A monster of a sequel
In the original V/H/S, numerous tapes littered the apartment of the film's depraved gang of psychos, leaving the viewer to wonder what else those cassettes contained and whether the viewer can stomach to watch any more.
S-VHS is a frivolous sequel that focuses on gross-out gags, outlandish monsters, and a bloody disgusting take on dark comedy. Yes, you can stomach watching more of these tapes because they aren't as shocking as last year's batch.
[This review was posted as part of our 2013 Sundance Film Festival coverage when the film was originally titled S-VHS. It has been reposted with second opinions from other staff members to coincide with its screenings at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.]
V/H/S is a film that I said doesn't need a sequel and S-VHS doesn't do much to change that opinion. That position wasn't based on growing tired of the concept so much as feeling that the creative forces behind the first exhausted their options in prime material. S-VHS has a different group of directors, some with films you heard of (Blair Witch Project) and some of which you'll here about soon (You're Next). They bring their own unique take to the horror compilation, but even with new blood it's clear that creative minds are being strained to not retread on familiar ground.
After some setup, S-VHS (thanks for not making me type those slashes, guys!) opens with a rather straight forward haunted house story with a twist. The twist being that we see through a man's robotic camera eye; the same eye that now permits this unfortunate host to see ghosts in his home. It's nothing all that shocking but the delivery is perfect, getting my blood running over something I thought stopped scarring me long ago. Like the first film, S-VHS is full of clever lines, timing, and details that make all the difference in the genre of horror. Though this opener is uninspired, it contains one of those rare horror moments where I felt like laughing and crying out at the same time. Nailing dark comedy and horror at the same time is something that S-VHS' directors constantly aim for but not always with success.
The following four shorts are more camp than scary, focusing on aliens, devil babies, evil cults, and other subjects that one can't take seriously so the directors don't bother all that much trying to either. Instead, these frameworks are used to get to ridiculous places that I dare not discuss here because spoilers (and I don't want to throw up my lunch.) All these films contain shocking and shockingly hilarious scenes but they don't always work as a whole. Despite having a larger budget, the special effects often get in the way of creative writing. No where is this clearer than the final short that starts as a charming story about brothers spooking their sister, but then becomes an alien hunt full of nothing but flashing lights and sirens. Also, the acting is hit-and-miss which I never felt about the first.
GoCams, doggy cams, surveillance cameras, eye cameras, spy cameras -- I can't deny that the directors of S-VHS made the most of the material, crafting a better looking sequel. Then again, it's a sequel that needs it because it can't always rely on the strength of its performances and script. Don't let this discourage you from seeking out S-VHS. It might be a step down from the original but it's still a skyscraper above other found footage films. Not to mention, this is a film where a man literally fucks away a ghost. It kind of sells itself, doesn't it?
Allistair's Score: 74
Alec Kubas-Meyer: I don't really like seeing horror movies in theaters. I'm kind of a wimp sometimes, and I'd rather not freak out in front of a whole bunch of strangers (let alone other critics) over basically nothing. So I'm glad that I saw the original V/H/S on a TV after its VOD release, because it actually made me jump once or twice, and doing that in front of my friends was embarrassing enough.
For the same reason, I'm glad that V/H/S/2 isn't a straight horror film. It's more of a horror-comedy, following in the footsteps of sequels like The Evil Dead 2 andThe Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 as they turned to humor after their scare-centric starts. Fortunately, V/H/S/2 is also consistently stronger than its predecessor. The stories all play with found footage in interesting ways (although the shakiness of Jason Eisener's segment was too distracting), and Safe Haven, the short by Gareth Evans (director of The Raid) and Timo Tjahjanto, is by far the best part of either film. That short alone is worth the price of admission, and everything else is really just extra. Really awesome extra. 84 -- Great
Hubert Vigilla: When working with the found-footage genre, I sometimes wonder why people don't just drop the camera, But if the story's involving, I'm willing to suspend disbelief and go with it. What makes V/H/S/2 so much fun is the way the various shorts address the issue. For more the most part, there are in-story reasons why the camera wouldn't be dropped, and they're played with to mostly good effect. The result is a really enjoyable and inventive horror-comedy anthology (even though the framing/connecting narrative, almost by necessity, isn't too strong).
The two standouts of V/H/S/2 are right in the middle. A Ride in the Park by Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sanchez uses the conceit of a helmet cam to great effect, and the laughs in this segment consistently connect. The best of the anthology by far is Safe Haven by Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto, which begins with the necessary slow burn until it goes absolutely bananas. The other two entries -- Adam Wingard's Clinical Trials and Jason Eisener's Alien Abduction Slumber Party -- are solid enough to round out the film. It all makes me wonder what this anthology series has in store for the next installment.
On a related note, I'm disappointed they changed the title from S-VHS to V/H/S/2. It makes sense from a marketing and brand recognition standpoint, but I was really looking forward to Laserdisc (or maybe LD), VCD, or Beta Max as sequel titles. 76 -- Good