's quite jarring. However, I'm nitpicking. "Safe Haven" is a superior piece and with a few dollars thrown at it could make an excellent and terrifying expanded movie in its own right.
Segment 4. "Slumber Party Alien Abduction" - directed by Jason Eisener (Hobo With a Shotgun, The ABCs of Death segment "Y is for Youngbuck"). Eisener seems to be a bit of a "love him or loathe him" director. I WANT to like him but I find his output as frustrating as it is novel, and this is no exception. Essentially, a bunch of kids of varying ages have free reign over their lakeside house, and fill their time with happy, video-based tomfoolery including strapping a camera to their dog to see what he films, blasting one another with urine-filled water guns and busting in on one anothers' "intimate" time, be that one of the girls with her boyfriend or one of the doofus young teenagers with his hand, a porno and some time to kill. So far, so goofy. Until a violent attack by a band of hostile classic "Grey" aliens kicks off. It's a good idea and the story itself is fine, but this is the one short in the pack that continues to suffer badly from the first movie's shaky-cam syndrome. Once the action starts, you'll struggle to see what's happening. Good stuff, but frustrating. And coming as it does after two truly excellent segments, just a trifle deflating.
So, segments 1 and 4 are of a standard comparable to the first movie, the wraparound piece is an improvement, but the middle two shorts are worth the ticket money on their own and elevate V/H/S/2 above its older sibling and above much of today's horror fare in general. Well recommended.
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