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rochefort [Celluloid 03.10.13] horror

You know, reality TV wouldn't be the widespread cancer it has become if it weren't relatively cheap to produce, and it's probably not going away anytime soon. So for those of us who simply don't watch, we could care less if the general quality of crap like "The Bachelor" improves over time, since it's never going to be a viewing option unless we get some sort of legislation that legalizes manslaughter in prime time entertainment and turns the husband hunt into a to-the-death arena battle. And yes, I would definitely watch that show, and would become exactly the kind of consumer the entertainment industry wants us all to be, hovering over the water cooler the day after each episode, sharing with my co-workers our shocked glee at how Contestant #8 really surprised us when she bludgeoned the debutante from Wisconsin with a pair of stripper heels. We're probably never going to get that kind of satisfaction from "reality-based" entertainment, but I can appreciate how the V/H/S series is attempting to meet us halfway. The first go didn't work, though, and ended up being the faked cinematic equivalent of the reality tv status quo. V/H/S 2, the second entry in what is very likely our newest horror franchise, is actually good. Not great, but definitely entertaining, and technically it's a crazy-drastic improvement over the first film.

Number 2 follows the same formula as the first, giving us a handful of found footage shorts, four stand-alone's and one wrap-around. There's one less entry this time around, and that turns out to be the first smart choice, since the overlong running time of the first film was one more reason to hate it. This time out we have variations on The Eye (Adam Wingard's Clinical Trials), Shaun of the Dead (Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sanchez's A Ride in the Park), The Wicker Man (Gareth Evans' and Timo Tjahjanto's Safe Haven), and Close Encounters (Jason Eisener's Alien Abduction Slumber Party). And while the usual rules of anthology films are very much in effect here, the only real crap entry is Simon Barrett's wraparound Tape 49, which retains the frat-boy, trash-can aesthetic of the first film and gets dumber as it unfolds. The rest of the entries are by a mostly-new batch of creators who understand the possibilities much better this time around, and give us some genuinely fun b-movie carnival rides. Wingard's Clinical Trials is the weakest of the batch; it offers one interesting idea, that the main character has an electronic eye that sees "echoes" of the dead, but doesn't explain or justify its gimmick very well and is quickly forgotten. But the next three pieces are all pretty good, particularly A Ride in the Park, which shows the first stages of the zombie apocalypse from the zombie's perspective. It's an extremely simple idea, but is executed with the right amount of gusto that it feels genuinely fresh, and it's also the funniest of the batch. Gareth Evans takes a break from sequels to The Raid to bring us Safe Haven, in which a charismatic cult leader involves a hapless documentary film crew in his plan to usher in a new era, and Evans and co-director Timo Tjajanto do a fantastic job of conveying the running thrill-vibe of a good haunted house. The final piece, Alien Abduction Slumber Party, is straightforward and plays out just like the title suggests, but director Eisener (whose Hobo with a Shotgun was the only recent "grindhouse" movie that's worked so far) does a nice job of channeling a fusion of young Spielberg and Bad Taste-era Peter Jackson, which is no small feat.

If there's a key flaw to the pic as a whole, it's this: with each new entry, the wraparound story becomes more irrelevant. The original film was at least consistent in terms of the rules of its universe and, love it or hate it, you came away believing that all the stories were taking place in the same world, one full of weird isolated incidents. In 2, we're shown at least two apocalyptic scenarios (Ride and Haven), and since we're seeing each as taped documents of past events, it's tough to swallow that these worldwide game-changers wouldn't have had more of an impact on the "present". It's not an unforgivable creative choice, but it ends up diluting the overall impact of the film and keeps it from really sticking with you once you leave the theater. Think about it for a second: just how ballsy would it have been for an anthology horror series to end on paradigm shift, guaranteeing that future entries will have to pick up where this film leaves off? Imagine a V/H/S 3 set in a world where the paranormal and supernatural have burst from the shadows and become a mainstay of everyday life? Yeah, I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. But I'll give you this, guys: you definitely fixed a lot of what was broken. And something happened in this new film that didn't happen once, not once, in the previous one: I had fun. See you next time.

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