Thursday, September 26, 2013

Movie Review: V/H/S 2

V/H/S 2
Directed by: Simon Barrett (Tape 49), Adam Wingard (Clinical Trials), Eduardo Sanchez & Gregg Hale (A Ride in he Park), Gareth Evans & Timo Tjahjanto (Safe Haven), Jason Eisener (Alien Abduction Slumber Party).
Written by: Simon Barrett (Tape 49), John Davies (Clinical Trials), Jamie Nash & Eduardo Sánchez (A Ride in the Park), Gareth Evans & Timo Tjahjanto (Safe Haven), Jason Eisener (Alien Abduction Slumber Party).
Starring: Kelsy Abbott, Hannah Al Rashid, Fachry Albar, Oka Antara, Devon Brookshire, Samantha Gracie, L.C. Holt, Hannah Hughes, Clarissa, Kevin Hunt, Epy Kusnandar, Lawrence Michael Levine, Carly Robell, Mindy Robinson, Jay Saunders, Jeremie Saunders, Andrew Suleiman, Adam Wingard, John T. Woods.

Last year’s VHS was a nasty little surprise – a horror anthology that actually worked. It featured five shorts – two of which were great, one was very good, one was good and one was awful, to go with an average framing device (an excellent batting average for this type of film). The film used the found footage genre in new and interesting ways – and was also quite scary and disturbing. The film was successful enough on its limited budget to warrant a sequel – but for me, it doesn’t come close to matching the original. The first film had a remarkable consistency in its tone – all violent, nasty little films – and I suppose V/H/S 2 does as well for the most part – but this time the mood is lighter, there’s far more black comedy and over the top gore than the first time around. There is one excellent section to go along with three mediocre ones, and a framing device that may not be any better than the first film, but at least is shorter. When I watched the original VHS, I started out watching in the dark, and slowly turned all the lights in my house on as it went along. This time, I wasn’t scared in the least at any point.

The framing device this time is about a P.I. and his assistant who have been hired by a worried mother to find her college age son. They go to his house, and don’t find him, but do find his laptop open cued to a video of him talking about the “tapes” – which the assistant then starts to watch. The wraparound’s surprise ending wouldn’t have been a surprise if she had just watched his whole video from the start, but then that would spoil the fun, right? This segment is directed by Simon Barrett, who wrote two of the segments for the last film but hadn’t directed a feature before, probably because no one else wanted to direct the wraparound segment. It’s probably better than the wraparound from the first film, but only because it doesn’t drag on as long.

The first real segment is directed by Adam Wingard, who made the wraparound segment of the first film, so as a reward was given a chance to direct an actual segment this time. Wingard’s segment of the horrible omnibus horror film The ABCs of Death (Q is for Quack) was one of that film’s best – and I pretty much loved You’re Next, released after two years in limbo, in August. Wingard’s segment here – which he also stars in – is about a man who gets an eye transplant – with predictably horrible results. As with Q is for Quack, Wingard tries for a darkly comedic tone in this segment to go along with the horror, but the two don’t mix very well this time – and other than a few superficial shocks, there isn’t much here. It’s not horrible, just not very good either.

Next up is Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sanchez’s A Ride in the Park, which is about a young man who goes for a bike ride in the park, and is set upon by zombies. Zombies are over exposed right now, so if you’re going to do a zombie film, at least come up with an original way to do them – and this one doesn’t. Again, the tone is lighter, and never scary, but considering Sanchez is one of the directors behind The Blair Witch Project – which for better or worse is responsible for this found footage genre that is hot right now – the results are disappointingly bland.

By far the longest – and best segment – comes next. Gareth Evans (who directed last year’s excellent action film The Raid: Redemption) who teams up with Timo Tjahjanto (who made an awful segment for The ABC’s of Death) to make their extremely disturbing and creepy segment Safe Haven. It starts with a documentary crew filming a cult on their compound, and the film gradually increases the sense of impending doom, until it explodes with some of the best and most disturbing moments of the VHS series so far. True, the ending was weak, but everything up until then was pretty much brilliant.

The segment I was dreading closes the film – Jason Eisener’s Alien Abduction Slumber Party. Eisener is the man behind the absolutely terrible film Hobo with a Shotgun, and another of the worst segments of The ABC’s of Death, so I was just hoping the segment would be over quickly. But to my surprise, it wasn’t horrible. Eisener is clearly trying to tap into those 1980s movies about a group of renegade kids – like say, The Goonies – only this time, it’s about a sleepover that takes a scary turn when aliens arrive (hence the title). The segment really isn’t good – out of all of the segments, this one boasts the most shaky camera work – but it’s not that bad either – easily the best thing Eisener has been responsible for so far.

V/H/S 2 is not as good as the original. Sorry, but it’s true, and I’m kind of mystified that many critics seem to think it’s much better. Other than Safe Haven, there really isn’t anything great here – although to be fair, there isn’t anything god awful either. And I did appreciate the clever ways the filmmakers chose to film their “found footage” films this time – Wingard literally through his eye, Hale and Sanchez through a camera strapped to a bike helmet, Eisener by a camera strapped to a small dog. Still, the most traditional one – Safe Haven, through the eye of a documentarian’s camera – remains the best.

It’s a generally accepted rule that omnibus film are always better in theory than they are in practice. Quick – name a great omnibus film. I don’t think there is one that is great all the way through. Most are like New York Stories, which has one great segment (in that case by Scorsese), one horrible segment (Coppola) and one mediocre (Allen). V/H/S is actually one of the best I can think of – but perhaps what V/H/S 2 proves is that was an anomaly more than anything else – because this film, like most of its ilk, has one segment worth watching, surrounded by mediocrity.

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