I wasn’t overly enamoured by last year’s V/H/S but nevertheless I was looking forward to the follow-up, especially after early reports out of Sundance promised a leaner, more lighthearted affair second time round. I have never been much of a fan of found footage films – or POV films as I understand they would like to call this. In my experience that too often means little more than lots of shaky, queasy handheld camerawork, filmed inexplicably by characters who would rather stop to fram a shot than get out of their predicament alive.
Sadly, V/H/S/2 is for the most part just more of the same. A couple of private detectives discover a pile of video tapes while searching for a missing child, and even when things start getting really weird in the apartment, they will quite happily sling on another videotape. What is most baffling of all, however, is that the two characters watching the four shorts never once consider that they might be watching someone’s amateurish attempt at making a horror film, but instead totally believe what they are seeing.
Adam Wingard is someone whose work I really want to like. He seems a smart and amusing guy, who clearly as an eye for interesting filmmaking. I was impressed by A Horrible Way To Die, and thought his segment in The ABCs of Death stood out as one of the very best. However, as with his contribution to V/H/S, his efforts here are moody and grungy, but no fun and not scary. In fact this is a complaint which can be levelled at the entire film. Even in its strongest moments – which almost all come from Gareth Evans’ and Timo Tjahjanto’s superior Indonesian segment – V/H/S/2 simply isn’t scary.
The second of the two shorts, from Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sanchez (The Blair Witch Project), is probably the most inventive and fun – which sees a cyclist with a GoPro camera strapped to his head set upon by zombies while biking out in the woods. He transforms and then shuffles around, as a zombie, attacking unsuspecting picnickers. It’s simple, it’s effective, it’s everything a horror short should be. Jason Eisener pitches his final segment at a similar level, but it never quite catches the right tone. Two young brothers spy on and terrorize their older sister when her boyfriend stays over, only for the house to be attacked by invading aliens. I wanted this to be goofier, more of a kids adventure story, when in the end it turns out to be just another episode of the “run, scream and shake the camera” show.
Far and away the best thing in V/H/S/2 is Evans and Tjahjanto’s Safe Haven. We follow a documentary team as they are awarded an audience with a reclusive cult leader at his jungle retreat, The Gates of Heaven. As we follow the camera crew through the corridors, classrooms, prayer halls of the commune, it soon becomes apparent that they have been deliberately invited to witness a Judgement Day-style bloodbath. Personal dramas between the team members are introduced but mostly prove to be red herrings, as all hell literally erupts before our very eyes, with apocalyptic consequences.
V/H/S/2 proves as much a mixed bag as its predecessor, and ultimately a rather underwhelming experience. I have no doubt that the film will play best on DVD/Blu-ray, where viewers can (hopefully) watch the individual segments as standalone shorts, rather than as a sluggish nauseating whole. I still encourage anthology projects like this and ABCs of Death, as it remains an excellent platform for bringing the work of independent filmmakers from around the world to a larger crowd, but the inherent obstacles of watching anthologies as full length features remains something of a problem.