Directors: Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Gareth Evans, Gregg Hale, Eduardo Sanchez, Timo Jjahjanto, Adam Wingard
Searching for a missing student, two private investigators break into his house and find collection of VHS tapes. Viewing the horrific contents of each cassette, they realize there may be dark motives behind the student’s disappearance.
I can’t recall if I reviewed V/H/S or not but I didn’t hate it. As an anthology piece of found footage films it wasn’t bad. There were a few segments I rather enjoyed while the rest was pretty much “Meh” I approached V/H/S/2 with trepidation because “sequels are never as good” and when that first one was barely past the “meh” level of entertainment I expected the worst. V/H/S/2 rewarded me with a very fine collection of horror shorts and re-established my faith in the fact that there CAN be quality made using the found footage format. It’s true that most found footage movies suck these days but that’s not really the fault of the format – but rather the fault of the directors. V/H/S/2 seems to see the same thing and say “Okay, if you’re gonna keep making found footage movies, here’s how to do it right.
The wraparound segment is useless and is just a lazy way to link things together. Let’s skip that and look at the individual segments that make up the film.
Phase I Clinical Trials
Directed by Adam Wingard
So… you ever watch a found footage movie and when things start getting intense you start to wonder, “well why don’t these people just drop the camera and run.” That’s probably the biggest complaint I’ve head and share with found footage films, that they break realism so severely by having these people videotape EVERYTHING. The only way a narrative in a found footage film can exist is if the characters are too stupid to stop filming and save themselves. The fist segment of V/H/S/2 “Phase 1 Clinical Trials,” easily solves that dilemma by having a camera implanted in the protagonist’s eye. He’d been in a car accident recently and lost his eye. It’s been replaced with this revolutionary new technology that is essentially a camera hooked up to the brain – and everything the eye picks up is recorded. There is the unintended side effect that it allows him to see and interact with ghosts. Later he meets a girl that is undergoing a similar experiment and suffering the same side effect. She gives him advice, after the fact, that interacting with the ghosts he sees is the worst possible thing he could do – and of course we find out why. Granted there have been shorts in anthologies before dealing with an eye transplant, usually the recipient is getting flashes of whatever that eyeball’s previous owner witnesses, and I appreciate that “Phase 1 Clinical Trials” takes that story in a different direction.
What makes all the shorts included in V/H/S/2 work so well is that they are shorts. That’s one of the largest problems I have with the found footage genre in general, the length. There’s a premise and people are recording it – but having to stretch that out of 90 minutes means the audience has to see a bunch of pointless stuff recorded in a jarring fashion. In a shorter format there is a premise and immediate follow-through. I imagine if this was a 90 minute feature we would have had far too many pointless scenes of this guy carrying on his day-to-day life with this eye and it would be boring – regardless of whatever horrors come during the final act. While the P.O.V. with the eye can be distracting, it’s at least short. For comparison, take Gasper Noe’s film Enter the Void which is over 2 hours of sitting in a character’s P.O.V., seeing every time they blink, etc. While Noe’s film is great, it’s unsettling to sit through because of the jarring camera. There is only one moment of blinking in “Phase 1 Clinical Trials,” at the beginning to establish that our viewpoint is an eye and that’s it – your mind fills in the rest of the assumed blinks. Well done.
A Ride in the Park
Directed by Eduardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale
If there is anything that is more overdone than the found footage genre it’s zombies – and with A Ride in the Park we combine both evils for a found footage zombie film. Now one can assume that this is just going to be like Rec or Quarantine which (in addition to being the same movie) are the most popular of the found footage zombie subgenre – but “A Ride in the Park” is much more interesting. A man decided to ride his bike through the park on a beautiful, sunny day, and he’s got one of those Go-Pro cameras affixed to his helmet. He has a run in with some zombies, is bitten and becomes a zombie himself. So this is a zombie story told from the zombie’s point-of-view. We see this new zombie briefly learn about this new world – what’s edible (human flesh) and what’s not (a wallet) and how to eat someone with even a humorous bit of zombie etiquette as he shares a corpse with a fellow zombie. Together the two of them invade a child’s birthday party. While I did love the fun moments of experiencing a zombie’s point-of-view, there actually is a pretty poignant ending that makes it all worthwhile.
Again, the shorter format works perfectly for a found footage film. It’s another concept that would be terrible if stretched out to 90 minutes (and given the ending I don’t think would have been plausible). Interestingly, director Eduardo Sanchez’s name may seem familiar as he was one of the directors of The Blair Witch Project which made the found footage genre popular. Yes, I KNOW there was Cannibal Holocaust which is technically the first found footage film but The Blair Witch Project was popular and created a new language of film (found footage) while Cannibal Holocaust did not. Without The Blair Witch Project there would be no V/H/S/2.