Reviews

SXSW Review: V/H/S/2

The success of the low budget V/H/S last year proved that the found footage horror genre is a great way to do a horror anthology, with the style itself linking vignettes together in a way that doesn’t require any other explanation.  It had its problems but it also had a lot of potential if the right group of people could be put together to make it work.

The producers have done just that for V/H/S/2, gathering together a talented group of horror filmmakers who have taken the concept and put as much thought and cleverness into it as they could. The results speak volumes.

The framing story this time around follows a pair of private detectives (armed with video cameras as part of their work) who have been hired to check on a missing college student. They break into his home (thinking nothing of the aluminum foil covered windows) where they find the requisite bank of televisions and stack of VHS tapes.

Just like last time, this wraparound tale (from returning segment director Simon Barret) is the weakest link in the chain, to the point where you frequently forget about it and could probably live fine without it.  A lot of that is because the individual segments themselves are so good you really don’t need anything else. Part of that is due to quality of story, but also due to the skill in storytelling. V/H/S/2 seriously ups its game in terms of filmmaking technique.

At the top of the list is “Safe Haven” from The Raid: Redemption mastermind Gareth Huw Evans, co-directed by Timo Tjahjanto. Simultaneously the most grounded and the most insane, “Safe Haven” follows a group of freelance video journalist who talk their way into an interview with the leader of a Jonestown-style cult.  At first merely uncomfortable at the implications of what has been happening to the people at the compound, particularly the children, it quickly devolves into a nightmare of blind belief. And then things get really bad, all with a consistent logic which nevertheless hits you from left field.

Almost as good is “A Ride in the Park,” the return to found footage horror for Blair Witch director Eduardo Sanchez (paired with Gregg Hale) as a helmet cam provides a first hand look at what it means to become a zombie, from discovering you can’t eat yourself to attacks on elementary school birthday parties.  As truly unnerving as “Safe Haven” is, “Park” is hilarious with nearly every zombie cliche you can think of neatly turned on its head in a quick 12 minutes.

None of the rest of segments are quite up to that level. Adam Wingard’s “Clinical Trials” is a neat idea that is just not developed enough and probably would do better with a full film. And Jason Eisener’s Spielbergian “Alien Abduction Slumber Party” hits the limits of the resources the filmmakers have on hand with alien effects that are unfortunately too silly to be scary despite a strong start.

If it’s not great, it is still a vast improvement over the first film; brutal and efficient and immensely entertaining.  The only potential downside is there seems to be not much more to go up without becoming repetitive. Here’s hoping a V/H/S/3 breaks the mold, but until then, this is plenty good enough.


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