Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
July 2013

V/H/S 2

Tape over it

'V/H/S 2' is just as aimless about its central concept as its 2012 predecessor

V/H/S 2
Magnet Releasing
Director: Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Gregg Hale, Eduardo Sánchez, Timo Tjahjanto, Gareth Huw Evans and Jason Eisener
Screenplay: Simon Barrett, Jamie Nash, Timo Tjahjanto, Gareth Huw Evans, John Davies and Jason Eisener
Not rated / 1 hour, 36 minutes
July 12, 2013 - also available on VOD
(out of four)

The closing credits to V/H/S 2 include a sole credit for "anthology concept." So I want to focus on that word - "concept." Because as far as I can tell, neither this movie nor its predecessor, last year's V/H/S, actually has one. Unless by "anthology concept," the filmmakers mean, "Our concept was to do an anthology film," in which case I guess they've got me. But the anthology itself has no concept, or at least no idea of how (or why) to use one.

The notion - as it was in the original - is to frame a series of mostly first-person horror shorts with a separate narrative involving one character or another discovering and watching each of the other shorts on a series of old VHS tapes. What do VHS tapes - as physical objects, as time capsules, as technology, as personal history - have to do with anything? Absolutely nothing. The film's entire conceit - indeed, even its name - is built around videotapes, yet the filmmakers have nothing to say about them, even in an abstract sense.

In fairness, even though I wasn't a fan of V/H/S, either, at least in that movie, a couple of the shorts were designed as relics from an age (the '90s) when analog camcorders and VHS tapes still would have been commonplace. That's not the case this time around. These segments are shot on Red cameras, GoPro cameras, bionic eye-cameras, tiny hidden cameras, even security cameras. All completely modern (or, in one case, futuristic), and none with any defensible relevance to the VHS-centric framing device.

To be clear, I'm not complaining that the shorts' contrived appearance on videotapes doesn't make logical sense; my complaint is that there's simply no reason for it. The film never finds any justification for its own concept. The fact that the framing device - the only portion of the film in which the supposed "concept" appears or has any presence - is also the worst of the five segments only compounds the problem.

The frame story, Tape 49, written and directed by Simon Barrett (who also wrote Tape 56, the equally worthless - and even more nonsensically executed, especially from a structural standpoint - frame story of V/H/S), involves a sleazy private dick (Lawrence Michael Levine) and his assistant (Kelsy Abbott) investigating the supposed disappearance of a college kid. They break into his apartment, find a living room full of TVs and proceed to watch each of the videotapes strewn across the floor. The one attempt at an idea in this fractured segment is that the videos possess some sort of ominous supernatural quality, like a fast-acting, metaphysical version of the tape from The Ring. But that idea is barely developed.

Of the four remaining pieces, only one of them really works. Co-helmed by Timo Tjahjanto and The Raid director Gareth Evans, Safe Haven (not to be confused with the Nicholas Sparks adaptation of the same name) is the only segment that fleshes out its idea.

While their counterparts generally start out with a semblance of an idea and never really follow through on it, Evans and Tjahjanto build a full-fledged narrative; the segment feels like a feature film. A camera crew gains access to the compound of a reclusive cult leader (Epy Kusnandar) and his family of followers, and ends up with quite a recording on its hands.

The filmmakers carefully set up a sense of creeping dread as the crew members - in farther over their head than they can possibly imagine - descend down the corridors of an increasingly eerie cult sanctuary. The inevitable mayhem awaiting them is well-choreographed, with Evans and Tjahjanto employing first-person camerawork with fluidity and creativity. From a story standpoint, I love the way the film introduces a seemingly perfunctory melodramatic contrivance, only to give it unexpected relevance that leads directly to the segment's hysterically perverse final punchline.

But other segments never follow through on their promise. Adam Wingard's Phase I Clinical Trials begins with a strong idea - car-accident victim who lost an eye gets a bionic implant, only to discover it brings with it a severe otherwordly side effect - but never goes anywhere with it. Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sánchez's A Ride in the Park is a zombie movie that adds nothing to zombie movies. And Jason Eisener's Slumber Party Alien Abduction - despite its awesomely to-the-point title and despite some terrific visuals - is too brief and haphazard to get much mileage out of its premise.

I can't exactly make the same statement about V/H/S 2 as a whole, mainly because it doesn't have much of a premise at all. It has little more than the shell of an idea, and it doesn't even know what to do with the shell. A better idea? How about just trying to make five or six good, solid horror shorts - no first-person requirement, no framing device - instead of trying to cram filmmakers' ideas into a concept that doesn't make any sense in the first place?


Read more by Chris Bellamy


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