8/10 Home Movies
Talk about quality over quantity.
V/H/S/2 is about two private investigators that get hired to track down a woman’s missing son. Their search leads them to a flophouse of sorts that’s pretty unfurnished and seemingly uninhabited. As they start making the rounds, they stumble upon a room filled with old TVs, all of which are tuned to white noise. Creepy stuff, yo. So while one guy searches the house, he asks his partner to start watching through some unmarked VHS tapes. Why? To find clues as to this kid’s whereabouts, of course! So she sits down, gets to watching, and before long, it gets weird. Real weird.
Ever since Paranormal Activity gave us a newfound appreciation for not dicking around with demons, these found footage movies have been a dime-a-freaking-dozen. They’re cheap to make, they turn a profit (shitty as they may be) and it’s easy to see why they kept on coming. It was fun for a while, we had some good scares, but the thrill is gone, baby, and it’s time to pack yo bags. That’s been the story for the past couple years now, that is until I heard about V/H/S: a found footage horror movie about found footage horror movies. It was just meta enough to work.
I never got around to reviewing it, but the lasting impression of V/H/S was ultimately that of squandered potential. It was an inventive take on a tired formula and it let some promising young directors make a name for themselves, or at least try to. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go according to plan. Of the six segments featured, there were only two worth writing home about courtesy of Radio Silence and Ti West (one of the better young directors out there right now). As for the other four, snafus all around if I remember correctly.
As a result, I wasn’t all that jazzed about the prospect of a sequel until my co-host Sean gave it a go and quickly went ape. Sure, he liked the first one more than I did, but you should have heard the enthusiasm. Kid had a goddamn fit! To say the least, this was surprising. After all, with the exception of maybe Evil Dead 2 and Troll 2, it’s an awfully rare occurrence to have a horror sequel trump the original. But as you’ve probably already gathered, Sean was preaching the gospel. Nor did it hurt to have a low bar to aim for.
This time around, we’ve got five segments at our disposal instead of six. Not that six was too many to begin with, but when four of those six are probably best forgotten, that’s just no bueno whatsoever. Not only that, but V/H/S/2 nails the tone of its tone of this approach in ways that its predecessor often didn’t.
See, the thing with found footage is that if you want it to work, it actually has to seem like found footage. As inspired as V/H/S was, too many of its characters and too much of its dialogue felt excruciatingly forced, like a bunch of jocks acting the part just to win big on AFV. If your entire hook revolves around creating this facade of horrifying events that actually happened to real people, the whole thing falls apart if your characters come off fake. It just wasn’t effective, it just wasn’t believable, and worst of all, it just wasn’t scary.
Granted, no one’s going to walk away from this with a healthy fear of what they encounter, but for what it’s worth, it’s a lot more convincing. Unlike V/H/S, it does such a good job of making this footage seem found. The rest, dear readers, is math.
Still, as much as I can praise these segments for everything they do right, you’ll find the horrors that came before them once you start to strip them down. More specifically, four of these five segments are more or less variations on The Eye, Warm Bodies, Rosemary’s Baby and Signs. But keep in mind that these are fresh spins we’re dealing with, so much so that it’s kind of unfair to even draw the comparisons. If there’s an important distinction to make, it’s that while some segments will stick out more than others, the quality is consistent throughout. Whether they’re an improvement over those horrors of yore, I’m thinking that’s going to vary from person to person. However, there is one segment in particular that absolutely warrants mentioning.
Coming off the heels of The Raid: Redemption, I certainly wasn’t putting my money on Gareth Evans to have the most jaw-droppingly insane and utterly horrifying segment of the bunch. Yet here he is, the one responsible for that charming fellow in the bloody undies. Evans’ effort is the one that takes after Rosemary’s Baby (which is actually short-selling it) and it is a no-holds-barred experience, the likes of which are straight-up shocking even for a genre like this. Such a great build-up, so effing intense, and even though it goes for a minute too long, it makes the other segments look like Goosebumps reruns. Can’t say more than that, it’s too dang good to spoil. But yeah, cults suck.
If there’s one non-complaint that comes to mind, it’s that the segments in V/H/S/2 lean a bit heavier on the supernatural side of things than in V/H/S. If it hadn’t been for Ti West’s contribution last year I wouldn’t even bring it up, but even so, the issue is only an issue depending on what scares you. Speaking for myself, it was pretty damn spooky.
And speaking of Ti West, it’s also really cool to watch this new generation of exciting young film makers come together to form this horror collective of sorts. Even though V/H/S left something to be desired, it nevertheless introduced me to Radio Silence and further confirmed what I already knew about West. From appearing in each other’s movies to teaming up behind the camera, it’s awesome to see artists supporting artists like this while broadening their fan bases in turn. If things keep going like they’re going, it’s only uphill from here.
Again, as much I dug those two segments from the first movie, I can’t stress enough what a vast improvement V/H/S/2 is over V/H/S in almost every way. This is what it should have been like the first time and what’s more is that it was a crapshoot from the start. This kind of approach is why I always roll my eyes whenever some cocky bastard on Top Chef decides to cook a dish three ways instead of just doing one really solid cut of meat. It’s risky as hell, it rarely pays off and if even one of these segments hadn’t been up to snuff, it inevitably would have dragged the other four down with it. But there’s the rub: if you can pull it off, your ass is onto the next round, brotha’. Needless to say, Tom and Padma would have loved this shit.
Like I said, I never expected V/H/S/2 to be the dark horse that it is, but surprises are always welcome in the world of horror sequels. If this is what the future of horror looks like, consider me excited for V/H/S/3. And just you wait, boys and girls, because it’s only a matter of time before you are, too.