Friday, October 18, 2013

Horror Fest VIII (Day One): V/H/S 2

 V/H/S 2 is a marked improvement on just about every aspect of V/H/S, and this is coming from someone who enjoyed the first film. It’s a weird point of cognitive dissonance for me, because I love anthology films but mostly hate “found footage” films, so V/H/S had to overcome its conceit with interesting segments and succeeded half of the time (I largely prefer the first and last entries in the film – the bat-creature and the haunted house). That said, it was too long, stretched the “frame” story too far, and is something I “liked” more than really “enjoyed.” I haven’t seen it again since last year and don’t know that I will any time soon.
 On the other hand, I've already seen the second film twice this year; V/H/S 2 drops the segments, cuts down on the length, and provides a more satisfying overall experience, which is critical for any anthology. The “frame” story, “Tape 49” is more focused and streamlined while still loosely tying in to the first film, and three out of the four “tapes” are winners, with the other one an inspired effort. Let’s take a look at how the film breaks down:
 “Tape 49” – from Simon Barrett (the writer of You’re Next), follows a dubious private investigator and his assistant as they break into the house of a missing college student, only to find a familiar setup involving VCRs and TVs in the living room. A laptop video from the missing student suggests that playing the tapes “in the right order” will change you, and they seem to be having an odd effect on the investigator’s assistant.

“Phase I Clinical Trials” – Adam Wingard (The ABCs of Death) directs and stars as an accident victim who receives an experimental artificial eye which is, for research purposes, filming everything. Things seem to be going well until he notices strange goings-on in his house, and a stranger turns up to warn him that the longer he can see dead people, the more they can interact with him. How does she know? Her cochlear implant has the same effect, and it may already be too late for both of them…
“A Ride in the Park” – from Eduardo Sánchez and Gregg Hale (The Blair Witch Project), a biker has plans for a nice ride through the woods when he runs into a familiar horror monster, and thanks to his helmet camera, takes us on a first-person journey through the “eyes” of the undead.
“Safe Haven” – from Gareth Evans (The Raid: Redemption) and Timo Tjahjanto (The ABCs of Death), a documentary crew is allowed access to the compound of a cult promising “Paradise on Earth.” Little do they realize that their spy cameras will do more than expose what’s going on behind closed doors – their arrival signals the beginning of the end…
“Alien Abduction Slumber Party” – from Jason Eisener (Hobo with a Shotgun) comes, well, exactly what it promises. Teenagers put up with their obnoxious preteen brothers and friends, until invaders from another world decide they want everybody, including the dog.
 The “frame” story benefits from stripping down the main characters to two (there were too many people in the first film) and keeps the in-between segments shorter and to the point. While you might miss it the first time, there are quite a few references to the first film and the “mythology” behind why somebody would collect these tapes. I would imagine this will expand as the series goes on (it’s hard to see why there wouldn’t be more), so it doesn’t feel intrusive and people who hadn’t seen the first V/H/S didn’t feel lost in the meantime.
 Every one of the entries is an improvement over the first film, not simply because they’re shorter (“Safe Haven” is the longest of the four and deservedly so). While it’s still hard to argue why anybody would transfer this footage tape, let alone circulate bootlegged copies, there’s nothing as credibility straining as the “Skype” segment from V/H/S. “A Ride in the Park” manages to take the overdone (if still wildly popular) zombie story and present it from a perspective you haven’t seen before and mixes in other camera angles in a fairly clever way. “Phase I Clinical Trials” makes good use of a limited perspective “first person” camera and builds some tension with creepy imagery.
 If there’s a weak link in the lot, it’s probably “Alien Abduction Slumber Party”, and mostly because it comes after the truly fantastic “Safe Haven.” Evans and Tjahjanto’s tour-de-force is an almost impossible act to follow, and “Slumber Party” is good, even when you consider that Eisener breaks three cardinal rules of movie-making (don’t work with children, don’t work with animals, and don’t kill either if you do). His novel use of the camera attached to the dog makes the frenetic chases near the end more interesting and explains the “why are they still filming this?” problem inherent to “found footage.”
 The undisputed winner is “Safe Haven,” for reasons I don’t want to spoil for people who haven’t seen V/H/S 2, because you should see the film if for no other reason than this segment. It’s an ominous buildup that turns into a rollercoaster of “holy shit!” with a perfect final line that’ll make you chuckle. I didn’t even realize I’d missed the last line until the second time I saw it, which caps off an already impressive exercise in ratcheting up the stakes for a film crew in far over their heads. The rest of V/H/S 2 is icing on the cake, which is not to diminish Eisener’s effort or the conclusion to “Tape 49,” which is more satisfying than the end of V/H/S.
Before we watched V/H/S 2, the Cap’n screened “Incubator,” a short I saw last year at Nevermore, and “One Last Dive,” another short from Eisener that shows just how much you can do with one minute. While I enjoy Hobo with a Shotgun to a degree, Jason Eisener has to this point really impressed the Cap’n with the short films he’s directed, edited, and produced. Not to bag on his feature length endeavor, but he really knows how to pack a punch in a short film.

Up Next: Lamberto Bava’s Demons, followed by Dario Argento’s Suspiria!

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