This sequel to last year's anthology of short horror films is an improvement in every way.
A radical improvement over the film that preceded it, V/H/S/ 2 corrects everything the first one did wrong. Producers Brad Miska and Gary Binkow, who originally conceived of an anthology of short horror films all shot in first person and in the found-footage style, appear to have carefully considered the reviews that greeted last year’s edition. The sequel is a half-hour shorter, with just four stories (plus a connecting wrap-around that links them together). The nausea-inducing shaky cam has been minimized (there’s still a lot of it, but you don’t get sick this time) and the acting and production values are noticeably better.
Best of all, the films themselves are terrific, sick fun — irresistible fodder for gorehounds. The weakest entry in the bunch is Simon Barrett’s Tape 49, in which two private investigators pore over a collection of mysterious videotapes. The story serves as the connecting tissue between each film, but it’s nowhere near as obnoxious as the one used in the original, and it doesn’t eat up much screen time, either.
Adam Wingard directed and stars in Phase I Clinical Trials, playing a man who loses an eye in an accident and gets as a replacement an experimental camera implant that will record everything he sees. “You might see some glitches,” his doctor warns him. That turns out to be a colossal understatement.
Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale, the director and producer of The Blair Witch Project, the granddaddy of all first-person found-footage pictures, return with the innocently titled A Ride in the Park, about a guy riding his bike in the park. This is a fiendishly clever and super-fun take on zombie movies that does something with the genre I had never seen before, then pushes the idea much further than you might imagine. In terms of pure gore, this short outdoes all of the others, making even The Walking Dead seem tame. The squeamish beware.
Coming in a close second in the blood-and-guts department is Safe Haven, a collaboration between directors Gareth Evans (The Raid: Redemption) and Timo Tjahjanto that is the most ambitious of all the shorts. The story centers on a crew of documentary filmmakers who persuade the leader of a mysterious commune called Paradise Gates to sit down for an interview and allow them inside the compound. Although the short occasionally breaks the first-person rule by resorting to security camera footage, you’re too wrapped up in what’s happening to care. Safe Haven is so engrossing and original, it feels like a stand-alone film. Every time you thing the situation couldn't get worse for the protagonists, it does.
Closing out the movie is Slumber Party Alien Abduction, which is exactly what it sounds like. Director Jason Eisener (Hobo with a Shotgun) shoots the movie in a style that reflects the energy of his young characters, teenagers of various ages who invite their friends over for a sleepover when their parents go out of town. Eisener comes up with some ingenious ways to film the action (including strapping a camera to a dog), and the short plays like a particularly frightening nightmare filled with impressionistic images and sounds that will startle even the most jaded viewers. In terms of the sheer scariness of the aliens, the short shames its big-budget brethren such as Prometheus. Like the rest of the other filmmakers, Eisener proves creativity and imagination always trump sleek special effects and hollow spectacle. V/H/S/ 2 is raw and rough-edged and rude. It is also, for the hardcore horror fan, a total blast.
Cast: Lawrence Michael Levine, Kelsy Abbott, Adam Wingard, Hannah Hughes, Jay Saunders, Bette Cassatt, Fachry Albar, Hannah Al Rashid, Rebecca Babcock, Zack Ford.
Writers-directors: Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Gareth Evans, Gregg Hale, Eduardo Sanchez, Timo Tjahjanto, Adam Wingard.
Producers: Brad Miska, Gary Binkow.
A Magnet Releasing release. Running time: 96 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity, sexual situations, extreme violence, severe gore. In Miami-Dade only: O Cinema Wynwood