Of all the films one would expect to launch a franchise, “V/H/S” is both one of the most unlikely and the most surprisingly sequel-friendly. “V/H/S/2” ups the ante in every way, with a much-improved roster of reputable horror directors delivering a veritable Baskin Robbins of terror. From zombies, ghosts and aliens to the Antichrist himself, the quartet of films that compose “V/H/S/2” are just as varied as they are terrifying, making the follow-up to the first film unexpectedly promising and ambitious.
Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, the architects of the series, direct the first two segments. Barrett helms the film’s wrap-around segment, which finds a private detective breaking into a missing college student’s house to track down clues to his whereabouts. Instead of evidence, the detective and his sidekick find a massive collection of horrific video tapes, each one a short, found-footage style horror film from a different director.
Wingard’s segment is a fairly typical horror exercise, starring Wingard as a medical patient whose eye is replaced by a synthetic one that’s able to see ghosts. This is easily the weakest of the film’s five parts, but its solid scares and grimy aesthetic sets the tone nicely for what’s to come. While Wingard’s contribution fails to stand out, that’s merely because of the creativity and horror acumen the rest of the shorts in “V/H/S/2” display.
Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sanchez, the creators of “The Blair Witch Project,” direct the most original segment in the bunch, capturing the dawn of a zombie apocalypse from a freshly zombified bicyclist’s point-of-view. It’s hard to find a fresh take on the zombie mythos in today’s oversaturated cinema, but Hale and Sanchez do a good job making their spin on the undead a gory, entertaining and even surprisingly heartfelt addition.
The next tape, from Indonesian directors Gareth Evans (“The Raid”) and Timo Tjahjtanto, shows documentary filmmakers entering an infamous cult’s compound on a fateful day. This short, easily the highlight of the film, is brilliantly constructed, setting up the geography of the compound and the location of the doc crew’s cameras carefully before devolving into horrific chaos of the highest order. Evans has a knack for building relentless, varied set pieces, and this segment mixes several flavors of nightmarish imagery brilliantly, perfectly encapsulating everything that works about horror in a pantheon-level assault on the senses.
The final segment from “Hobo With a Shotgun” director Jason Eisener is something of a comedown from the thrilling Indonesian horror bonanza, but his tale of aliens invading a quiet slumber party is funny and jarring in all the right ways. While Eisener’s alien abductors are just scary enough, they’re fairly generic, but his work truly shines in his writing of their targets, a group of rambunctious teens. Eisener nails the way teens interact and goof around, and he captures those moments of carefree interaction so authentically that it’s easy to be invested in their survival.
As far as horror sequels go, “V/H/S/2” is the rare follow-up that surpasses its predecessor in terms of scares, quality and consistency. The sequel also conveys an ambitious sense of a deeper mythology behind the tapes that its unfortunate leads absorb, and as long as the franchise can keep the scares as nail-bitingly, spine-chillingly intense, another “V/H/S” film would be more than welcome.