The question comes up and every now and then and it’s a fair one. Can you name a movie franchise where the sequel(s) were better than the original? Well now you can. VHS 2 blows the bloody doors off the original.
VHS was refreshing because it was a nice spin on the found footage genre, and structurally, it sought to slightly under inform the audience which removes a layer of detachment. It is all well and good for us as an audience to watch Jason terrorize teenagers at Camp Crystal Lake. We know who he is, and why he’s doing.
It is another thing to have a guy with a mask chasing you, and not know why. That was the genius of VHS.
But in all honestly, only the concept and the last segment actually worked. Also, VHS was populated uniformly with annoying frat boy character types, which was problematic. VHS 2 represents a massive improvement as a film.
The wraparound segment is equally inscrutable as the first films, but less annoying. Two private eyes investigate the disappearance of a college kid, only to find out that his tape collection has unleashed some sort of evil. There’s some freaky stuff that happens, but I have no idea why. I know the selling point of this series is that things are underwritten, but this is a little too far in that direction.
The first segment is Adam Wingard’s Phase I Clinical Trials. It’s universally described as the weakest segment, which is fair. The plot is the same as the Pang Brothers The Eye, man receives a new eye and promptly see spooky things. He meets up with a girl that has a hearing implant that allows her to hear the things that he can see. This is a missed opportunity because there is the potential for some creepy moments in the main character’s apartment, and there is some promising camera work but the payoffs are always underwhelming and the end is utterly inexplicable.
Eduardo Sanchez follows next with A Ride in the Park. Sanchez’s growth as a filmmaker is really exciting to watch, and this is no exception. Zombies are almost hackneyed at this point, but Sanchez does an incredible job of detailing a zombie attack, from the zombie’s point of view. He balances unsettling gore with moments where the zombie slightly remembers its humanity to great effect.
There’s a great bit in A Ride in the Park, where the protagonist succumbs to the zombie plague and falls to the ground, seemingly dead. We KNOW he’s going to get back up. But we don’t know when. When an innocent couple comes across his body, and starts to get help there’s an incredible tension while we’re waiting for the attack to begin. Its just smart filmmaking, which is increasingly rare.
Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto present the crown jewel of the entire franchise, with Safe Haven. Safe Haven is about a news crew investigating an Indonesian cult led by an absolute lunatic that claims to be leading his followers to a spiritual transition. The more they learn, the worse it gets. And the thing is… even though the cult leader is crazy, it doesn’t mean that he’s wrong.
Safe Haven does so many things right it’s hard to believe. If you subtracted the horror elements entirely, there is enough interpersonal drama to capture the viewer’s interest, the segment is structured in a way that could not be more intriguing and there is a narrative momentum that’s unbelievable. When things go bad, they go really bad. The camerawork is exceptional as well I can’t believe it was shot in 7-8 days.
The only thing is… it ends on a joke.
It absolutely kills everything that goes before it. It’s a genuinely terrible idea. There are bits of black humor in Safe Haven, but this is just a tragedy of an ending. The bits before it though are absolutely killer.
Jason Eisener’s Slumber Party Alien Abduction is the best alien invasion bit I’ve ever seen. Somehow, with lights, some noise, some pretty run of the mill gray alien suits, he exceeds productions that have a better reputation and higher budget.
Aliens aren’t particularly scary. At least until now, but the relentless invaders in this piece do the job nicely. Add to that, that he creates a realistic teen/family/young adult dynamic. Safe Haven got all the attention, but Eisener knocks this one out of the park.
You want to know something? VHS came out in 2012, and in a year, we got a massively improved film. Because it’s inexpensive and open structured, they can do this every year with rotating filmmakers. There is literally no ceiling to how good this can get. And that, my friends, is pretty scary.