In ‘V/H/S/2’, two private detectives searching for a missing student find a collection of VHS tapes containing horrific images that may have led to the student’s disappearance.
The horror anthology experiences periodic revivals that culminate in the production of several collections of varying quality. The highlight of this resurgence was surprisingly from Thailand in 4bia and its sequel in 2008 and 2009 respectively. Then V/H/S was released, combining the found footage genre with the anthology. The result was fresh and horrifying. When the sequel, V/H/S/2, was announced with a line of new directors, curiosity about whether it would live up to its predecessor abounded.
The framing narrative, “Tape 49,” is about a detective and his assistant hired to investigate the disappearance of a college student. During their search they find a laptop in his home still filming a video as well as a stack of old VHS tapes and multiple televisions. The young man in the recording talks about the strangeness of the videotapes' contents, which the assistant is then instructed to watch. The following tales are found on those cassettes.
In the first story, “Phase I Clinical Trials,” a man agrees to participate in an experiment after an accident causes him to go blind in one eye. To cure the condition, doctors implant a camera into his eye that will restore his vision, but also record all of his interactions. Things go awry when the device opens a gateway for vengeful spirits to haunt and attack him. A girl who received similar treatment comes to try to help him cope, but distractions only go so far.
The second tape, “A Ride in the Park,” is footage recovered from a GoPro helmet cam that belonged to a mountain biker who is attacked by the undead. It provides a rare first-person account of life as a zombie.
The third narrative, “Safe Haven,” is about a documentary crew that is granted unique permission to film inside an Indonesian commune, which is suspected of child abuse. However, a series of ritual sacrifices turns the investigative reporting piece into a bloody disaster that defies all rational explanation.
The final tale, “Slumber Party Alien Abduction,” is an aggressive alien invasion captured on a spy-cam attached to a family's small dog. What begins as a night of harmless pranks turns into a struggle to survive and evade capture when a group of "Greys" lands in the teens' backyard.
This compilation of bizarre recordings doesn't really improve upon or measure up to the original anthology. The first film had the benefit of being unique in this genre crossover, meaning any successors would require more of an effort to make an impression. Instead, it leaves most of its determination at the door. The zombie tour in “A Ride in the Park” simply changes the camera perspective without accomplishing anything new in the genre; even the supposedly clever conclusion is raggedly stitched on to the run-of-the-mill story without any logical connection to the narrative. And warning: the excessive use of strobe lighting to make the aliens appear more threatening in “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” is gimmicky, annoying and can cause nausea.
Conversely, the framing story, the medical experiment with unexpected consequences and the secretive cult are all solid sections of the movie. “Tape 49” provides an adequate link between the shorts while maintaining an appropriately creepy atmosphere; the ghosts made visible by the eye-cam in “Phase I Clinical Trials” are disturbing and their attempts to interact are unnerving; and “Safe Haven” delivers blow after blow, even saving what seemed like too silly of an ending with a ridiculous reveal. Perhaps a little more quality control during the script process could have produced a more even level of shorts rather than repeat the shortcomings of its predecessor.
The official release date was too early for the movie to be programmed in this year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival, so organizers included it in their Spotlight Screening series that acts as a preview for the fall genre fest.
Directors:Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Gareth Evans, Gregg Hale, Eduardo Sánchez, Timo Tjahjanto and Adam Wingard