★★ / ★★★★
I hated “V/H/S” so much, I was not sure I could stomach a sequel. However, I abide by a personal code of giving every film a chance so I leapt into “V/H/S/2,” composed of four segments and one unifier, feeling optimistic and willing to be impressed. In some ways, I was. There is a hidden gem here that deserves to be made into a full-length feature film.
“Tape 49,” the unifier, is not that segment. On the contrary, it is the least developed and most predictable of the bunch. Although it has potential because it involves two private investigators (Lawrence Michael Levine, Kelsy Abbott) who are looking for a college student that has gone missing, the writer-director, Simon Barrett, gives his characters neither engrossing detective work nor a functioning brain when turn of events bring up red flags. For a pair of detectives, it is most frustrating that they lack common sense.
The diamond in the rough is “Safe Haven,” written by Timo Tjahjanto and and Gareth Evans. It involves a documentary crew interviewing a leader of a cult (Epy Kusnandar). The latter is convinced that it would be a good idea for the filmmakers to be invited into the very private community, who believe they are on a journey to immortality, so that they can capture the truth and show the world that their faith is good and pure.
I watched the segment in complete fascination. Its turn of events reminded me of off-the-wall Japanese horror–the willingness and the energy to be creative and entertain. For twenty minutes, I experienced a spectrum of emotion, from being tickled by the greenness of the crew to horrified by what is being shown on screen. Yes, it gets violent and bloody but there is a method in the way it builds from serenity to convulsing madness. I could not help but wonder what Tjahjanto and Evans can do if they were given an hour and a half or so to develop their characters and helm the thematic elements.
Solid work can be found in Adam Wingard’s “Phase I Clinical Trials.” It tells the story of a man, played by Wingard, who has just received a prosthetic eye that records every single thing he sees or does. Though it grants him the gift of sight, there is a catch. The premise is similar to Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang’s “Gin gwai,” which makes it somewhat predictable, but there is a freshness in the way it takes its time to build. The extra beat or two of delay prior to the jolt matters when the mood is tense.
The two remaining segments, Eduardo Sánchez and Gregg Hale’s “A Ride in the Park” and Jason Eisner’s “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” are more comedic than thrilling or scary, but they have their moments, too. It is an excellent decision to sandwich them between more serious work in order to prevent the mood and tone to go stale.
I enjoyed “V/H/S/2” because each part is able to offer something different to the table. While one or two of them is not great work by any means, as a whole it is a much brighter and more memorable compilation than its predecessor. Unlike the egregious “V/H/S,” there is not one segment here that comes off as an affront to the art of filmmaking. You get the feeling that this time the writers and directors strive to make something they can be proud of.