V/H/S 2

(2013, Dir. by Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Gareth Huw Evans & Timo Tjahjanto, Gregg Hale & Eduardo Sanchez, Adam Wingard.)

Few things are more exciting to me than when I see young horror filmmakers advancing their craft, which is a big part of why I had a lot of fun with V/H/S 2. It is unfair to compare this film directly with its predecessor (V/H/S, which arrived on home video last year and offered a raw (and slightly immature) new twist on the anthology horror formula) because the filmmakers are different this time around, but it seems blatant to me that the returning producers and directors worked hard to clean up some of the more maligned aspects of the first film.

Critics of that film – which I enjoyed, despite some uneven moments – will probably be pleased with the extra layer of polish that seems to have been applied to this sequel. It’s still definitely an independent and experimental picture – especially in the first and fourth segments of the film – and it still feels like the found footage it is supposed to be in most scenes. At the same time, the film seems to feel a little more mature and cinematic than its predecessor, striking a nice balance between the raw horror of the original and some more artistic horror films of the era.

The film’s increase in quality over the original is most notable in the third segment of the film, which is entitled “Safe Haven” and is directed by Gareth Huw Evans & Timo Tjahjanto. Evans uses a mostly Indonesian cast, as he did in his action masterpiece The Raid: Redemption, to take us inside a “Jonestown” inspired cult where things are much more devious than they seem. I don’t even want to go in to what occurs in this segment, but I will say that it has more pure shocks and disgusting surprises than 99% of feature length horror films out there. It’s a truly nightmarish little epic – it feels like it’s longer than the other three main segments of the film combined – that is good enough to make the whole film worth seeing.

That said, the rest of the film works pretty well too. I might even say that the lowest moments of this film (the wrap-around directed by You’re Next and A Horrible Way To Die scribe Simon Barrett and the zombie segment directed by Gregg Hale and The Blair Witch Project co-director Eduardo Sanchez) are better than the least impressive parts of the first V/H/S film. Barrett’s wrap-around seems fresher and less hectic than the sequence he and You’re Next director Adam Wingard put together for the first film (plus it has a better payoff at the end) while Sanchez and Hale’s first person zombie tale feels like a neat little short that could be expounded upon in a different film.

The two segments that bookend the proceedings both stand out by being manic in their attempts to surprise the viewer. The first, directed by Wingard and written by Barrett, stars Wingard as a man who is fitted with an experimental camera eye that just happens to see ghosts all around him. The tone of this film is probably closest to that of V/H/S (plus Barrett and Wingard both bring back the “random topless women” factor of the first film) and it manages to bridge the gap between the films while providing a few good scares. The film’s last segment, by Hobo With A Shotgun director Jason Eisener, is even more hectic and bizarre and the title – “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” – tells you almost everything you need to know about it. This sequence has one of the film’s most annoying tricks, when Eisener mounts the camera on top of an in film dog for several scenes, but it’s also the most ridiculously fun and carefree piece of cinema in the film.

As a total film, I really respect the manic energy of V/H/S 2. Each section of the film has a different tone and a different pace, but the flow of the presentation is never interrupted. I thought the first film worked similarly, but had a few bumps in the road that derailed it from being the kind of movie that is perfect for a crowded Halloween party. I think this sequel avoids the same pitfalls and earns a place at that party; it’s a crowd pleasing horror anthology that’s here just in time for the holiday season.

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