V/H/S2 is a mixed bag. The direction is occasionally inventive and clever, the acting is mostly embarrassing and the stories it aspires to tell are hit and miss. One might argue that an anthology film made of four found footage flicks, all by different directors, is bound to be to be disjointed, but in the right hands, V/H/S2 could have been an immersive masterpiece. As it stands it’s a mess, made all the more tragic by the pockets of brilliance it smothers.
We begin from the perspective of a man who might be a private investigator. The film is fuzzy on his actual job description, but it doesn’t really matter because after the film introduces him it spends the majority of its runtime finding excuses to keep him out of the way so that his accomplice, Hotredhead McDonothing can watch the evil stack of VHS tapes they find while searching for a missing teen. (At one point he literally leaves the movie for around forty five minutes to go to Rite Aid.) As McDonothing works her way through the collection, it becomes clear that watching the tapes has a sinister, transformative effect on the viewer.
(Or, as I call it, Cyborg-Eye Meets Some Generic Ghosts.)
C.E.M.S.G.G. isn’t the worst movie in the V/H/S/ cycle, but it’s almost certainly the least ambitious. Its defining gimmick is built around a line of prosthetic eyes and hearing implants which allow their users to interact with the not-so-friendly dead. The ghosts in this segment don’t do much beyond staring vacantly and delivering jump-scares. An interesting idea is introduced near the end when it is revealed that sex acts drive the ghosts away or drain their power, but once this concept is used to show us breasts it is discarded and the short almost immediately ends.
A Ride In The Park
(Or, as I call it, This Will Make Zombies Interesting Again.)
I’ll spare you the obligatory rant about the over-utilization of the undead in genre fiction. Warm Bodies found a funny, clever angle on zombies just a few months ago, so who am I to make a snap judgement? After all, on paper, showing a zombie attack through the P.O.V. of the attacker isn’t an interesting enough concept to justify another zombie related film, but the effect here is so visceral, terrifying and hilarious that it justifies the whole endeavor. I haven’t finished my joke about how it looks like an episode of The Walking Dead shot through Google Glass, but it’ll come to me. Follow me on Twitter. It’ll come.
(Or, as I call it, Holy Fucking Moses What Am I Looking At?)
H.F.M.W.A.I.L.A. is a clever retelling of the “film crew walks into a cult” bit and the most effective short in V/H/S2, in no little part because it actually takes the time to present a premise to the audience and develop a few characters beyond the second dimension. But the real game changer here is the lack of predictability, a lack lacked by the first two shorts. There is no telling where exactly this story is headed until the final, agonizing moments. That isn’t to stay that (LONG, HARD TO TYPE ACRONYM) isn’t derivative. It shares DNA with The Blair Witch Project, Alien, Cannibal Holocaust and Red State, to name a few, but these influences feel like complements in the service of an already interesting story, not crutches propping up a series of jump-scares. This short is nightmare fuel, and it’s the one thing from V/H/S2 I’ll be recommending to horror fans without disclaimer.
Slumber Party Alien Abduction
(I couldn’t possibly come up with a more bland, literal name for this one.)
I’m hesitant to trash this last short since its director did a Q&A at the screening I attended at Tribeca, and he seemed like a genuine, passionate film maker. I liked the guy. But the bottom line is that S.P.A.A. was bad, tonally inconsistent, hard to follow and almost completely void of actual characters.
The gimmick contrived to make the found footage thing work here is that the camera is strapped onto a small dog, a stunt rendered especially pointless by the fact that one of the protagonists scoops the pup up into their arms and carries it for a most of the remainder of the short. And anyway, by the time the camera actually make it onto said dog, the thing is halfway over and the titular aliens have yet to attack. Why they attack, by the way, is never explained adequately explained, but their raison d’être seems to consist of little more than lurch awkwardly towards the camera. The best part of S.P.A.A. is the first five minutes, which is mostly just kids with a camcorder filming themselves performing skits and playing pranks on their older siblings. This segment had the audience eating out of the palm of its hand, and it came as a relief after the gory acid trip that was the last five minutes of H.F.M. This was the intended purpose of Death Proof’s widely loathed first half hour, to be a comedown from Grindhouse’s more flamboyant first segment. Here, it actually works. The director expressed interest in directing a feature like this in the Q&A, something that plays like Stand By Me shot through a flipcam. I’d advise him to get started. As strongly as I believe that S.P.A.A. fails as a horror film, I’d line up for opening night of an alien free version with a respectable runtime.
After S.P.A.A., the wraparound segment ends unremarkably. Generic metal plays and credits roll. Overall, V/H/S2 fails in its mission. The success of a found footage film is dependent upon actually making the audience feel like we found the footage. The wooden acting and gimmicky camerawork work actively against this in V/H/S2. Cloverfield was more immersive, and that’s about a sea monster attacking Manhattan after being woken up by an asteroid and Japanese capitalism. Still, the movie has its moments. Hopefully they’ll survive in clips or on Youtube, free from the confines of the confines of the feature that so miserably fails to let them shine.