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Magnolia Home Entertainment // R // September 24, 2013
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 26, 2013 | E-mail the Author
Even with as many horror anthologies as I've devoured and as many found-footage flicks as I've suffered through, I still hadn't experienced anything even close to V/H/S. At its best, this experimental, fiercely independent anthology was so disturbing and so unique that whatever flaws it had could easily be shrugged off. There's no
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need to make those same sorts of allowances in this dramatically improved sequel, seizing hold of everything that V/H/S did right and refining it to perfection. Every complaint and criticism I had about the original movie has been taken care of this second time around.

Well, almost. The same as the original, the framing device for V/H/S/2 is the least interesting thing about this anthology. "Tape 49" is basically a more subdued rehash of V/H/S' wraparound: breaking into a dingy, seemingly abandoned pad, tons of televisions scattered all over, shoving in one homebrew VHS tape after another, shadowy figures skittering around in the know the drill. At least this story about a skeevy P.I. and his assistant searching for a missing teenager is less obnoxious than the overbearing, cranked-up-to-eleven motherfuckers from the original, it's trying to build some sort of mythology that'll apparently continue in future installments, and I kinda like the payoff at the end.

Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett (You're Next) helmed the wraparound for both the original movie and the sequel, and they're also behind the first full segment here. "Phase I Clinical Trials" stars Wingard as a nouveau riche, half-blind twentysomething implanted with an experimental ocular implant. It's a robot eye, basically, and there are still some quirks that have to be ironed out. What better way to debug than use the eye to maintain a constant digital feed of everything that Herman sees and hears? Yeah, yeah, there are some sacrifices he has to make about his privacy and all that, but the experiment sure seems to be a success. The shiny new implant allows Herman to see better than ever...beyond, as it turns out, what the living are generally able to perceive. "Phase I Clinical Trials" is the least successful of V/H/S/2's four segments but still makes for a decent enough opening salvo. Fairly ordinary "boo!" scares, a supernatural force that really isn't all that menacing, far and away the worst acting in the movie...oh, and a girl named Clarissa who shows up to explain it all with a big, expository infodump and to fuck the nightmare into submission. The buildup is rough, sure, but this first segment had dug its claws pretty deeply into me by the end. Not a bad way to ease you into the mayhem that's to come.

Eduardo Sánchez and Gregg Hale's The Blair Witch Project helped kickstart what we think of as found footage horror, and they return to the genre with "A Ride in the Park". One sunny morning, a cyclist (Jay Saunders) straps on a helmet-cam for a jaunt down a bike trail, and he careens head-on into...well, that would be telling. Sánchez and
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Hale take a very familiar subgenre and approach it from a perspective that I don't believe has ever been seen before, and when I say "perspective", I mean that in the most literal way possible. It's hard to say much about "A Ride in the Park" without spoiling anything, but it's a frenetic and very unique spin on something I mistakenly thought I'd seen done in every possible way. My only gripe is that I wish it had ended a minute and a half earlier.

"Safe Haven" alone is worth the price of entry. This collaboration between Timo Tjahjanto (Macabre) and Gareth Evans (The Raid: Redemption) isn't just the standout segment in the V/H/S franchise; it outclasses just about every horror movie of recent memory. See, most of the shorts in V/H/S/2 stick to a familiar routine: introduce characters, introduce threat, threat escalates, shit goes south. With twenty minutes or so a segment, there aren't a whole lot of other ways to do it. "Safe Haven", about a documentary crew that infiltrates a cult's remote compound, veers off in a very different direction. This is the segment with the richest characterization. There's a pervasive sense of dread that far exceeds anything else in the film, managing to be unnerving well before revealing the cards it's clutching so tightly to its chest. What follows...I never saw it coming. It's frenetic and disturbing. The scale is staggering. Whenever I thought I'd seen all hell break loose, "Safe Haven" proves over and over again how much more torment is left to unleash. There just...there aren't words.

You probably don't need too much of a plot synopsis for the last of the segments, "Slumber Party Alien Abduction" by Jason Eisener (Hobo with a Shotgun). A gaggle of barely pubescent kids are having a sleepover and are tormenting a foxy older sis with one prank after another when...well, you read the title already. Much like "10/31/98" in the original V/H/S, the sequel draws to a close with a segment that's equal parts fun and scary, and there's definitely something to be said for getting a dog's eye view of it all.

As high as my expectations were for V/H/S/2, nothing could've prepared me for this. It's as grueling, gruesome, and relentlessly intense as the original but with far fewer rough edges...delivering everything that drew me to the original, only better and more of it. As perfect a sequel as they come and very Highly Recommended.

Oh, and this Blu-ray release of V/H/S/2 features the unrated version that played in something like a dozen different theaters as well as an R-rated cut. I didn't exhaustively compare the two -- let's be honest, no one reading this is going to bother with the R-rated version -- but I can say for certain that the first hour is identical between 'em.

The idea's that these are multigeneration VHS tapes circulating among some sort of dark, underground group online, plus the source is supposed to be everything from button-cams to cybernetic ocular implants. So, yeah, V/H/S/2
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isn't one of those Blu-ray discs that makes me drone on and on about how breathtakingly gorgeous it is, and that's entirely by design. Heavy pixelization. Aliasing. Breakup. Tracking errors. Insane posterization. General fuzziness. Name anything that can sputter and stutter in a visual presentation, and it's lurking around in here somewhere. Despite the VHS framing device, there's often still a marked increase in detail and clarity over anything DVD can deliver -- especially throughout the glossiest segment, the RED Epic-lensed "Phase I Clinical Trials" -- making this high-def release well-worth the extra few bucks. Star ratings are even more pointless than normal here, but you kind of knew that already.

V/H/S/2 arrives on a single layer Blu-ray disc, leaning on seamless branching to provide two separate cuts of the film. The 1.78:1 presentation has been encoded with AVC.

The original V/H/S wasn't all that sure what to do with several of the channels in its 5.1 mix, preferring to tether itself to the front channels the same as a proper VHS cassette would. This sequel's 16-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is more adventurous, though. There's a remarkably strong emphasis on establishing a sense of place...and that feeling of immersion ratchets up the intensity in several of these segments. There are also some really nice discrete effects, such as the placement of a tea kettle in "Phase I Clinical Trials". I'm in awe of the otherworldly screams in "Slumber Party Alien Abduction", and the surrounds are also filled with such intriguing effects as hellish growls and first-person roadkill throughout the rest of the film. Again, the audio is intensely stylized and isn't meant to sound as if it's been polished to a glossy sheen, but this is exactly what it ought to be.

No dubs or alternate mixes or anything. Subtitles are offered in English (SDH) and Spanish.

The extras for this sequel aren't quite as extensive as they were the first time around. The interviews are shorter and more cursory, and there aren't any deleted or extended scenes.
  • Audio Commentary: V/H/S/2's commentary has been pieced together from a bunch of different recording sessions, and each segment exclusively features the filmmakers behind it. You don't hear from any of the producers or get any of the cross-pollinating conversations that were found in the original film's commentary. To rattle off a few highlights...? Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard chat about a drunken
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    commentary that had to be nixed, lifting character names from twentysomeodd-year-old sitcoms, the glossier cinematography in their segment this time out, Simon going all full-frontal, and the pitch-perfect casting the two of 'em originally had in mind for "Phase I Clinical Trials". Greg Hale and Eduardo Sánchez note how much of the heavy lifting Jay Saunders shouldered throughout "A Ride in the Park". Timo "Fuckin'" Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans mention that they were tapped to helm their own segments in V/H/S/2 and decided instead to collaborate. Jason Eisener, Rob Cotterill, and John Davies talk about how much the early stretches of "Slumber Party Alien Abduction" were inspired by their own teenage shenanigans and how they overshot the fake porn that's playing in the background at one point. Definitely worth a listen, thanks in large part to Barrett and Wingard's brilliant senses of humor.

  • Featurettes (17 min.; HD): The four segments and wraparound story each score their own very short making-of featurette, and some of 'em experiment with the format more than others. "A Ride in the Park: I Dare You" (3 min.) has nothing to do with the making of the flick at all, instead capturing a dare to knock down a tree during a tech scout. "Slumber Party Alien Abduction" (6 min.) is cut together like a short film rather than a straightahead featurette, cramming together a bunch of doggie-cam footage with no narration or interviews or whatever. The rest are a little more traditional. "Tape 49 Rewind" (2 min.) is ostensibly about the framing story but focuses more on the anthology as a whole, especially what distinguishes this sequel from the original film. "Dissecting Phase I Clinical Trials" (2 min.) briefly touches on how it wasn't originally the plan for Adam Wingard to act, direct, and shoot this segment along with some notes about the premise and production design. Finally, "Inside Safe Haven" (4 min.) delves into the concept, inspirations, and the mashing-up of so many different genres.

  • Photo Galleries: Around 210 low-ish resolution photos are spread across a set of five photo galleries, offering up behind-the-scenes shots of every segment of V/H/S/2.

  • Promotional Material (7 min.; HD): Rounding out the extras are a pair of high-def trailers and a three minute promotional featurette from AXS TV.

The version of V/H/S/2 reviewed here comes packaged in an embossed slipcover. There's a pricier combo pack that piles together this Blu-ray disc, an anamorphic widescreen DVD, and -- yup! -- a VHS cassette.

The Final Word
So much better than the original V/H/S that they coulda called it D/V/D. If you're done groaning: Highly Recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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