V/H/S. While I appreciated the return of "Anthology Horror", I felt that the stories were too much of a mixed bag, featuring too many unlikeable characters. Horror works better when you aren't actively rooting for the people on screen to get what's coming to them.
V/H/S/2 doesn't completely address all of my issues with the first, but it is definitely a step up across the board this time around. The overall format is the same, you have a 'framing story' that contains the main arc, with several short stories shown throughout.
The framing story, "Tape 49" (written and directed by Simon Barrett), is already an improvement over the framing story from first film. This time, we follow two private investigators hired to find a missing student (as opposed to following a bunch of punks vandalizing and committing sexual assault). They break into his home and find a stack of TVs with various VHS tapes. As Larry (Lawrence Michael Levine) searches the rest of the house, Ayesha (Kelsy Abbott) starts watching the tapes hoping they may have more clues. Also left behind is a laptop with a video recorded by the missing student saying the tapes need to be watched in the correct order in order to have an effect.
The first tape, "Clinical Trials" (written and directed by Adam Wingard) is about a man (also played by Wingard) that gets an experimental eye transplant after an accident cost him his sight. The eye also has a recording device implanted in it, so they can track him for the experiment. It's not long after he arrives home before he starts seeing things. I thought this was the most effective story as far as actual scares go. It's just a man alone in his home, and that generally gets to me when watching alone with the lights off. Plus, this story has boobs (provided by Hannah Hughes), so bonus.
The second tape, "A Ride in the Park", features a mountain biker with a helmet-mounted cam getting in a quick ride before meeting with his fiance. He's not on the trail before too long before he's stopped by a hysterical woman covered in blood. She's screaming about her boyfriend, and then the rider notices a pack of zombies approaching. Yes, zombies! Written by Jamie Nash and Eduardo Sánchez and directed by Gregg Hale and Sánchez, it seems like a bit of overkill considering this is basically a short zombie film shot. It's suitably gory and fun, but I don't find zombie stories all that scary these days. At least they are traditional, slow moving zombies. The highlight of "Ride" is it's perspective, which is all I'll say about it (no spoilers).
The third tape, "Safe Haven" (written and directed by Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto), features a film crew interview the leader of a cult. They travel to his compound to conduct further interviews. As you may guess, it's not long before shit hits the fan and all hell breaks loose. I'd say this one was the creepiest of the stories for a few reasons, which I won't go into to keep it spoiler-free. It's also the most involved as far as character details and overall scope of the story. You could easily see this one being expanded into a full length film. This is one also has some good moments of gore.
The final tape, "Alien Abduction Slumber Party" (written and directed by Jason Eisener), pretty much says it all. A boy and his friends are having a slumber party while their parents are out of town, playing various practical jokes on his older sister and her friends. When they plan to retaliate, aliens show up and attempt to abduct the group. It's pretty straightforward, but this story probably bugged the most with how it was filmed. There were lots of strobe effects and too much shaky handheld camera stuff. The aliens would randomly appear and disappear at various distances for no real reason. I think I would have enjoyed this one a little more if it was filmed differently. I've said this before, but why are aliens always naked when they attempt to abduct humans? I'm starting to believe this is all done by drunk aliens that think it would be funny to strip naked and then abduct and probe us. They're just messing with us like jocks picking on nerds.
We come back to the conclusion of the framing story. Again, there are some creepy elements, but I was a little irritated with some of the character decisions at this point. Just typical horror stuff where you can't help but wonder why the guy doesn't call the police or get out of the house. Instead he hangs around and watches more tapes.
I still want to know who's putting these digital formats back onto VHS. Some demonic hipster who insists that the curse from the VHS tapes have more warmth to them? Outside of that point, many of the technical aspects of the first film were handled more elegantly this time, where it makes sense that people would be filming or have hidden or mounted cameras for a reason. However, with all of the handheld camera work, you have a lot of really bad shaky-camera moments. It made a few of the stories hard to follow or watch at times.
Overall, I felt the quality of the stories was better than the first V/H/S, and they weren't quite so random. There's more humor and personality, and I found myself actually liking many of these characters and wanting to see more of them. Each story was much tighter and the overall runtime has been cut down, which was another improvement. At over two hours, I really thought the first started to drag as it went on, where with V/H/S/2 the pacing is brisk. It's kind of ironic as many of the short stories in V/H/S/2 could be fleshed out into full length films, but I'm glad they stuck with the short format.
V/H/S/2 is a great horror film to watch with a group of friends, as there's a little something for everyone. Both creepy and gory, it also manages to be scary and fun. It's the rare example of a sequel being a definite improvement over it's predecessor. Fans of horror should definitely check it out. It's likely going to be the best horror of 2013.
4 (out of 5) Death Stars