The first V/H/S anthology film was a miserable experience. Themes about the way women are used in horror are hinted at just enough to fool a wide enough audience into thinking there was something more going on in the films. Even at its high points, V/H/S was nothing more than a dull doll gussied up in blood that dragged each scenario on to its obvious conclusion. There were no surprises, and the slight change in stock between each film did not do enough to counteract the boring visual style that comes with found-footage horror films.
There's already a sequel with only director Adam Wingard returning from the first series. It's not too surprising to see a horror sequel churned out so quickly after the success of its predecessor, but V/H/S/2 suffers immensely in comparison due to its proximity to the first. The slightest visual inventions of the first series are instead turned into the same kind of grainy handheld footage for the shorts. As a result, the anthology feels even more featureless than the previous, which isn't aided by the fact that each story still follows the same basic invasion structure for each short.
As you might have guessed, V/H/S' standard bearer of "found footage meets x" stays intact. The framing story consists of two private investigators who look into the disappearance of a college student and find a familiar stack of VHS tapes and televisions tuned to static. As each of the shorts is viewed the nearby laptop shows video of the missing kid talking about how they need to be played to achieve the desired effect. There are four shorts in addition to the framing narrative.
The first is about a man who gets a cybernetic eye implant and is warned that he may see some glitches. In the second a cyclist stops to help a woman who has been bit by someone and in turn bites him. Third, a camera crew making a documentary about a local cult figure descends into his compound so that they can get the truth about what is going on. Then the last has a bunch of aliens invading a large upscale home.
Except for the cult film, each short plays out very strictly to its genre conventions and does not even bother with the slightest bit of invention. Even though the tooling around was mostly empty in the first V/H/S, I at least got the sense that they were trying to do something different with the films. Instead the sameness of each invasion scenario grows wearisome as ghosts, zombies, and aliens cycle in and out with the same hand-held camera and same footage stock is used in transition between the stories. The visual boredom is further amplified because all the shorts feature a stuttering visual effect, either through blinking lights or sudden on-screen static.
There isn't even an effort to disguise or spin how women are treated in horror this time around. At least Ti West's film in the first installment was trying to invert the stalker clichés a little bit. In the framing narrative the male PI is stalking a man and his date before the camera ogles her exposed breasts. The appearance of the man's penis almost feels like an attempt to counteract any sexist criticism of the film by saying they are showing men naked too. But the camera does not luxuriate over his nudity and can barely get a few minutes into each of the other shorts without demeaning women in some other capacity.
The worst example of this is in the returning Wingard's short, Clinical Trials. At one point the woman basically says that to defeat the evil they need to have sex. Right now. If the rest of the horror weren't so sincere it might have worked as another one of those meta attempts to comment at how stupid sex scenes in horror films are. Instead its just a prelude to her death. Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale's short, A Ride in the Park, can't get one minute in before the protagonist's girlfriend compares herself to a bicycle.
Even the best one, Gareth Huw Evans and Timo Tjahjanto's Safe Haven, can't resist throwing in some extra shame for the lone female protagonist before slicing her open. It also shows that, even when it's not horrible, the V/H/S films just don't know when to quit. In Safe Haven there are only so many times that I could see someone explode in a shower of blood before a previous clean concrete slab before it starts to get annoyingly repetitive. I felt nothing but annoyance at the final short, Jason Eisener's Alien Abduction Slumber Party, which decides to obscure a third of the screen for many of the blinking, redundant shots because of the furry head of the dog the camera is affixed to.
I know a lot of people who have adulation for this series and I just don't get it. None of these films, either in the first or second installment, transcends their genre conventions enough to warrant respect. They've got their horrible cake, and they're going to eat it until it's time to jab the fork in our eyes.
An anthology of horror films directed by Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Eduardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale, Gareth Huw Evans, Timo Tjahjanto, and Jason Eisener.