The horror anthology has received a fair bit of new blood lately with two high-profile effort V/H/S and The ABCs of Death both arriving on a huge wave of hype in horror circles but ended up raining a shower of disappointing poop over us instead. Both indulged in the worst of what this genre’s filmmakers seem to think fans want, splashes of misogyny, gore purely for gore’s sake and the same old story repeated ad infinitum with the same old scares played the same old ways. The insanely quick turnaround of V/H/S 2 (or as its original brilliant title had it, S-V/H/S) was cause for concern but with filmmakers more exciting than those involved in the first instalment, there was cause for hope. This is something which is thankfully proven to be the case with V/H/S 2 improving on the first anthology in virtually every single way and in moments pushes your expectations of what a horror film can do .
Simon Barrett’s wraparound segment, Tape 49, is wholly more satisfying than the original films equivalent showing two private detectives breaking into a house to retrieve a woman’s son and finding a bunch of tapes. Unlike many wraparound segments in horror anthologies, this has a beginning, middle and end, it’s a story in itself with its own little horrors working as a stand-alone but also giving us the inkling of mythology, alluding to certain events in the first film but not feeling beholden to them and weaving elements of both J-horror and body horror to crunchy effect.
Adam Wingard, director of the next hotly buzzed horror film coming down the road, You’re Next, brings us the first uninterrupted short Clinical Trials, which is the least effective of the whole film, relying on jump scares which feel very tired, but the first person perspective manages to remain effective and at least a gratuitous sex scene, one of only two in the whole film, in itself a refreshing change, comes off as funny and not leering.
Better than this is Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale’s A Ride In The Park, a zombie tale with a USP of being told from the zombies perspective. Suffering from tonal inconsistency with a vein of humour uncomfortably meshing with somewhat sadder, darker content, this still hits home thanks to its at-times ferocious paciness, it by far feels the shortest of the bunch, the directing team wisely understanding that this is a one-note story and thus can only be played for a limited time to remain effective. This pace also feeds into some rather crazy “how did they do that?” moments of directional sleight of hand which are huge fun to behold.
This is just an appetiser for the main course that is Gareth Evans’ and Timo Tjahjanto’s Safe Haven, the longest film in the anthology and one which is absolutely breathtaking. The first film of either V/H/S to be centred in another country, already bringing a sense of otherness, this tale of a documentary crew entering a cult’s sanctuary manages to pull off the brilliant and highly skillful trick of being both incredibly disturbing while also being an awful lot of fun with mixture of body horror and cult rituals which builds up with superb intensity but ends on a quiet but rather chilling note. This one feels like a love letters horror fans which evolves from the pathetic “fratboy” nature of so many horrors today and instead offers the cliched but true “thrills and chills”. A mature and harrowing effort, it is the finest piece of horror cinema I’ve seen in quite some time.
After Safe Haven virtually anything would be a bit of a come down and Jason Eisner’s Alien Abduction Slumber Party is indeed that, though it’s got a lot of merit to it also. Focusing on a bunch of kids having rather dirty fun and getting caught in a house invasion from unfriendly aliens, this works through a sheer sense of blind panic. When the alien strike it’s visually and audibly overwhelming, hitting that primal nerve of “what the hell is going on” with the camera being tossed around all over the place before finding the characters in perilous situations. The intensity recalls the final segment of the first film but is a meaner beast than that especially with the last shot which is a little too cruel for my blood takes away from the enterprise somewhat.
This and other relatively minor quibbles peppered in spots aside, V/H/S 2 is a wholly more impressive and satisfying collection of horror shorts than last year’s film, resulting in the best horror of 2013 up to this point. Daring, shocking, fun and managing to regain my sense of hope that there is still horror of great worth out there, the whole experience is hugely refreshing and it’s delightful to say so.
Review By Phil Wheat at Nerdly.co.uk
Release Date: 23rd August 2013 (Frightfest) 14th October 2013 (UK DVD)
Director:Simon Barrett, Greg Hale, Gareth Evans, Adam Wingard, Timo Tjahjanto, Jason Eisener
Cast: Lawrence Michael Levine, Kelsy Abbott, Adam Wingard
Pre-order/Buy V/H/S 2: [DVD]