MAY 13, 2013
I liked but did not love V/H/S, having issues with pretty much every segment (some more damaging than others) and being disappointed with the total lack of payoff in the wraparound sequence. But happily, I can confirm what a lot of pals have told me (thanks to SXSW/Sundance screenings and such): the sequel, originally the much better S-VHS but now simply V/H/S/2, is superior in just about every way - hell, they even improved the (already awesome) VHS tracking ravaged/ugly font end credits that simulate a VCR's on screen display. It's not quite Creepshow or Trick R Treat, but any sequel that surpasses its original is always to be commended.
The wraparound segment is similar, and confusingly unrelated - it's about a sleazy PI and his partner hunting for a missing college student and tracking him to a house filled with VHS tapes, but it's not a. the same house from the first movie or b. even one of the same aged kids who disappeared in the first film. I thought it would be a fun way to build a mythology (a 3rd film is already planned) out of wraparounds, which would be unique for this genre (not that sequels are common to begin with), but it seems they just wanted to keep the idea of VHS tapes and disregard everything else. Nothing against it; it's not like I've been clamoring the IMDb boards to theories on what happened at the end of the first wraparound sequence, but as a fan of sequel mythology in general (see: my love of the Saw movies) I was a bit bummed. Luckily, as a whole it works better than the original's, with a terrific scare and a fun little resolution that suggests something a little more supernatural is at play - which may also explain how all this high tech camera stuff ends up on cruddy VHS tapes in the first place.
The first proper story has a great hook - there's a camera inside the experimental cybernetic eye that has been put into the victim of a car accident, which gives him a bit of a Terminator look at first (but seems to heal quickly). As with Maniac, this means we get not entirely convincing shots of the actor (Adam Wingard, who also directed) looking at a mirror more than seemingly necessary, but it's a great way around the "Why are they filming" thing (something that seems to have been a goal of every short's crew). The horror kicks in when he starts seeing ghosts with his new eye, and then a mysterious girl (and not very good actress) comes over to explain that she has an ear implant from the same people that allows her to hear ghosts talking to her, at which point all hell breaks loose as the ghosts begin their assault. I can't help but think this deserved a feature or at least a longer segment; not only do we know very little about the ghosts (kind of important in a ghost story) but it's never fully clear what the company can gain from doing this. Sadly the film's weakest installment, but the jolts work and the concept itself is intriguing.
Next up is a zombie tale from none other than Eduardo Sanchez, half of the writer/director team behind Blair Witch Project (who co-directs here with BW producer Gregg Hale). I loved the scenario behind this one - a bicyclist with a GoPro on his helmet is bitten by a zombie while racing through the woods, and then we see his transformation and resulting attack on innocent bystanders all from the POV of the camera that's still attached to his head. It's the most fully satisfying of them all in terms of closure - I didn't feel it was too short (or long), nor did I feel it deserved more explanations or backstory for anything that was going on - it was a simple story with a unique idea, done quite well save for a few unfortunate digital blood sprays mixed in with the practical ones.
The third will probably be everyone's favorite, and not just because it's from Gareth Evans - the director of The Raid, the current go-to movie to name check when you want to complain about Hollywood does everything wrong. As with the first story I can't help but feel this could have been longer, as our filmmakers (with a variety of cameras here, though at least one is in a shirt button to explain the "still filming" aspect when things go apeshit) seem to get easy access to this very disturbing cult sect on a day that is apparently very important to them - why'd they let them in in the first place? But otherwise it's an intense slice of WTFery, rivaling the first film's haunted house segment in terms of how insane it gets from where it began. At one point a room full of cult members shoot themselves in the head simultaneously, and that's not even in the top 5 moments that left my eyes widening and muttering "Holy shit..." I heard someone say the final shot was too much, and I won't spoil it, but I will say that I loved it - I'm all for things just going for broke and being as nutty as they like.
And that is why I was left SOMEWHAT disappointed with the final entry, directed by Jason Eisener (Hobo With A Shotgun). It starts off with kids playing elaborate pranks on the older sister of two of them (and her boyfriend), and then things go awry when aliens invade mid-prank. It's certainly intense, but kind of one note - the aliens (standard pale skinned/giant eyed things) just sort of swarm around as a giant white light explosion/loud noise out of a current movie trailer (BWWWARRRRRRRRRM) goes off over and over. It's so chaotic (and lo-fi - the camera is attached to a dog which suggests another GoPro, but it looks like mini DV at best) that it's often hard to tell what is happening and who has been taken (except for the poor dog - UNNECESSARY, JERKS!), so it gets a bit tiresome by the end as it's basically just one long attempt to run away from a not-very-well defined villain. I actually preferred the pranks part - the kids are kind of awesome and foul mouthed (making me wish Eisener would just redo Super 8 and give it a better 3rd act this time around), but since each segment was better than the one before it, I wanted the film to keep topping itself, and it doesn't QUITE get there.
But again, overall it worked better than the original, and each segment had its merits (something you couldn't say about the first movie thanks to that terrible one in the woods); the weakest spots here are as good as the best in the first film, which is commendable. Plus it's shorter, and there was more variety between each one - aliens, zombies, cults, mad scientists... - and I liked that they found ways to attach the cameras to something other than someone's hand as often as possible. Add in the improved wraparound and you just have an overall better experience; the biggest hurdle it has is that it's closer to spiritual remake than sequel, so the novelty has worn off some. Thankfully, since they're NOT related, if you haven't seen the first yet, feel free to just start with this.
What say you?
P.S. In the interest of full disclosure, I do know some of the folks behind the movie (and it was produced by my old boss from Bloody Disgusting), but I certainly don't know the Raid folks and that was my favorite part. Also, just an FYI, over time my opinions have shifted on the first one; I previously liked the Skype story the most but have come to like the haunted house one above all. And that 3rd story is my least favorite, not the 1st (the "bat girl") as my review states. Should I do a HMAD 2.0 and re-review every movie? (I don't care what you say, I won't actually DO that, but it'd be interesting to handpick a few others and see if my opinion has changed.)