Anthologies are pretty easy to review, truth be told, so let's cut right to the point: if you liked last year's horror collection called V/H/S then there's virtually no chance that you'll dislike the sequel; it's quicker, slicker, and perhaps even sicker than the first entry, but it's also another shining example of how well horror cinema can work in bite-sized portions. The plan is simple: hire some writers and directors who've made a splash of some sort in the indie genre field, let them make their own mini-movie, and then slap each one into a simple-but-creepy "wraparound" framework and (hopefully) watch the sparks fly.
Fan of the first V/H/S flick will be pleased to note that while some of the filmmakers are back, most of the short horror tales come from a new batch of folks, which allows the sequel to actually feel like a Part 2, while also allowing V/H/S/2 to venture into some exotic new places. The key to a solid horror anthology is simple: make none of the segments suck, and make sure at least one of them is DAMN good. V/H/S/2 succeeds on both counts.
We open with a framing story that's connected directly to V/H/S: a couple are poring through the VHS tapes in a crazily creepy house in the hopes of finding a missing student, and of course we get to watch along as they dig through some of the creepiest "first-person" horrors you can imagine. The framework moments work considerably better here than they do in V/H/S, partially because they're a bit quicker but also because screenwriter-turned-director Simon Barrett wraps them up with a nice creepy jolt at the end.
Chapter one is about a guy who gets a robotic eyeball that allows him to see ghosts. It's a pretty conventional story until we meet the second character: a beautiful young woman who can hear ghosts. Director Adam Wingard (who also stars as the poor guy) dabbles in basic ghostly ideas before delving into some decidedly cleverer stuff.
Chapter two is so cool and clever I suspect that co-creators Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale (The Blair Witch Project) could easily expand it to feature-length, but why bother? This short (about a man who mounts a camera on his helmet, goes biking, and gets attacked by zombies) is pretty much perfect the way it is. Gross, funny, and very clever about its reversal on zombie perspectives, this could be the best tale of the batch, except that...
Chapter three, which is co-directed by Gareth Evans (The Raid) and Timo Tjahjanto (Macabre), takes place in a creepy cult deep in the wilderness of Indonesia. A group of reporters are there to interview the cult leader, and let's just say that all hell breaks loose. A wonderful combination of various horror genres, this segment (which runs about 30 minutes all told) might be one of the best horror shorts I've ever witnessed. Structurally, thematically, and considering things like tone, editing, and (of course) the requisite "found footage" presentation... wow. I'm not getting into specific details but this particular section of V/H/S/2 is what I like to call a miniature masterpiece.
Which means that chapter four simply MUST be a let-down, right? In most cases, yes. Luckily we have Jason Eisener (Hobo With a Shotgun) on hand to present what I like to call "The Nightmare Version of E.T." This 14-minute piece tracks a slumber party from its raucous antics to a standoff with interstellar enemies with a remarkable sense of energy, humor, and (ultimately) some legitimate thrills and chills. Also all of the footage is shot from the perspective of a dog. Yep, a dog.
Kudos to whomever it was that threw the stories down in this specific order: "Clinical Trials" begins simple and gets weird; "A Ride in the Park" is wonderfully clever and even subtle; "Safe Haven" is a multi-faceted diamond of a horror story; "Alien Abduction Slumber Party" is a short shot of unique fun; and the wrap-around stuff is enjoyably creepy while also staying out of the way. As a whole V/H/S/2 has a very satisfying flow, and those who thought Part 1 was a bit too lengthy for its own good while be pleased to notice the sequel's more expeditious nature.
Best of all, V/H/S/2 represents the best sort of indie horror collaboration you could imagine: filmmakers from around the world who clearly adore horror cinema and do all they can to deliver the spooky stuff in short, sharp shocks. I say keep the V/H/S train rolling until we run out of young filmmakers who love horror movies. Which should be never.