V/H/S/2 (2013)

V/H/S/2 first published by Grolsch FilmWorks

“Most of his collection I would say was snuff and CP, but he had at least one that was the real thing. I don’t even think he knew what it was.” 

So says missing student Kyle (L.C. Holt) in a webcam recording that a pair of camera-toting private investigators (Laurence Michael Levine, Kelsy Abbott) find in the young man’s apartment amongst a collection of illicit VHS cassettes. This is Tape 49, Simon Barrett‘s frame story for multi-director found-footage anthology V/H/S/2, and something of an improvement on Adam Wingard‘s pointless but otherwise similar Tape 56 (here glimpsed playing on one of Kyle’s many monitors) from the original V/H/S (2012). Given that V/H/S/2 itself opens with voyeuristic footage of sex between a married man (played hilariously by Barrett himself) and his pneumatic woman-on-the-side (Mindy Robinson), and is full of murder, mayhem and, yes, even child abuse, all shot in verisimilitudinous shakicam, Kyle’s words might as well be describing the very film in which he appears – although viewers will differ over which contributions are merely depraved sensationalist titillation, and which represent some sort of real deal.  

The camera in Wingard’s Phase 1 Clinical Trials is part of its titular experiment. An electronic replacement for the eye of Herman (Wingard) after a car accident, it enables him to see again – and us to see what he sees – but it is also sensitive to some hostile ghostly spirits that might better have stayed invisible and intangible. Mashing up Bernard Tavernier’s Death Watch (1980) and the Pang brothers’ The Eye (2002) with an altogether more schlubby mumblegore sensibility, this gets just the right balance of fun and frights. Of less interest or entertainment, despite the co-direction of found-footage forefather Eduardo Sánchez (The Blair Witch Project), is A Ride in the Park, which captures a zombie outbreak mostly from a ‘Go-Pro’ camera mounted on the bike helmet of an early victim (Jay Saunders), but fails, despite its unusual point-of-view, to transcend the overfamiliar tropes that it roughly traverses. 

Pick of the bunch is Safe Haven, directed by Timo Tjahjanto (Macabre) and Gareth Evans (The Raid), in which a television crew is invited to visit the compound of a very suspect cult, and one of the cameramen (Fachry Albar) is horrifically confronted with his ambivalent feelings about paternity. To say more would be to give the game away, but trust me, this one escalates from calmly creepy to balls-out batshit before you have time to catch your breath. Perhaps less impactful but similarly crazy is Jason Hobo With A Shotgun Eisener’s Slumber Party Alien Abduction, in which a group of kids first shoot a home movie about dog-eating extra-terrestrial robots, then compete to capture on film their own emerging sexuality, before finally videoing a real alien invasion, caught mostly by a camera attached to their pet dog. It may all be a bit throwaway, but there is something in its breakneck shift from prankiness to panic that perfectly captures the spirit of a collection in which vividly unnerving unrealities keep intruding on their realist medium. The first film may overall have been better, and was certainly more original, but VHS is a patchy, outmoded format that can always accommodate second-generation materials. 

Strap: Though patchy and buggy, this multi-director found footage anthology sequel has “at least one that was the real thing.”

© Anton Bitel