If I were to select one phrase to describe V/H/S/2 (2013), I would say it’s a “visceral rush!” – V/H/S/2 is a racecar that never stops moving and constantly changes directions more times than I can count. The variety in plot and direction is of course due to the anthology nature of the film, where each segment was created by a different director/writer team.
V/H/S/2 is the second and arguably best installment in the V/H/S franchise. This film follows the same formula as its predecessor – the protagonists happen upon a cache of seemingly unrelated VHS tapes; they watch several of the tapes; and finally the story has a wraparound at the end tying everything together. Following a formulaic approach is not necessarily a bad thing, as it works perfectly well for this film.
As a found footage film, V/H/S/2 succeeds in its own unique way, drifting from the convention that Found Footage Critic typically uses to judge found footage films. The film series defines its own style and approach and consistently sticks with it from the very beginning to the closing credits.
V/H/S/2 fails to cleanly meet all of the criteria established on Found Footage Critic to call this film “100% pure found footage.” All of the segments contain some form of incidental music. In many cases, the music is far from subtle, often consisting of a barrage of high-intensity punk rock. The soundtrack selection is part of the unique world that the V/H/S series defines and the filmmakers are simply staying true to the canons of the franchise – and we cannot fault the film for adhering to its mantra. Secondly, two of the segments include scenes that are clearly not found footage, and we feel that the filmmakers could have easily maintained the V/H/2 cinematography as 100% pure found footage without too many workarounds.
For this review, we’ll look at each of the four segments of the anthology and (the fifth) narrative thread that ties everything together.
Tape 49 (Directed and Written by Simon Barrett)
The first plot thread which ties the anthology together starts with a prostitute (Ayesha) walking with a john to a motel room. As the two get down to business, a third person with a camcorder (Larry) walks up to the motel window and starts filming. We soon learn that the Ayesha and Larry are partners in a scheme to extort money from unsuspecting men looking to pay for a good time. After the couple complete the blackmail caper, they head to a house where they were previously hired to investigate the whereabouts of a missing college student. When the couple enter the house they find a number of old tube-televisions playing static, a laptop computer, and of course a cache of VHS tapes. Ayesha starts watching the VHS tapes to find clues that can help their case, while Larry decides to look around the house. Prior to leaving the room, Larry urges Ayesha to film everything because that’s how the client wanted it (i.e. our “reason for filming everything”).
As Ayesha starts watching the VHS tapes, she learns that the tapes must be viewed in a particular order to properly affect the viewer. As she progresses from tape to tape her physical and mental condition start to deteriorate, which is all I can say without giving away any spoilers.
Although “Tape 49″ has some good moments, it’s the VHS tape segments that are the heart and soul of V/H/S/2. “Tape 49″ is effective at transitioning between the four VHS tape segments, but I wasn’t deeply captivated each time we revisited Ayesha and Larry throughout the film.
Phase I Clinical Trials (Directed by Adam Wingard; Written by Simon Barrrett)
This first VHS tape segment starts with a man on an operating table who we soon learn injured his eye in a car accident and had it replaced with a prosthetic eye that’s linked directly to his visual cortex, enabling him to see just as well as with his original eye. The eye also conveniently “records everything,” a requirement stipulated by the manufacturer in order to participate in the clinical trial. As the story progresses, the patient goes home and experiences an escalating number of odd side effects due to the implant.
“Phase I Clinical Trials” is filmed entirely from the POV of the prosthetic eye, which is a rather unique approach for filming found footage, taking POV to a new level. The video-glitches in the recording that appear whenever an “event” is about to start are very well done. Like its predecessor, V/H/S/2 throws in its fair share of gratuitous nudity and sex, and “Phase I Clinical Trials” is no exception. Of all four segments, “Phase I Clinical Trials” has the highest tension and best jump-scares, but is not the best of the four segments in V/H/S/2.
My primary gripe with this segment is not understanding how the audio is recorded – why (and how) would a prosthetic eye record sound? Other than this one issue, “Phase I Clinical Trials” was a solid and entertaining found footage story.
“Phase I Clinical Trials” is filmed entirely from the POV of the prosthetic eye, which is a rather unique approach for filming found footage, taking POV to a new level.
A Ride in the Park (Directed by Eduardo Sánchez ; Written by Jamie Nash)
“A Ride in the Park” starts with a man wearing a helmet-mounted camera riding a bicycle on a park trail. Our protagonist stops and dismounts his bike when he sees an injured woman in distress pleading for help. The woman quickly becomes violently ill, vomiting blood and collapsing. The cyclist goes to the woman’s side to tend to her, and she springs back to life attacking and biting him. Soon thereafter the cyclist meets the same fate as the woman and the story moves on from there.
“A Ride in the Park” is a very unique zombie story, for the first time offering the POV of a zombie via the helmet-mounted camera. This approach enables us to experience the zombie’s behavior first-hand and witness the reaction of innocent bystanders/victims
Without drifting into spoiler territory, “A Ride in the Park” has a pretty satisfying violent climax as far as zombie attacks are concerned. The gore effects are well done for the time and the story builds tension in all the right places. One misgiving I have with this segment is the sympathetic zombie plot component added towards the end of the story, which feels a bit too over-emphasized. The segment would have fared just as well without that plot point altogether.
In all, “A Ride in the Park” is a highly successful and entertaining zombie story and one of my top two segments in V/H/S/2.
Safe Haven (Directed and Written by Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans)
In short, “Safe Haven” is about a film crew conducting an interview with the leader of a cult called “Paradise Gates.” The segment starts out very slow and deliberate, but quickly spirals out of control in a frenzy of activity.
Of all the VHS tape segments, “Safe Haven” offers the greatest adrenaline rush in V/H/S/2. Clocking in at 30 minutes in length, “Safe Haven” is a slow burn, but ends in a massive crescendo of violence, murder, suicide, gore, paranormal events, occult activity, monsters, crazed characters, and paranoia, that escalates right until the bitter end, with a satisfying grand finale. So many plot elements are going on in “Safe Haven” that I’m not sure how to properly classify this story in the found footage genre. To say that “Safe Haven” is merely a story about an interview with a cult leader is really undercutting where this story ends up.
As found footage, “Safe Haven” hits all the right notes, employing security cameras, spy cams, and professional cameras. Similar to “A Ride in the Park,” there is one scene that’s not found footage where a character is getting a spare battery from his car and the action is clearly being filmed from an off-set camera. Other than this one unknown camera source issue, “Safe Haven” delivers on many levels.
“Safe Haven” is a slow burn, but ends in a massive crescendo of violence, murder, suicide, gore, paranormal events, occult activity, monsters, crazed characters, and paranoia, that escalates right until the bitter end, with a satisfying grand finale.
Slumber Party Alien Abduction (Directed by Jason Eisener; Written by Jason Eisener and John Davies)
“Slumber Party Alien Abduction” ramps up the music and energy to deafening heights, as the segment introduces us to a group of siblings whose parents are going away for the weekend, leaving the kids to their own devices. After the parents leave, friends come over and all hell breaks loose, as we see horsing around, locking a sibling in a dog kennel, rampant sex, and masturbation to name a few of the many things going on – all layered on top of ear piercing music.
While the group is swimming at the nearby lake, we catch a brief glimpse of what appears to be a humanoid creature under the water. With all the activity in the lake, I don’t think any of the group noticed this siting. Later that evening, several loud baritone trumpet-like sounds are heard outside, accompanied by bright flashes of light. Soon thereafter, the group figures-out that they are in the midst of an alien invasion.
Most of the filming in “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” is from the POV of the family dog – that’s right, a “dog-cam.” As found footage goes, this filming approach provides a unique perspective as we’re seeing everything from the dog’s height looking up at the world. Quite often the characters are holding the dog so we can get a better glimpse of what’s going on.
The pace of “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” is so fast, that the segment never offers the viewer the opportunity to really process what’s going on, which as far as storytelling is concerned, is highly effective. “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” takes us on a rollercoaster ride from the moment the segment opens through the startling conclusion.
The pace of “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” is so fast, that the segment never offers the viewer the opportunity to really process what’s going on, which as far as storytelling is concerned, is highly effective.
V/H/S/2 offers something to satisfy the sensibilities of just about every horror fan. As a found footage film, V/H/S/2 is generally effective, but not without its minor flaws that can be forgiven in consideration of the overall scope of the anthology.
Let us know what you think and post a comment below!