For 30 screaming-mad minutes, V/H/S/2 achieves a kind of fever pitch of nightmare hysteria. Like last year’s V/H/S, the film is an odds-and-sods collection of horror shorts, each directed by different indie filmmakers and all made in the trendy found-footage style of Paranormal Activity. The original possessed a few scattered scares, but nothing that could have prepared viewers for the full-throttle assault of its sequel’s best segment. Directed by Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans—the latter of whom established his gift for escalating brutality with the The Raid: Redemption—“Safe Haven” follows a team of documentary filmmakers as they enter the innocuous-looking headquarters of a Heaven’s Gate–style commune. What happens inside plays to every rational and irrational fear audiences might have about hermetic cults. The vignette steadily builds in intensity, from a low register of vague unease to a full-blown onslaught of terrors—and all in the comforting glow of broad daylight.
Nothing else in this rollicking omnibus approaches such a high level of grisly inspiration. Still, in nearly every respect, V/H/S/2 improves on its predecessor. Free of poky mumble-horror filler, it offers four fruitful variations on the original’s best chapter. (Remember the one about the barhopping horndogs who bite off more than they can chew? At least in terms of pacing, that’s the template for the whole project.) Returning contributor Adam Wingard stages a succession of cheap but effective jump scares with “Phase 1 Clinical Trials,” casting himself as a man whose fancy new prosthetic eye—the rationale for a first-person POV—allows him to see more than he’d like to. In “A Ride In The Park,” Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sánchez—both of whom worked on the most famous of found-footage thrillers, The Blair Witch Project—capture a Sam Raimi-ish flurry of splatter comedy through the lens of a bike-helmet camera. And menacing visitors crash a preteen slumber party in an inventively filmed concluding chapter from the director of Hobo With A Shotgun.
Truly great horror anthologies, like the E.C. comics–inspired Creepshow or Asian trilogy-of-terror Three…Extremes, offer a wider variety of fright-flick approaches. Here, every segment operates in much the same way, briefly setting up its environment and technological gimmick, then letting the shit hit the fan. (Or the entrails hit the lens, as it were.) But why complain about a project that seems calibrated to delight, with no lulls in the mayhem—except, of course, for those provided by a typically useless wraparound segment? As long as they’re fine-tuning the franchise, maybe the producers of the inevitable V/H/S/3 can just do away with the framing device entirely.