'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
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
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?