When the original “VHS” was released it suffered from the same criticisms of most anthology films. Terms like “uneven”, “ill-paced”, and “disjointed” we’re thrown about by critics pretty freely. All that, as well as a healthy dose of an especially douchey breed of misogyny, led some viewers dismissive and apathetic towards the anthology. Can the newest entry, VHS 2, answer those criticisms and improve upon the original?
Those critics of the original often forget what really worked in “VHS”. There are many effective sequences and moments in the film that are some of the most effective visually and atmospherically taut moments in horror the last few years. Sure, there are moments that lag and seem to bring the total film down, but that is that a criticism of “VHS” or of anthology in general? Viewing VHS 2, originally (and more awesomely) titled “S-VHS”, helps determine that question.
There is no question that VHS 2 is more streamlined this time around. The connecting story is tighter, and noticeably less douchey than the original, and the segments have been lowered to four entries. Each segment, in turn, gets more time to develop and breathe in its narrative world. Also, the best segment of VHS 2, Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans’s “Safe Heaven”, is better than anything we’ve see from either entry into the VHS franchise. To be honest, it may be one of the better stand alone horror films of the year. Clocking in at nearly forty minutes, it wouldn’t be a real stretch to turn the sequence into a feature length narrative.
“Safe Haven” nearly proves this film’s superiority to its predecessor alone. The problem, though, is that there is an innate issue with anthology films that is nearly impossible to overcome. Much like in VHS, VHS 2’s several stories within one container makes the film feel uneven, ill-paced, and disjointed. There isn’t one stinker of a short to point to and say, “yep, that’s where VHS 2 lost it”. The truth is quite the opposite actually, every sequence works pretty well as their own short films. When they are slammed together, though, it can’t help but have some pacing issues. These pacing issues make the film more like a casual viewing of a YouTube playlist instead of a full feature film.
All of that said, however, for an exercise in displaying talented horror filmmakers, VHS 2 may be the most successful horror anthology we have seen to date. Including Adam Wingard(You’re Next, A Horrible Way to Die), Gareth Evans(The Raid:Redemption), Eduardo Sanchez( The Blair Witch Project, Lovely Molly), and Jason Eisener(Hobo With a Shotgun), the lineup has no real weak spots. Each short is well crafted, well executed, and full of its own tense moments. Even the connecting short, the main through-line, is an effective story, the trouble is that moment when one short fades out, and the other fades in. This is when the audience basically resets and starts over with engaging in the story.
So yes, VHS 2 is probably an improvement over its predecessor and is arguably one of the better horror anthologies made in recent memory. The problem is that its still an anthology. That lack of cohesive storytelling can disengage many of its viewers. If one is looking for all spectacle and a parade of talented filmmakers doing incredible things, VHS 2 will be a success. If a larger narrative us expected, though, VHS 2 will fall as flat as most anthologies.