I am doing the 31 Days of Horror Challenge. Every day in October, I will watch a different horror film I have never seen before and write about it here on the blog.
I started my 31 Days of Horror with the anthology The Theatre Bizarre so it seems fitting that I end it with another anthology. While V/H/S/2 is a slight step above both The Theatre Bizarre and the first V/H/S/, I can’t help but be let down just a bit considering the talent involved. At the same time, I understand the business side of the film industry, so I can see why taking part in an anthology like this would be attractive—financially and creatively—to the filmmakers involved. But the creative freedom comes attached to the found footage concept that seems to be a well that’s nearly dry.
Tape 49 is the wrap-around story and is generally more solid than most anthology wrap-arounds. Two private detectives, Larry (Lawrence Michael Levine) and Ayesha (Kelsy Abbott), are on a missing person’s case. When they break into the apartment of the college student they’re looking for, they find several televisions, a laptop, VCRs, and stacks of VHS tapes in the living room. While Larry searches the apartment, Ayesha busies herself with copying the laptop’s hard drive and watching the VHS tapes and videos saved on the laptop. The contents of these videos are the short films that make up the anthology.
Phase I Clinical Trials is a semi-comedic piece about Herman (Adam Wingard, who also directed this segment), the seemingly lucky recipient of an experimental eye that restores his sight when he loses his real eye in an accident. Part of his arrangement with the company behind the experimental eye is that everything Herman sees during his clinical trial is recorded. Despite his misgivings about this lack of privacy, he goes along with the experiment. Of course, it’s not long before he starts seeing people who look dead and seem very angry. But are they real or simply the eye malfunctioning, causing him to hallucinate? The answer is not really surprising, but there is a streak of subversive wit to the script by Simon Barrett (who also wrote and directed the Tape 49 segment) and at least the experimental eye plot is a good reason for the characters to keep filming events past the point when most logical people would have ditched the camera to run in the other direction.
A Ride in the Park is incredibly simple. A mountain biker (Jay Saunders) is going for a ride through a park when he is attacked by a zombie. Not long after this, the biker becomes a zombie himself and attacks other people. The only thing that makes this segment unique is that the biker was wearing a camera on his helmet, so the entire film—from his being attack to his change to his attacks on others—is shown from his point-of-view. But once this conceit is established, it quickly grows repetitive—and not at all scary. This is especially disappointing when you consider this segment was directed by Gregg Hale and Edúardo Sanchez, the producer and co-director respectively of The Blair Witch Project. While that film’s reputation is still fairly divisive among genre fans, its impact on the found footage concept cannot be denied. It’s too bad that these filmmakers who have been so influential seem to have been influenced by the weaker filmmakers they initially inspired.
Safe Haven is easily the best of the segments. A documentary film crew (Fachry Albar, Hannah Al Rashid, Oka Antara, and Andrew Suleiman) convince a cult leader known as Father (Epy Kusnandar) to let them enter his compound to film an interview with him. As expected, the interview goes badly and events turn frightening, but not in the ways the viewer anticipates.
Written and directed by Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto, Safe Haven packs a wallop both with its upsetting violence and its nutty story progression. There is a serious “What the hell?” factor to this segment that is best experienced by watching it, so the less I say here, the better. Trust me, if you don’t have any interest in the other segments in the film, just skip to this one and it will be well worth your time.
Slumber Party Alien Abduction is the next segment and it can’t be accused of false advertising. But like A Ride in the Park, its simple premise quickly becomes dull and it wears out its welcome after just a few minutes. This is a real disappointment coming from co-writer/director Jason Eisener. I quite enjoyed his feature Hobo with a Shotgun and his short film Treevenge, so I had high hopes for this segment. While his over-the-top sense of humor is present in places, this time he pushes too far into ugliness for its own sake.
Like all anthologies, the film closes out with the final twist to the wrap-around story. While it’s not original, it is nicely paced and Barrett draws some effective atmosphere and scares from the final scene.
Is it damning V/H/S/2 with faint praise to say it’s one of the better horror anthologies I’ve seen in several years? Yes, I suppose it is. But it boasts one masterpiece of over-the-top horror in Safe Haven and a pretty decent short in Phase I Clinical Trials. I usually hate advising viewers to lower their expectations to increase enjoyment of a film, but that may be the key to enjoying the current wave of horror anthologies.
This trailer is NSFW:
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and read all the extraneous crap that goes through my head by following me on Twitter.