The horror anthology has been picking up speed in the last couple of years. With last year’s original V/H/S hitting iTunes and VOD to commercial success, as well as this year’s The ABCs of Death and its sequel, it’s becoming more and more clear that our current filmmaking technology (and its means of distribution) has given new rise to the short film.
There’s a market for shorter material because we consume entertainment differently. Not everybody has the time or the stamina to make a feature length film, but now we have our own cameras and our own means of distributing that provide a way for us to make films whenever we want.
Enter Brad Miska, the producer and creator of the V/H/S series. He saw the talent and ambition of virtually unknown filmmakers on sites like Youtube and Vimeo and decided to give them a shot at something big. He gave them cash and one rule–your film has to be found footage horror. Now go and make your film.
In last year’s original collection, there were some notable gems. For me, Ti West’s “Second Honeymoon” is a small masterpiece of suspense and dread. He’s one of the finest horror directors working today, and that piece showed huge potential in what this series can offer.
Unfortunately, some of the other films were lacking surprise or ambition. They were essentially short horror films. A short film is like a short story. It’s not a house, it’s a room. We don’t need context. We just need a moment. We don’t need dynamic characters. We need pure emotion and a punch to the gut.
V/H/S/2 is that punch to the gut we expected the first time around.
Every film in this collection, from Simon Barrett’s “Tape 49” to Jason Eisener’s “Alien Abduction Slumber Party”, this film knows how to make the most of its runtime.
The filmmakers here are having so much fun that the excitement is palpable. You never know where any particular story is going to take you, but you’re always sure that it’s going to make you uncomfortable.
What’s most interesting, and most refreshing, about this collection is that it’s not focused on making you jump. It’s never patronizing. These are films from a collection of directors who respect their audience. They know we’ve seen hundreds of horror films. They know we are coming to this series with the desire to see something truly bizarre. Something completely fresh.
They deliver exactly that.
The wraparound film this time around, “Tape 49,” directed by Simon Barrett, is a huge improvement over last year’s tonally confused frame narrative. A private detective and his partner (both business and personal) look for a missing teenager in an abandoned home, only to find a room full of televisions and VHS tapes.
In order to find clues as to where the boy has gone, the couple watches the tapes.
The anthology comes from the tapes, which all contain footage of unexplained events.
The first proper short film of the collection, “Clinical Trials,” directed by You’re Next‘s Adam Wingard, introduces us to the new direction this series is taking us in.
Last year’s film constantly tried to contextualize the found footage aspect of its shorts. Here, in “Clinical Trials,” Wingard has fun with the conceit. Instead of giving us a story where a man is holding the camera, Wingard gives the protagonist an experimental robotic eye that replaces the eye he’s lost in a recent car accident.
The doctors are recording everything the eyeball sees so they can process the data it generates.
In other words, it’s a point-of-view short film with a clever reason to never stop recording.
It would be a disservice to the film to reveal what happens next, so I’ll just tell you that the payoff is equal parts funny and horrifying, and Wingard, who also made a film in The ABCs of Death, has a real knack for making memorable short films.
The second section, “A Ride in the Park,” directed by The Blair Witch Project’s Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale, is a deliriously fun short film shot from the perspective of a mountain biker who has become a zombie. The camera is a GoPro attached to his helmet. What makes the film stand out is the humanity and existential struggle happening within the zombie himself. It’s a weirdly moving scene for a zombie short.
This is the most unabashedly fun short of the collection, and it will likely become a favorite of zombie enthusiasts. Not only are the effects convincing and disturbing, but the pacing of the film is outstanding.
“Safe Haven,” the third and best film of the anthology, is directed by Gareth Evans (The Raid: Redemption) and Timo Tjahjanto (Macabre). It centers around a documentary crew investigating a secretive and potentially dangerous commune in the middle of the Indonesian wilderness.
When the crew arrives at the commune, everything from the location to the extras in the background to the women running the compound is perfectly orchestrated to make us feel uneasy. And not only that, but Evans and Tjahjanto have made their characters deep and interesting, and the interplay between them would be interesting even without the story going on in the background.
It’s hard to talk about this one without giving away what makes it truly great, but I’ll just say that this is one of the most spectacular pieces of horror filmmaking I’ve ever seen, and you’ll never be able to predict where this thing is going. Evans has shown us that he is more than adequate at directing action, but horror might be his true calling.
The final film, from Jason Eisener, director of Hobo with a Shotgun, is “Alien Abduction Slumber Party.” It’s a brilliant send-off for the film, as it’s funny, strange, suspenseful, scary, and fun. Eisener lets loose with the film, crafting special effects sequences and moments of true terror. The film is at once an explosive action film about alien abductions and a small, funny short film about little kids goofing around while their parents are away.
The successes of V/H/S/2 are too numerous to describe in one review. It’s everything I wanted the original film to be. It’s perfectly paced, ambitious, disturbing, and very confident in what it wants to achieve.
This is one of the best horror anthologies of the last fifteen years.