Magnolia Pictures / 2013 / 96 mins / NR
When I reviewed V/H/S last year I said it was one of the better "found footage" horror movies out there. It was uneven but there were far more good elements to it than bad. I also noted that the "found footage" gimmick had worn out its welcome years ago. Since that movie was a success, the filmmakers of The Collective (the company behind this franchise) decided to continue onward with V/H/S/2. However they didn't just shoot to move their series forward, they looked to improve it.
V/H/S/2 follows the same basic format as its predecessor (a frame story used to introduce the four short films) but the whole movie feels much more polished and planned than the original. Our frame story is also far better than V/H/S' "Tape 56." Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett's "Tape 49" follows the sleazy private detective team of Larry (Lawrence Michael Levine) and Ayesha (Kelsy Abbott) as they search for a missing teen. Tracking the boy to a seemingly abandoned house, they discover a pile of VHS tapes and television monitors in one of the rooms along with a laptop featuring the missing teen himself (L.C. Holt.) While Larry searches the house, Ayesha starts viewing the tapes.
Tape One holds "Phase I Clinical Trials" (also by Wingard and Barrett) and follows accident victim Herman (Wingard) as he returns home with his brand new cutting edge optical implant. As he is the first to have this type of medical technology, everything he sees is being recorded. Unfortunately, what he is seeing isn't exactly on our plane of existence.
Tape Two features "A Ride in the Park" from the directors of the original "found footage" film, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, Greg Hale and Eduardo Sanchez. A biker (Jay Saunders), outfitted with his trusty helmet camera, is out for the titular exercise when he is attacked and turned into a zombie. They say the best ideas are the simplest ones and this short truly proves that. The basic concept of seeing the zombie apocalypse literally (well pretty close) through the eyes of first a victim and then a zombie itself is brilliant.
Tape Three comes courtesy of directors Jamie Nash and Gareth Huw Evans, "Safe Haven." A film crew is granted permission inside a mysterious religious cult that houses many children. While the leader, known only as "Father" (Epy Kusnandar), is interviewed, the crew discovers that he has allowed them to come on a very special day.
Tape Four is from Jason Eisener and is subtly titled "Slumber Party Alien Abduction." The title pretty much says it all as a group of kids get together in a swanky isolated house that is then targeted by Area 51-looking aliens.
As I noted above, V/H/S/2 improves on the original film in almost every aspect: tighter (and fewer) stories, a far stronger framing tale and some interesting and innovative ways to wring a few new twists out of hand held cameras (the ocular implant, the zombie POV and putting the camera on a dog in the final short were all clever.) Even the weakest of the five stories, "Slumber Party Alien Abduction," never outstays its welcome and is quite a bit of fun.
The anamorphic 1.78 transfer appears to be fine. It is supposed to look like a mix of old VHS and new digital camera quality so expect lots of "glitches," skewed "tracking" and various other kinds of "technical problems" that the filmmakers have lovingly peppered all over the film.
While the picture quality strives for a battered old school look and feel, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround goes for 2013 cutting edge as much as it can. Loud, immersive and very active, this sound mix ups the ante quite a bit in the jumps and scares department.
The list of supplements may look impressive on paper, but all of the featurettes are very short (only one cracks the five minute mark and it is just B-roll) and on the general side of informative.
The only supplement that does deliver on the information side is "Filmmaker's Commentary" which has all of the major participants behind the camera chiming in over their respective segments.
Four featurettes are included that have the writer, director and/or star (sometimes they are all the same person) giving a very brief overview of their contribution. They include:
"TAPE 49 Rewind"
"Dissecting PHASE I CLINICAL TRIALS"
"Inside SAFE HAVEN" and
"A RIDE IN THE PARK: I Dare You" (which is more of a fun little short than a making of).
"SLUMBER PARTY ALIEN ABDUCTION: Behind the Lights" is only random B-roll presented in its raw state.
"AXS TV: A Look at V/H/S/2" is a very short promo piece highlighting the directors.
"Behind The Scenes Photo Galleries" includes one gallery for each of the five segments.
Two "Theatrical Trailers" round out the goodies.
V/H/S/2 improves on the first film in almost every way. While it is a still a "found footage" movie, the filmmakers have managed to pump a little more life into the gimmick and delivered a very fun movie well worth a night's rental.