V/H/S/2 comes out after 2012, which was a really impressive year for found footage films, so it has even more to prove than its predecessor did. It’s been playing in festivals all year and has been on VOD for a while, but now that it’s finally getting a theatrical release, it seemed appropriate to give the film another look.
This will be kind of like our last Flixist Discusses Review, but less pretentious. V/H/S/2 is an amalgamation of shorts and ideas from seven different directors, so it seemed only appropriate that the Flixist review have multiple writers.
Directors: Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Edúardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale, Timo Tjahjanto, Gareth Huw Evans, Jason Eisener
Release Date: June 6, 2013 (VOD); July 12th (theatrical)
Alec: I think a good place to start would be the dramatic tonal shift from the original film. V/H/S was a mostly successful attempt at creating a straight-up horror, and I was expecting V/H/S/2 to follow that same track. Nope. It’s funny. Really funny, too.
Hubert: It really is. I wonder if this was a conscious decisions by the filmmakers involved. When I interviewed the Snack Pack, it seemed like the shape and tone of the first V/H/S was being determined while it was being made. With this sequel, it’s like they understood the anthology format better and decided to get playful with it, like, “Hey, this is how this toy works. Let’s try this.” But I think the humor of other shorts really makes the centerpiece film, “Safe Haven,” stand out a lot.
Alec: Yeah, it was kind of the least funny one, wasn’t it? It’s not really overtly comedic, but there’s still something devilishly humorous about it, at least in terms of just how over-the-top insane it is. I remember watching special features for The Raid and hearing Gareth Evans talk about black humor in that film. I feel like “Safe Haven” is an extension of that.
Hubert: It makes sense, which makes me wonder what’s in store for Berandal. In a way the sheer wackiness of “A Ride In the Park” and the beginning of “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” bring out the darkness in “Safe Haven” but also make the black humor standout. I wonder how I would’ve felt if I saw “Safe Haven” on its own outside of V/HS/2. Would it feel the same?
Alec: I think it depends on if that’s “Safe Haven” as a 30-minute standalone short or as a 90 minute feature. Honestly, I think there could have been enough material here for a full-length film, especially if it was played more slowly to build up terror and tension. As it was, the breakneck pace worked for a short, but I don’t think it could have been sustained. Conceptually, I find it so fascinating though. Cults are always goldmines for horror stories. I’m glad it’s in a short, because it made me appreciate it a lot more. It’s far and away the most technically competent of them (using so many cameras was kind of cheating… but I’ll get to that in a second), and it’s hard to divorce it from that. I just wanted more of it… but maybe more of it wouldn’t have been so good.
Hubert: Sometimes some stories work as shorts, and “Safe Haven” is the right length for the story and the way it’s told. It’s a great way into the cult and it’s really relentless after the build.
Alec: I want to talk about the justification of found footage. I think that every short justified the use of “found footage” extremely well. There’s always the question of “Why are they holding the camera?” Implants, GoPros, and dog cams seem like pretty legitimate reasons to keep on filming. V/H/S was also pretty good with the passive cameras, but not quite as uniformly. V/H/S/2 may actually be the most successful found footage film out there in that respect.
Hubert: I’d generally agree, and I think it has a lot to do with the ways the stories are told and the length of the shorts. (Well, except for the framing narrative, which is just there to be functional.) It’s like they’re doing shorts where the found footage makes some sense. The idea of a camera eye for “Phase I Clinical Trials” eliminates those questions about why people are filming — there’s no choice. Ditto “A Ride In the Park,” which is easily my favorite set-up for using found footage, and it works just right for the length. Hell, dog cam in “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” is also a great idea, though you mentioned the presentation called attention to itself as a film rather than just raw footage. This becomes an issue in “Safe Haven” too. The use of multiple cameras — hidden cameras, security cameras, and so on — is a great technical accomplishment, but I couldn’t help wondering, “Who edited this found footage from the different sources?” I’d add that I’m more tolerant of found footage shorts than feature films.
Alec: Yeah, both V/H/S/ and its sequel swept past the whole “Why does these tapes exist and who edited them?” question. The answer is just “Whatever creepy undead dude is in the house at the time.” It’s dumb, but whatever. I’d love it if V/H/S/3’s framing narrative was just a zombie working on Final Cut Pro, and he’d turn to his buddy and moan something, then a bunch of other zombies would shuffle over and they’d just watch it. It probably wouldn’t work at all, but what if it could? It would not only justify the editing, but it would also put a twist on the just-there-to-be-functional framing narrative that the first two films had. They should hire me to direct it.
Hubert: That does raise the inevitable question about a sequel. Give it a few months and I’m sure there’ll be an official announcement. (I wish they kept the title S-VHS so each movie could be a new format. Like V/H/S/3 could be Betamax or LaserDisc or DIVX Only at Circuit City.) Would you want some kind of framing narrative that’s an overrarching/linking story about the origin of all these tapes? And are there any filmmakers that you’d love to see involved?
Alec: VCD? Hmm… that’s a good question. I think that if this duology becomes a series, they will need to create some sort of backstory. They had that cute moment at the beginning where the framing narrative from the original V/H/S was a video file on that laptop, meaning that this is just one bizarre universe, and that can only go on for so long before something needs to get explained. The second one went in a bunch of crazy directions that all have different and weird implications for the future of humanity (zombies, monsters, and aliens?) and I actually would like to see that reconciled. If it’s not reconcilable, then I think we’ll see a reboot by 2016. As far as directors, I would like to see some Asian directors get in on this (shocker, right?). V/H/S/3…Extremes would be pretty amazing, right? Hell, they could take that around the world and do country-specific ones. Go to Japan and get Takashi Miike, Sion Sono, Takashi Shimizu, etc.. Go to Korea and get Kim Jee-Woon, Bong Joon-Ho, and whoever. There’s a lot of talent around the world. ABCs of Death tapped into that a bit, but in a way that could (and should) be expanded upon.
Hubert: From what you’ve said, I’m now picturing V/H/S/3 as the Crisis On Infinite Earths or Secret Wars of anthology horror movies. The shared universe framing narrative would be pretty fascinating, and I just hope it’s not some guy in charge of the whole shebang, like The Crypt Keeper or the reanimated corpse of Rod Serling. As far as directors in a sequel, I like the idea of going more international. In addition to the Asian directors you mentioned, I’d add Richard Raaphorst, because even if I was lukewarm on Frankenstein’s Army as a whole, his creature design and filmmaking instincts are solid; Xavier Gens simply to see how extreme or grueling he’d make his short; and maybe an Aussie filmmaker, though one doesn’t readily spring to mind. Oh, and from America, I’d say the Crank team of Neveldine/Taylor just because it’d be nutty.
Alec: Good call on that last one. Neveldine/Taylor would be goddamn amazing. So let’s wrap this one up. We scored this way back when we saw it at Tribeca, but since then we’ve both done some interviews and had time to consider it, so if you want to change your number (for better or worse), I think that’s appropriate. For my part, I’m going to drop it a bit (as seen in the box below) . It’s a great film with two excellent shorts (“A Ride in the Park” and “Safe Haven”), two good shorts (the others), and an acceptable framing narrative. I wish the stuff surrounding “A Ride in the Park” and “Safe Haven” had been a bit stronger, but I can’t knock it too hard. Honestly, I couldn’t bring myself to give anything that features “Safe Haven” under an 80.
Hubert: For me, I’ll bump my previous score of 76 up to 78. After seeing a few found footage movies since V/H/S/2 that didn’t work for me, I’ve come to better appreciate how well these guys used the form and how fun it can be when it’s done right. I’d also agree that “A Ride in the Park” and “Safe Haven” are the two standouts in V/H/S/2, “Safe Haven” especially. The rest of the material around it is solid, so though short of great, I think it’s very good and a step up from the original.