While on my journey to watch new horror movies from this decade, I very quickly came across the anthology film V/H/S. It and its follow-up both share the same basic concept: a group of people in a framing sequence stumble across a house filled with video tapes and start watching. As they begin, we start seeing short segments directed by different up-and-comers from all kinds of horror subgenres, but each featuring a character holding or carrying a camera of some kind.
I wasn’t so sure if I was down with this concept. Like just about everyone I know and listen to, I’m pretty much done with found footage on all levels, but much like Europa Report, the majority of these segments offer clever reasons for the character(s) to carry a video recording device.
And yet, I still almost turned the first one off. After the fact, I realized that I was not down with the overly “bro” nature of the guys in the framing sequence who run up on women, lift their shirts up and record it and the ones in David Bruckner’s kick-off segment called “Amateur Night” who pick up a woman who is far more dangerous than she seems at first. All of that grossness combined together to taint my opinion of the movie, but after that it got a lot better.
First off, the framing sequence is actually pretty creepy. I wasn’t expecting much from that because, hey, this is a horror anthology and that part is almost always padding, but this one helmed my Adam Wingard (You’re Next) offered its own unique scares. Aside from “Amateur Night,” though, I thought the rest were really well done. Ti West’s “Second Honeymoon” worked super well as a short — and also starred the great A.J. Bowen — Glenn McQuaid’s “Tuesday the 17th” did something really fun and unique with the slasher genre while also making the camera’s presence an integral part of the action. I’ll admit, I had to look up “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” by Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies) because I did not catch what happened at the end. Finally, Radio Silence’s “10/31/98” featured my favorite incorporation of the camera — the guy is dressed as a teddy bear nanny cam, which is pretty ingenious — and also a rapid fire short that rockets somewhere pretty crazy, pretty quickly.
While I definitely had my problems with the first V/H/S, I was interested enough to check out the follow-up which, like I said, kept the same basic premise while upping the game when it came to story diversity and special effects. This time around, Simon Barrett, who wrote You’re Next, directed the framing sequence which finds a pair of PIs breaking into a house trying to find a kid who was obsessed with the same kind of tapes seen in the first film. Though it features the same kinds of scares seen in its predecessor, they’re still effective.
Wingard returned for another super clever use of the format called “Phase I Clinical Trials” which saw a guy with a robot eye plagued by ghosts who meets up with a woman with a hearing implant. This one had a super deep mythology that was presented very succinctly and also included a few definite scares that worked well. After that Blair Witch Project vets Eduardo Sánchez and Gregg Hale did a nice little zombie thing I dug called “A Ride In The Park” that’s probably my favorite zombie thing since Dance Of The Dead.
The last two segments, The Raid‘s Gareth Evans’ “Safe Haven” and the Jason Eisener (Hobo With A Shotgun) directed “Slumber Party Alien Abduction,” were stellar shorts that had me going and absorbed from the jump. Huge kudos to both of those for being interesting, fun, scary and all-around fantastic. While so different, both of these parts felt perfectly executed and written for this kind of film.
Overall, I liked the stories in V/H/S 2 better than the original, but I will say that I had more problems with the actual set-up of the films. If you’re buying into the conceit, these videos were shot and then distributed amongst collectors like the people inhabiting the houses in both framing sequences. And yet, in the zombie bit you’ve got multiple sources incorporated (the Go Pro mainly, but then the camera held by parents at a kid’s birthday party). It gets even crazier in “Safe Haven” where you get a mix of the documentary crew’s raw footage (complete with levels and whatnot), plus compound security footage AND subtitles to boot. These elements kind of ruin the suspension of disbelief I had with people trading these simple tapes by putting a lot of editing into the process. On their own, they’re not a big deal, but I kept finding myself ripped out of the story itself with thoughts like “Hey, who subtitled that? Why didn’t they remove the levels and whatnot?” Maybe I over-thought them, but it seems like a pretty simple thing to fix in order to make these movies make sense within the world that’s set up.
Finally, how crazy is the world presented in these two movies? Everything from demon women and zombies to aliens and cults take place all in the same world with only these tapes as proof. I haven’t seen V/H/S Viral yet, but I would love it if that one dug a little deeper into the overall mythology instead of just presenting more cool bits and pieces of short horror.