Uneven but fun horror anthology V/H/S/2 ups the stakes for defunct-format terror 

The Tapes of Wrath

The Tapes of Wrath

V/H/S/2 opens with a sex scene and a chase: A private detective is filming a married man's motel room tryst with a busty blonde. He's discovered at his task, and makes it to his car just in time to escape a beating. The scene sets up the underlying principle of this "found footage" horror anthology: Viewing the forbidden is at once dangerous and irresistible. This moment of self-referential wit suggests we're in for a clever and creepy meditation on voyeurism, obsession and the power of the image.

But V/H/S/2, a fun but bumpy sequel to the low-budget horror omnibus that proved a sizable hit on demand — both of which were produced by former Belcourt staffer Roxanne Benjamin — mostly fails to follow through on this promise. The scares it delivers are sometimes ingenious, but the overall quality is uneven, providing little beyond momentary jolts.

The gimmick is that the various tales are shot by different directors, most of them indie up-and-comers. In the frame story, the unnamed investigator and his girlfriend/partner break into the home of a college student they've been hired to find. They discover stacks of VHS tapes and TVs blaring static. There's no one home — or is there? Do recordings of the missing kid ranting about "electromagnetic energy" provide some clue to his disappearance? And what's on those tapes? The female investigator sets out to find the truth.

The "tapes" form the individual segments, and as is often the case with such anthologies, they're a mixed bag. In "Phase 1 Clinical Trials," from Adam Wingard (whose festival fave You're Next is one of the year's hottest genre films), a car crash victim discovers that the bionic eye he's had implanted enables him to see malevolent ghosts. The clever first-person conceit — we're viewing recordings from the eye itself — makes the footage both intimate and claustrophobic (although viewers may wonder how it ended up on VHS).

"A Ride In the Park," co-directed by Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sanchez (whose The Blair Witch Project launched the fake-found-footage craze), is a zombie tale in which a cyclist's helmet-mounted camera captures his transformation after he's bitten by an infected hiker. It's a reasonably original take on an oft-used trope, and offers some campy black humor — as when the zombies hit the jackpot: a child's birthday party. Nonstop cannibalistic carnage makes it difficult viewing for anyone who's not inured to gore, however. (Watch for Benjamin among the walking dead.)

The tag team of The Raid: Redemption director Gareth Huw Evans and Singaporean filmmaker Timo Tjahjanto serves up the most memorable mini-film, "Safe Haven," following a documentary crew's investigation of an Indonesian cult compound. The cult members' brainwashed behavior produces steadily mounting unease; then the time for the cult's doomsday ritual arrives, and blood-soaked chaos ensues. Epy Kusnandar is particularly chilling as the psychotic cult leader. "Alien Abduction Slumber Party," by Jason Eisener (Hobo With a Shotgun), depicts adolescent idiocy with admirable realism, but the shakily filmed E.T. scenes are too incoherent to be frightening.

As V/H/S/2 progresses, the tapes exert a hypnotic effect on their fictional viewer, rendering her nearly catatonic. For the real-world viewer, the effect isn't so much cumulative as sequential — even when the short films are scary, they don't build to anything. V/H/S/2 does regrettably little with its "the truth is out there" hinting about a creepy community of paranormal tape collectors. Nevertheless, fright-film aficionados will leave the theater ready to fast-forward to the inevitable V/H/S/3.

Email arts@nashvillescene.com.



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