[Editor’s note: The third installment of the popular found footage anthology series, V/H/S VIRAL, will be premiering on 11-21-14. Contributor Samuel Glass, Jr. continues his review coverage of the series with his thoughts on V/H/S/2!]
Directed by: Simon Barrett (“Tape 49”); Adam Wingard (“Phase One: Clinical Trials”); Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale (“A Ride In The Park”); Gareth “HUW” Evans and Timo Tjahjanto (“Safe Haven”) and Jason Eisener (“Slumber Party Alien Abduction”).
The primary rule of any sequel is to attempt to surpass and improve upon the film that preceded it, even if only in some small way. Happy to report to lovers of the first V/H/S, that the producers apparently took the praise and criticisms they received from both fans and columnists alike regarding their freshman effort, and used it to affect some profound changes in the creation of its successor.
First of all, there are less stories in this one, and the wraparound tale,(“Tape 49”), though duplicated in some aspects to keep the ongoing theme intact, is more well-developed this time around. Where V/H/S presented us with a bunch of skeevy slackers who had nothing better to do than ‘break shit up’, and make a lackadaisical effort to locate what they thought was a ‘valuable’ video tape in the prerequisite ‘old dark house,’ here we have two private investigators looking into the disappearance of a college student, at the behest of his mother. Needless to say, the search of any home harboring that signature, creepy, altar-like stack of buzzing blank monitors, flashing VTR machines and haphazard piles of aging video tapes, will never wind up being that simple. Once again, the tales unfold as one of the P.I.’s begins to review the tapes, searching for clues to help them locate the missing student.
Story One (“Phase One: Clinical Trials”), gives us a short that was most definitely influenced by the Asian cult thriller, THE EYE. A car accident victim is given an experimental ocular implant as part of the initial human clinical trials for an unnamed lab. The new ‘eye’ works…a bit too well, since it enables its owner to “see dead people” SIXTH SENSE-style, who in turn know that he can see them…and they aren’t at all happy about it. A mysterious young woman who appears on the scene seems to have some answers, but those in turn pose some even more harrowing questions – like, how will they manage to survive the night? (And if you saw the first film, you can probably guess the answer to THAT one.)
“Trials” features some solid acting, and provides evidence of how the visual and special effects have been amped up from what came before. The main weak point here is that you’re constantly reminded that you’ve seen this story done before, via the Asian version – and better.
Which brings us to the Second Tale, “A Ride In The Park”. An off-road biking enthusiast trying out his new ‘helmet-cam’ for the first time, happens upon a female attack victim….attacked by WHAT, he has no idea. But by the time he does, it’s already too late, as he discovers the devastating price for playing “the good Samaritan”…becoming a walking flesh-eater. If you’re a big fan or Romero, Fulci or THE WALKING DEAD series, and you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to get a close-up, “dead-eye” view of the world as a zombie, this sequence was made just for you. And by no less than Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale, two of the masterminds behind the film that mutated the ‘found-footage” sub-genre into a hot commodity, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.
Sanchez and Hale have created a clever, funny, appropriately disgusting – and at its climax, even poignant – ode to walking corpses and the people who love them…or would love to get away from them as far and as fast as possible! The short’s ending, however, will provide zombie film lovers some fodder for a pretty spirited debate, as the filmmakers choose to break a fundamental rule of “zombie mythology”. Whether or not “Park’s” fade-out succeeds, depends on how liberal (or not) you are with your consideration of said rule.
The third tale, “Safe Haven” is the strongest and most nightmare-inducing, and rightfully so. It is the singular tale in this anthology that picks up much of the squandered potential from the first film, and uses it as ‘jet fuel’ to propel the audience into a horrific waking dream of the Apocalypse, in a way that hasn’t been effectively realized since the Lovecraftian adaptations of director Stuart Gordon, (especially DAGON, which in some ways this mirrors in tone and atmosphere.)
Co-directed by Gareth Evans, (the man behind the taut, Carpenter-esque cop-thriller THE RAID: REDEMPTION) and Timo Tjahjanto, “Haven” starts out in fairly mundane fashion. A Malaysian news crew arrives in a remote rural location, to produce a “SIXTY MINUTES”-styled expose about a guarded, religious “doomsday” cult. Naturally, tensions abound as the three-man/one-woman group is admitted into the cult’s compound, shown around the children’s school, adjacent rooms and then introduced to “Father”, the group’s charismatic, allegedly benevolent leader.
But through the various lenses and microphones of the crew’s equipment – as well as different security cameras placed throughout the compound – the audience becomes privy to a sense of constantly increasing dread; the aforementioned tensions of something not quite right with “Father” and his disciples dove-tailing with rapidly surfacing conflicts that divide loyalties and friendships within the news team.
It all culminates in a literal explosion of truths and lies unearthed, and the real purpose ot the cult, which ultimately realizes its goal of unleashing “hell on Earth” in a way that will haunt many viewers dreams (this one in particular) for a very long time to come.
With a mix of Malay with English subtitles and English dialogue, one would surmise that it would be difficult for most American audiences to follow along. But “Safe Haven” is one of those great examples that proves beyond doubt, that a good story needs very little to no translation. Considering its micro-budget, the practical and visual effects here are nothing less than impressive. And if nothing else about this segment makes a lasting impression on you, the last frame most definitely will color your darkest dreams – if not become their foundation – for a good little while.
With “Haven” being such a tough act to follow, even the best and brightest upcoming talents in the indie horror world might find it a pretty daunting task. So, writer/director Jason Eisener (HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN), doesn’t even try – presenting his piece, the last ‘tape’ viewed by the P.I.’s in the house – in a manner that allows it to stand out on its own merits. A throwback to the Eighties films of Spielberg and Hooper (in particular, their collaboration on POLTERGEIST), even the title: “Slumber Party Alien Abduction”, is unapologetically retro.
Two brothers and a couple of their closest buddies, making bad home movies via a camera mounted on the head of the family dog, use the remainder of their ‘parent-free’ weekend doing what they do best: spend the time antagonizing their older sister and her boyfriend in as many ways as possible, while the offended parties in turn plot an appropriate payback. That’s the “Slumber Party” part of the story. The juvenile hijinks are brutally interrupted by – what else? – the “Alien Abduction”, which is when this final short truly kicks into high gear.
The same complaints regarding the ’shaky-cam’ nausea and disorientation that plagued THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, will most likely be leveled at “Abduction” as well, but take a moment of consideration. All of the action is being doubly reflected through the POV’s of the “family dog cam” and that of the terrified, traumatized kids. One would have to assume that when experiencing a kidnapping by E.T.’s not-so-friendly relatives, you’d be feeling plenty of both…and that would be the least of your worries. In this respect, for once, Eisener enlists said “shaky-cam” to advance and set the pace and tone of the story to great effect.
Animal lovers and sensitive, squeamish souls should be forewarned: unlike the teen-centric 80’s films it imitates and salutes, where ‘dweebs’, nerds and other assorted outcasts ultimately prevailed, conquered all enemies and saved the day, this has far from one of those triumphantly happy endings…and I will leave it at that.
Which brings us full-circle to the “wrap-up” of the wraparound story. Though as I mentioned before, it’s tighter and greatly improved from the original, you are still provided with infuriatingly little information about what the hell is going on with VTR/monitor altars, allegedly dead people walking around the house, some kind of demonic possession having to do with watching the tapes, (shades of THE RING?) and how it all relates to the overall mythos the series is trying to establish. One can only hope and assume that, like the outstanding [REC] franchise, (to which this bears quite a few similarities), more answers will be forthcoming with the third installment coming 11-21-14.
And as long as the quality of the stories that comprise the anthologies continue to improve and surprise in both content and quality, they can count on this reviewer to be there.
Check out the V/H/S/2 trailer: