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The V/H/S Series

V/H/S (July 20/12)

A typically uneven horror anthology, V/H/S follows a group of trouble-making misfits as they attempt to track down a VHS tape contained within a creepy old apartment - with the movie subsequently consisting of five found-footage tales culled from random tapes found in said apartment. There's little doubt that V/H/S gets off to a palpably underwhelming start, as the film's wraparound story, directed by Adam Wingard, boasts an excessively low-rent feel that immediately establishes an atmosphere of jittery annoyance - with this vibe perpetuated by the outset of the first story, David Bruckner's Amateur Night. And while that tale admittedly does improve as it progresses, the remainder of the movie's installments suffer from a similar unevenness that is, to say the least, somewhat distracting and disheartening. Having said that, V/H/S admittedly does contain a number of striking and downright creepy moments - with the midsection of Ti West's Second Honeymoon, in particular, peppered with a smattering of impressively sinister images. (There's little doubt, however, that the short's impact is substantially diminished by its hopelessly conventional conclusion.) The next two tales, Glenn McQuaid's Tuesday the 17th and Joe Swanberg's The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger - a tedious slasher and an incoherent webcam shocker, respectively - perpetuate V/H/S' decidedly erratic atmosphere, and although the film picks up with its final installment, Radio Silence's audacious and gleefully over-the-top 10/31/98, it's ultimately impossible to label the movie as anything more than a watchable yet overlong and meandering low-budget horror effort.

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V/H/S/2 (September 2/13)

It's clear right from the get-go that V/H/S/2 is going to follow the same mediocre pattern as its predecessor, as the movie is, with one notable exception, rife with half-hearted and overlong sketches that barely manage to hold the viewer's interest. And although the wraparound story is a marginal improvement over the one contained in the original, V/H/S/2 kicks off with a hopelessly underwhelming tale detailing the spooky shenanigans that ensue after a man (Adam Wingard's Herman) receives a bionic eye implant. It's weak, derivative stuff that's ultimately let down by an anti-climactic finish, and one can't help but assume that the movie is, as a result, going to fare even worse than the middling first film. There's little doubt, then, that V/H/S/2 bounces back with a vengeance in its second story, as Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sánchez's A Ride in the Park puts a thoroughly innovative spin on the zombie genre and immediately establishes itself as a highlight within the entire series. From there, V/H/S/2 shifts to Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto's promising Safe Haven - which details the chaos that ensues after several reporters attempt to infiltrate an apocalyptic cult. It's an intriguing setup that's employed to decent yet unspectacular effect by the filmmakers, with the sporadic inclusion of striking images generally compensating for a short that otherwise overstays its welcome. Of course, Safe Haven is nothing less than a masterpiece compared to V/H/S/2's final tale, Jason Eisener's Slumber Party Alien Abduction - as Eisener, as incompetent a contemporary filmmaker as exists, squanders a promising premise by emphasizing incoherent shaky camerawork and grade-school-level instances of humor. (And, to top it all off, the story concludes with a shot of a dead dog. Stay classy, Eisener.) It's clear that V/H/S/2 benefits substantially from the inclusion of Hale and Sánchez's A Ride in the Park, as the movie is, aside from that magnificent short, just as forgettable and disappointing as 2012's V/H/S.

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V/H/S Viral (November 1/14)

The V/H/S series continues with this typically erratic entry that's often as tedious as it is entertaining, with the movie boasting a trio of tales revolving around a power-hungry magician, a portal to an alternate universe, and a trip to Tijuana gone very, very wrong. (There's also, as expected, a wraparound story that's both useless and incoherent.) It's worth noting that V/H/S Viral gets off to a fairly promising start, as the first installment, Gregg Bishop's Dante the Great, details the exploits of a fledgling magician whose career takes off after he discovers (and begins using) a demonic cape. Bishop's decision to abandon the found-footage format - the story is presented as a documentary, essentially - results in a refreshingly coherent atmosphere, and although the short's first half is quite engaging and creative, Biship offers up a scare-free, over-the-top finale that's more chaotic than anything else. The movie peaks with its second tale, Parallel Monsters, as filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo offers up an intriguing, sci-fi heavy story about a man who discovers an alternate reality, with the Twilight Zone-esque trajectory of this installment essentially compensating for its complete lack of creepy or frightening moments/images. The final short, Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson's Bonestorm, contains a decent setup that's ultimately squandered to a seriously distressing degree, as the story builds to a finale that couldn't possibly be less interesting and more incoherent. (It doesn't help, either, that Moorhead and Benson's protagonists are about as unlikeable as one could possibly imagine.) The end result is an anthology that'll please fans of this series and annoy its detractors, and it's ultimately impossible not to wish that the filmmakers involved would put some effort into actually scaring the viewer.

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© David Nusair