“V/H/S/2” is a properly blood-spattered and chilling collection of shorts — four films from the folks who made “The Blair Witch Project,” “Hobo With a Shotgun,” “The Raid” and “You’re Next.”
The best of them you could certainly see as full-length features, chilling little tastes of a complete vision — story, characters, horrific situations and visual aesthetic. The worst? Simply generic.
The framing device for these “V/H/S” movies is the discovery of old videotapes. The discoverers here — a couple of private-eye blackmailers ( Kelsy Abbott, Michael Levine) — stumble into the cache of some obsessed collector and are shocked by what they see.
Thus, we’re lured into the world of “Clinical Trials,” about a man ( Adam Wingard of “You’re Next”) who gets an artificial eye that the manufacturer is wired into so that we can have all this footage of how the eye works and what the fellow sees. He sees dead people, and only the arrival of the one person who understands what he’s going through (Hannah Hughes) can save him. The way to make the images stop? Have SEX with her! Humor and a couple of good jolts aside, Wingard’s film adds nothing to the “phantoms haunting a new phantom body part” genre (the “Evil Hand” trope).
Nor does “A Ride in the Park,” by a couple of “Blair Witch” alumni, bring anything new to the zombie movie. Picking up on our narcissistic age, when we slap cameras on everything, including our bike helmets to record our pedal through a park, it’s easier these days to create an excuse for “Where’s the camera?” in these found footage films. Aside from that, this is run-of-the-mill gore, a subjective camera following a zombie victim turned zombie, the sounds of devouring, blood on the lens, etc.
But “Safe Haven” is a true chiller. Co-directed by Gareth Evans (“The Raid”) and Singapore filmmaker Timo Tjahjanto (he did a segment of “The ABCs of Death”), it follows a news crew into the world of a Malay Peninsula “Paradise Gates” cult, where The Father (Epy Kusnandar) is alleged to be abusing kids. Turns out, that’s the least of his crimes. Things go from secretive and mildly sinister to Jonestown in a heartbeat and we’re treated to a taste of everything from “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Ring” to “Night of the Living Dead.” All in about fifteen minutes.
And “Hobo With a Shotgun” auteur Jason Eisener finishes the anthology off with “Alien Abduction Slumber Party,” a nervy / funny melange of chaotic kids — ‘tween boys having a lake party that involves tormenting their teen elders, also having a lake party. It’s all hand-held cameras, natural lighting and manic water fights and pranks, interrupted when the smoke, the bright purple flashes and distorted booms signal that they’re about to have a horrific encounter with “Close Encounters” skinnies.
That last one is captured largely through blurred, jumpy footage filmed from a camera on a little dog. When these movies go wrong, the filmmakers spend too much time worrying about where the camera is supposed to be. But when they go well, the eavesdropping nature of it all just heightens the reality and the horror.
The anthology format here works much better than the recent “ABCs of Death” because the films are long enough to tell a story and make an impression and the talent pool isn’t as diluted as it was in that 26-film collection. The framing device — “Tape 49” — is almost unnecessary and adds few chills even as it finds an excuse to pander a little topless sex into the proceedings in the first scene.
But no doubt there will be new “V/H/S” installments long after anybody remembers what that dead-technology acronym stood for.
Cast: Hannah Hughes, Epy Kusnandar, Kevin Hunt, Kelsy Abbott
Directed by Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Eduardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale, Timo Tjahjanto, Adam Wingard. A Magnet / Bloody Disgusting release.
Running time: 1:33
MPAA rating: unrated, with gory violence, incessant profanity and sex