Hearing about it for the first time, I was fairly certain that V/H/S was going to be an impossible movie for me not to like. One, it was bringing back the anthology, which ranks high among my favorite sub-genres. Two, I grew up during the VHS era, so the idea behind the film carried some nostalgic connotations for me as well.
When I actually saw the movie, however, I was a little let down. There are things about it that I enjoy, but I find it ultimately lacking. While there are segments that are interesting conceptually, there’s only one that actually works really well altogether and I think people recognize that as that segment is getting its own spinoff.
So I was a little less enthused when the sequel came about than I had been for the original, because the first had been a decent anthology, but nothing much more than that.
Luckily, I did check it out and I’m happy that I did because V/H/S/2 is a better movie than the first virtually across the board. It’s more consistent, it has a better balance, it’s more exciting. It might not have the lightning-in-a-bottle standout performance that Hannah Fierman gave in the “Amateur Night” segment in the original, but it makes up for that by providing—for the most part—stories that are ultimately more engaging.
I will admit that neither the first nor second have the most engaging wraparound scenes, although this one does top the first, however marginally, in that regard. Despite being one of the biggest pioneers of the found footage genre, Sanchez’s segment is surprisingly the least effective of the bunch. It’s interesting and cool, but it doesn’t feel like a fully formed segment of an anthology movie. It feels more like a viral YouTube video. It’s cool and interesting, but there’s no story to it.
The other segments, on the other hand, each tell stories that are so engaging, interesting and exciting that they all could have supported their own feature films. “Phase I Clinical Trials” may not have the most enticing title, but it works with the segment as a whole. There’s something, well, very clinical about that trial. What I like best about this segment, directed by Adam Wingard, is honestly that it reminds me so much of “The Eye” from the John Carpenter/Tobe Hooper directed Body Bags.
In fact, it almost feels like a remake of that story, updated for modern audiences and taken to the extremes. It’s genuinely haunting. This is a ghost story that’s inescapable because it’s essentially being broadcast through your mind. The entry point is your own head. There’s no defeating that.
Of course, in horror anthologies, the good guys rarely win. This is one of the biggest differences between anthologies and features. Typically, if you spend 90 minutes with a character you want them to survive. But in shorts all the characters are expendable, even the protagonist.
The insanity of this segment just builds and builds, which is great, because it’s preparing you for the worst possible outcome. Everything is put in place so that you know the protagonist is going to die, you’re simply left wondering how it’s going to happen. And still it manages to surprise, because his death comes in a way that is so perversely gruesome that makes you want to gag and applaud at the same time.
“Slumber Party Alien Abduction” is another very bluntly titled piece. It tells you exactly what you’re going to get. That’s not really a bad thing, not in this case, at least. Because this one isn’t so much about how it happens. Dating back to the video store days, the genre has been sorted into sub-genres so that people who like one type of horror can flock right to it. You know when a movie’s a vampire picture and when an alien flick is about aliens.
This segment, knowing a little bit about the feature before it came out, I almost went in expecting to be my least favorite. I’d heard there was an alien abduction story in the mix and it felt out of place, not as scary, so I was skeptical. Then I watched it. Somehow, it may have actually scared me the most out of the bunch.
There’s an excellent, fast-paced energy to this segment that I wasn’t expecting. The relationships between the kids worked for me, even in the limited running time, and made me want to see more. When things go crazy, they really go crazy, although not quite as much as the feature’s best segment.
“Safe Haven” is the standout story and is, I think, pretty widely recognized as such. There were rumors it was getting its own spinoff before “Amateur Night” was turned into SiREN. It’s an amazing short directed by The Raid’s Gareth Evans. It deals with cults, with demons, and the way it builds the horror is kind of astonishing. It starts out creepy, then it gets weird, then it gets horrifying, a Jacob’s Ladder-esque nightmare just ramped up to 11.
V/H/S/2 just has more consistency than the original. That doesn’t mean the first is bad, it just means that in my eyes the second is much better. It’s scarier. It’s funnier, too. For now, it’s still viewed under the shadow of the original, but I have faith that eventually it is going to be recognized as the very underrated, strong anthology that it really is.