Review: V/H/S/2 (2013)

The second installment in the anthology series proves that sequels can improve on the original formula.

vhs2 post imageV/H/S/2 (2013)

DIRECTORS: Simon Barrett (segment: TAPE 49), Jason Eisner (segment: SLUMBER PARTY ALIEN ABDUCTION) Gareth Evans (segment: SAFE HAVEN), Gregg Hale (segment: A RIDE IN THE PARK), Eduardo Sanchez (segment: A RIDE IN THE PARK), Timo Tjahjanto (segment: SAFE HAVEN), Adam Wingard (segment: PHASE 1 CLINICAL TRIALS)

CAST: Kelsey Abbot, Hannah Al Rashid, Fachy Albar


Michael Dougherty’s TRICK R’ TREAT hit the festival circuit in 2007 and sat a shelf for a few years after developing a considerable buzz. When it was finally released, it breathed new life into a long dormant horror film tradition, the anthology. One of the films that followed it was V/H/S, an anthology in which each segment would be directed by one of the up and coming horror directors of the day. Through some canny marketing it did quite well on home video and in a short term limited release. As a film, it was somewhat uneven, as there were extreme shifts in tone and quality between the separate shorts that comprised the film. Worse, it was unnecessarily nihilistic, with a sadistic voyeurism and at least one segment exuded a striking level of casual misogyny. The whole experience resulted more in the feeling that a shower was immediately necessary than calling or texting friends to enthusiastically recommend it. It was definitely effective, but whether or not it was any good can and has been argued on many a website already.

V/H/S/2 conquers almost all of the problems of the first film, most importantly those extreme shifts in quality and tone, and unlikeable protagonists. Viewers will all have different opinions about which particular segment is their favorite, but all of them have their merits and there isn’t a single segment that is just plainly sub-par. As with any anthology film, the subject matter of each segment is very different, but the overall tone holds throughout. There’s a fun aspect to this installment that was at times lacking from it’s predecessor.

Where the first film relied heavily on an exploitation/sleaze factor, this one successfully avoids wading into those murky waters and turns it’s attention to crafting surprising, scare and gore filled stories that have an unceasing forward momentum. The result is an unceasing experience that hurdles the audience through the film with fluidity, a few good laughs and some genuinely scary moments. The first film was filled with characters that were wholly unlikeable. It meant that in every segment the audience was put in the position of having little to no choice but to hope that they were going to be dispatched in some spectacular way. V/H/S/2 avoids that by either establishing enough backstory or making the characters and their environments familiar enough to give the audience a chance to identify with them immediately. Being that it’s an anthology and therefore, each segment is essentially it’s own short film, there isn’t enough time to lay significant groundwork for the characters, but it’s far more than the original had, and enough to make a few of the segments have a modicum of emotional punch.  The only exception to that being the wrap around segment that connects the rest of them. It still focuses on characters that aren’t very likable, and never really establishes much of a reason the audience would have any hope to see them survive. Instead, it more or less starts out with a solid foundation for the audience to genuinely dislike them. Beyond this though, the writers and directors find new and interesting ways to play with the genres their respective stories belong to. Each one takes unexpected turns that up the ante, without seeming like they’re completely out of left field and unearned. They’re also successful in one of the hardest balancing acts in horror. None of them shy away from blood, gore, violence or disturbing content, while still being able to have a generally fun tone.

V/H/S/2 takes a funhouse approach to the anthology, where the first film took more of a slaughterhouse approach. A funhouse is meant to be exactly that, fun. It may at points scare people, use point of view and perspective to make them feel uneasy or off kilter, but it never devolves into empty cruelty. A slaughterhouse is concerned first and foremost with efficiency and effectiveness. Things like cruelty and sadism aren’t even taken into account, so they end up becoming the default. The first film seemed more concerned with being absolutely sure it was provoking the reaction it wanted from the audience that it never really thought about whether or not it was doing so with any level of quality film making. This isn’t to say it was a particularly sloppy film, but it wasn’t a particularly disciplined film in relation to it’s storytelling, leaving too much to simple shock and revulsion without rooting it in the storytelling and writing. V/H/S/2 uses just about every storytelling and film making trick in the book to provoke the reaction it’s looking for from it’s audience, but the quality of that storytelling and film making technique are served by the way they’re employed, instead of detracted from.

On top of that, the writers and directors all find interesting and new ways to avoid one of the most common pitfalls of the “found footage” or first person perspective films. In a few of the segments, technology helps explain it away and in others, it comes from the setting and characters, but at no point is there the moment where audiences have to leap impossible logical hurdles to explain how filming has continued. In two segments, the way this is handled gives the audience a perspective they have probably never seen before. It’s the difference between inventiveness, and the attention to quality and detail that was missing in the first film. That inventive use of the first person perspective is also part of what enables the film to keep up it’s momentum so well. The ways that the writers have found to insure that the camera is directly in the middle of everything also insures there aren’t points where the camera is somehow attempting to keep up with the actions. There are very few of the kind of frenetic, jerky shots that characterize so many found footage and first person perspective films, where the camera if following behind another character as they run, and in order to keep the illusion of reality the film is creating, it has to look as if the camera person is running as frantically. That’s been done so many times that it just doesn’t convey the sense of urgency that it used it, and it’s also been used so poorly so often that audiences have tired of it because they can never fully understand what is going on in those moments. All of the directors and cinematographers do a pretty incredible job of insuring they don’t often rely on that worn out trick. Where it does exist, it’s only moments, not extended sequences that are used to cover problems in the writing that everyone was too lazy to attempt to solve with a better idea or better writing.

All in all, V/H/S/2 is just a better film. In basically every way, this film progresses the series level of quality. The creative team behind this film were able to look at the problems with the first film and deal with them directly and creatively. It certainly seems that the difference between this film and the first is that the creative team decided they want to focus first on quality, making each segment work in the way it was written and then in the way it was shot, instead of focusing on reaching for the cheap sucker punch moments of disturbing, gross out or exploitation material to provide an impact that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. All of the segments in V/H/S/2 have some degree of punch, but it comes from the level of film making technique and the writing, not from just throwing something gross or offensive in the audience faces. And because of the range of different genres it covers, V/H/S/2 has something for just about everyone, and very few horror fans are going to walk away from this installment of the anthology series feeling any disappointment.


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