V/H/S was an interesting, albeit flawed, horror movie anthology. It featured six short films, all of which were found footage with an overarching frame. There were one or two strong entries, but, for the most part, they were average horror stories that didn’t really make full use of the found footage genre.
Still, I have a soft spot for found footage. But, like all horror, it must abide by very specific rules in order to be scary. Found footage is about convincing the audience that what they’re seeing is real. It’s not a slasher film or a monster movie, it’s something that really happened and we somehow stumbled across this missing tape. To that end, any found footage horror film must follow these rules:
1. No big name actors or people you’d recognize. It pulls you out of the narrative the very moment you see Robert Englund or Kane Hodder onscreen
2. No digital effects. Unless it’s used in a very minor way to enhance a practical effect, digital effects are immediately obvious. No matter how good they are, no matter how real they appear to be, you still say to yourself, “Oh, that’s some cool CGI.” and it’s ruined.
3. The more supernatural or sci-fi or unrealistic the plot is, the harder it will be to keep the audience invested in the idea that the movie really took place in our world and we’re just viewing a dark and strange corner of it. That’s not to say that they must avoid the supernatural at all costs, just that it’s harder to pull off.
With all of this said, they’re just about to release the sequel to V/H/S, creatively titled V/H/S/2. Let’s see how it fairs by my draconian rules.
Like in the first movie, there is a framing story. Two private detectives are on trying to track down a missing college student. They break into his house and come across a familiar set-up for anyone who has seen the first movie.
When breaking and entering into someone’s house and confronted with dozens of TVs that were on when you arrived, there is really only one thing that you can do….
Instead of the six shorter vignettes that were in the first V/H/S, the sequel only features four stories this time, which is a shame. I preferred the shorter, quicker films of the original film. No matter. Away we go.
Our protagonist has had his damaged eye replaced with a bad-ass looking cybernetic eye that works just as well as any other eye, but the doctor warns that there may be…glitches (ominous foreshadowing). Everything that the character sees will be recorded. What’s odd is that his eye also records sound which…doesn’t make a lot of sense. Possibly there’s an upgrade package for cybernetic eyeballs that lets them capture sound as well.
After seeing a couple of bloody people roaming around his apartment he freaks out, meets someone with similar problems and all hell breaks loose in rather rapid fashion. All told, it’s nothing special, but still entertaining. A couple of jump scares, twitchy acting and some gruesome scenes and then it’s all over. All told, this ranked dead middle for me out of the four shorts.
It did win a lot of points by not pandering too much to the audience. Through some context clues, you realize why the guy is being haunted. It’s not extremely subtle, but they never once say it out loud, which is impressive in this day and age where every motivation apparently needs to be loudly explained with a couple of exclamation points to boot.
This one, this was my favorite one. It’s about zombies, which made me groan and nearly turn it off, but then it turns into a zombie movie that I had never seen before.
It’s a zombie movie from the point of view of the zombie.
It’s one of the few entries that could only have been done effectively as found footage and makes good use of the genre. Tere’s not much else to say about it since the concept really says it all.
Great, bloody, gory and my favorite out of all the shorts in V/H/S or V/H/S/2.
Right after the cozy little nastiness that was Tape 2, we hit the worst of the four. This one breaks pretty much all of the rules I laid out, except for the first one. It’s about a cult in Indonesia that’s being investigated by some young people with cameras.
And there are subtitles. In a found footage movie, there are subtitles. While these can be explained away, it stills pulled me right out the narrative and wrecked any chance of me immersing myself in the thing.
There is also some pretty bad and obvious CGI. It’s not even always good CGI. Even if this had just been run as a regular old horror movie, it wouldn’t have been very scary and was wracked with spooky cult cliches.
Except for this guy:
While their parents are out of town, a brother and sister prank each other mercilessly while recording the results and then they’re attacked by….somethings.
This one, like the first, is average. There are some creepy moments and great visuals. There is CGI, but it’s better done than in the third video. It’s very frantic and hectic and blazes through.
In a lot of ways, I think it most accurately reflects what it would be like to suffer this kind of attack. It was pure chaos, lights and sounds flashing and blaring out in a confusing cacophony. It’s good, basic horror except there’s a crying dog throughout most of it and I don’t like dogs being hurt, so I was just sad instead of scared.
All in all, I think V/H/S/2 suffers by having fewer shorts than its predecessor. V/H/S had one or two clunkers, but, for the most part, it was pretty entertaining and if you didn’t enjoy one short, it would be over soon. V/H/S/2, on the other hand, limits itself. The Cult Story just never seemed to end and went on interminably merely because I wasn’t digging the story. By the time it had ended, I had checked out mentally. More films and shorter films, I think, is the way to go with this style of filmmaking.
In the end, V/H/S/2 was a disappointing follow-up. I wanted more variety and more stories and more chances to delve into a subgenre I love.
I give it Two Tracking Errors, One Rewind Snarl and A Betamax.
V/H/S/2 comes out in theaters on July 12, but is available for rental now through various providers, like Amazon.