Considering that my only foray into film was an anthology horror movie, I have something of a soft spot for the sub-genre. I like the campfire stories vibe you get from watching a bunch of disparate stories congeal into a single cohesive bit of ghoulish fun. So, when I heard about a new anthology horror film called V/H/S, I was eager to give it a viewing. The problem was the amount of hype people put behind it, with many proclaiming it to be the great return of the sub-genre. While I did enjoy the first film, I was not as impressed as others seemed to be. I'm not particularly fond of the "found footage" gimmickry that has swallowed the horror genre whole, but the original film managed to find ways to justify itself. My biggest problems with V/H/S were the pacing and the wraparound story. Luckily, V/H/S 2 (I much prefer the more clever original title, S-VHS) completely solves the first issue and tweaks the second issue just enough so that it's marginally better.
The only way to review anthology films is to dissect each individual segment, so I'll do that below, but as far as an overall impression, V/H/S 2 is triumphantly enjoyable. The slow pacing of the original gets thrown out pretty quickly and the segments start happening almost instantly. There's a good balance as far as genre types go, and each entry is skillfully handled by its respective director. By the very nature of anthology stories, some segments will be more to your liking than others, but from an objective viewpoint, all the entries succeed in telling a story in a compelling and well thought out way.
Note: I will be listing the titles for each segment, and the only one that some may consider spoiler-y is the final entry, so I will white it out. Just highlight if you'd like to read it.
Segment 1 - "Tape 49": This is our wraparound story, and compared to the first film's wraparound, it's certainly better, but that's not saying much. It's about two private detectives who are looking for a lost college student, and stumble upon a collection of VHS tapes that the kid was collecting. It has a few moments of standard creepiness, but they are all pretty telegraphed. My main complaint about the wraparounds in both films is that they don't seem to serve much meaning other than to jump into the stories. While it obviously has to serve that function, it can also try to do something unique itself. Look at Creepshow or Tales from the Darkside to see what I'm talking about. Still, this is way more streamlined and easy to understand than the original's wraparound, and it's a lot more conclusive narratively. And to me, the final shot is actually really funny, so that's a plus. These movies need a little bit of humor, in my opinion. The first one was almost too serious, and with this one's ending, there seems to be a slightly lighter and fun spirit going on behind the camera.
Segment 2 - "Phase I Clinical Trials": For our first segment, we have a classic concept (a body part that has ties to the supernatural) done in a fairly inventive fashion. The lead character has an experimental cybernetic eye implant, so the whole thing is from his point of view (the company giving him the eye is recording everything for research purposes). Well, he starts seeing things that shouldn't be there and everything gets real spooky fast. While this story doesn't do anything too new, it's still executed in a highly focused and precise manner. It's a good lead in for the movie, and the way it ends is pretty fantastic and eerie.
Segment 3 - "A Ride in the Park": I really liked this one. It's about a biker out in the woods who runs into a bloodied woman who is being pursued by zombies. I guess this next sentence could be considered spoiler territory, but whatever, it's the premise of the piece. The biker is bitten and turns into a zombie, and since he has a camera mounted on his helmet, we get to experience some first person zombie action. There are a few small bits of humor in this bit, and that's something this series desperately needs. When they get everyone together for V/H/S 3: The Revenge of Betamax, I sincerely hope there is an entire segment that is more horror-comedy, because the one or two moments in this segment are a welcome relief. And the ending to this bit does something I don't think I've ever seen in a zombie film, and it actually moved me. While this segment isn't the best of the film, it was certainly my favorite.
Segment 4 - "Safe Haven": This will be the one that everyone will be talking about, and rightfully so. A documentary group interviews the leader of a bizarre cult and gains access onto his compound, and it just so happens to be when their strange prophecy is being fulfilled. The level of outright insanity in this piece is commendable, and the way it's handled gives it an all too realistic feel, even though this segment is easily the most outlandish. You get flashes of Jonestown, the Westboro Baptist Church and any other terrifying cult you can think of. The effects work in this piece steal the show from the entire film, and gorehounds will find much to like. I can't even get into how awesome this bit is without spoiling the madness on display. This is the highlight of the movie, no doubt.
Segment 5 - "Slumber Party Alien Abduction": For an ending segment, this one is kind of disappointing, but even so, it's still handled extremely well and has a few effective moments. I won't even get into what the premise is, so if you want to know, just highlight the title. It sums it up pretty nicely. The kid actors in this do a damn good job of seeming like real kids, probably because they are allowed to swear and act stupid. The creatures in this are pretty standard as far as design goes, but they still manage to look decently scary.
All in all, V/H/S 2 is a huge improvement from its predecessor, mostly because the pacing issues from the original have been completely eradicated. Even though some segments are stronger than others, it's undeniable that each one has a sure hand behind the camera, and good writers as well. My only hope is that the creators find an interesting and satisfying way to connect all three movies (they've already announced a third film), since there is one moment during the wraparound that proves these movies take place in the same universe. For someone who is bored to death of the "found footage" gimmick, V/H/S 2 makes me a believer that the format can be used in an innovative and compelling way, as long as you have a good story and an interesting visual talent.