Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett return with a new group of friends for another installment with the retro-flavored 'V/H/S/2,' and while the concepts are higher, the scares are fewer and far between.
The problem with found footage is that there have always been rules, and when you break them, you lose the audience. You have to have reasons for multiple camera angles and perspectives -- everything must have a narrative purpose or else the film fails to work. But the rules of found footage hardly apply to the rebellious collective behind 'V/H/S/2,' the rowdy, oft cartoonish and jock-ish follow-up to last year's 'V/H/S.'
Many elements of the sequel serve as upgrades to the first film, as directors like Eduardo Sanchez and Jason Eisener incorporate the use of a GoPro camera to capture first-person (and in one instance, first-dog) POV to craft short films that work within an overall, cohesive framework, guided by Simon Barrett's wraparound story about a private detective searching for a mother's lost son. The wraparound segment was by far the weakest of the first film, but here the story is more coherent and plausible in service of the larger narrative -- a couple finds VHS tapes being hoarded by a young man who's part of a collective of people who search out these obscure, violent tapes.
Each of the four shorts have a common thread in that every one of them largely relies on first-person POV to tell the story, and each ends with a similar parting shot of a protagonist. Simon Barrett directed the effective wraparound, while his partner Adam Wingard directed the first, lesser segment concerning a man with a camera implanted in his eye who starts seeing dead people. Both segments find the writing/directing duo groping the bare breasts of attractive female co-stars who serve as narrative accessories and little else. It's ethically questionable, at best.
Both Wingard and director Eduardo Sanchez's segments are slight and read like ideas conceived on the fly. Neither are particularly engaging or scary, and instead rely heavily on one-note gimmicks for their brief runtime. Sanchez takes the idea of a person turned into a zombie and tells the story from the undead's perspective, and while it involves one particularly hilarious sight gag, it's not enough to revive the segment from feeling as monotonous and lifeless as its lead.
'V/H/S/2' really comes to life when the reigns are handed over to Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans ('The Raid'), whose story about a documentary crew interviewing a cult leader is effectively creepy, incredibly-paced, and maintains tension throughout. While this is the best segment of the anthology by far, it too veers into cartoonish territory with a bonkers climax that gets a little too convoluted. Similarly effective is Jason Eisener's segment, in which he brings his signature late 80s/early 90s aesthetic to the story of a group of rowdy, prankster kids who encounter some aliens when their parents leave them alone for a weekend. Eisener is masterful with the format, particularly in his editing style. On an obviously restrictive budget, he seems to have really pushed the limits of what was visually possible, evoking feelings of claustrophobia in spaces that feel open and safe.
In a world where horror filmmakers are no longer trying to scare audiences and instead trying to entertain them, 'V/H/S/2' largely succeeds. Fear is no longer an element in horror filmmaking because fear, like horror, has become a novelty. The guys behind 'V/H/S/2' are in on the joke, but their refusal to adhere to found footage rules reads less like rebellious and more like a cocky jock, shoving the genre into a locker. 'V/H/S/2' pushes the boundaries with (a couple) more daring concepts than the original, but as a whole the film is gimmicky and uneven.