This review was originally published on January 20, 2013 as part of Film.com's coverage of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
For the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, I made sure that my condo was conveniently located near the Library Center Theater, where I would be seeing a midnight screening of the collaborative horror anthology "V/H/S 2." Last year, when I saw "V/H/S" at the same time and place, I had to suffer the indignity of a long walk home after I soiled myself with fear.
Okay, that's not exactly true, but "V/H/S" had some of the best "ohmygodsomethingterribleisabouttohappen" tension I'd seen in a horror flick in a very long time. "S-VHS" doesn't quite have that, but what it lacks in true pyloric valve-loosening fear, it makes up for with some other three letter combos: WTF and LOL.
We open again with a framing device — two private eyes (who shoot everything, naturally) are on the hunt for a missing college kid. They enter a creepy house with TVs and tapes everywhere, and discover he was part of the underground of supernatural snuff video traders. This ties in a bit with the loose overarching mythology and, thankfully, is brief enough that we quickly dive into the four shorts that await.
The first, directed by Adam Wingard, is the weakest. A man gets a cyborg eye implant that can record everything, but the new technology lets him see ghosts. For people who really dig swish-pans that reveal freaky-looking ghouls staring right in the lens, this is for you. Other than the handful of jump scares, though, it's rather forgettable. However, Wingard's entry in "The ABCs of Death" is among the best in that film, and the forthcoming "You're Next" is sublime, so let's just shrug this one off.
The second short is perfection. Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale, elder statesmen of the found footage genre with "The Blair Witch Project," offer up an idea so simple and so clever it is confounding that it hasn't been done before. Using a helmet cam as its POV, a biker is riding in a wooded park when he stumbles upon zombies. After a struggle, he is bitten. We witness the process of infection, death and re-un-birth all from the inside. We've seen nine hundred thousand zombie movies before (roughly), but when have we ever seen it from the zombie's side? It's fantastic. And then when the action goes to a kiddie birthday party, forget about it.
Third on the list is certainly the most elaborate. Gareth Evans ("The Raid") has teamed with Timo Tjahjanto for a stripped-down version of what could be a feature. Using a number of button cams, a team of "60 Minutes"-style reporters enter the compound of a charismatic religious leader. It doesn't take long to realize this is a cult — believe me when I say that this segment contains one of the few times a joke about child molestation actually isn't tasteless — and soon the batsh*t end-of-days stuff starts happening.
The segment starts off a little slow, but ends with a truly remarkable first-person escape that exploits the best of video game conventions and gross-out special effects. I'm still not 100% what I saw. The level of professionalism seen in "The Raid" is evident in the big climax.
"V/H/S 2" ends on an extremely fun note. Jason Eisener, director of "Hobo with a Shotgun" and the absurd/revolting short "Treevenge" (here, take a few minutes and watch it), offers us a fond look at the chaotic glee of childhood.
With the parents gone and the older sister in charge, a bunch of dopey teens and preteens go nuts around the house bashing the hell out of one another with toys, shooting off water pistols and attaching a video camera to the dog. "V/H/S 2" is supposed to just be a horror film, but these sequences of pure, carefree anarchic bliss is actually some top drawer cinema.
In the middle of this, the kids get attacked by ... Well, why spoil it? I'll just let you know that it is both scary and funny at the same time. Alas, it is a bit of a one-note gag, but it is a hell of a note.
"V/H/S 2" isn't as pants-pooping scary as the first, but it is funnier, tighter and slicker. Somewhere out there is the perfect movie ("Laserdisc"?), so let's hope for a third in this installment.
SCORE: 7.5 / 10