Less than a year ago, V/H/S showed up virtually out of nowhere. It was an anthology film based around “found footage” that had been either captured or transferred onto old school VHS tapes. The story framing the film(some Jackass-aping nogoodniks are roped into stealing a specific tape from a seemingly abandoned house but find scores of tapes to sift through) was more or less inconsequential. The true meat lied in the standalone short films contained on those VHS tapes.
While those films ranged in quality from poor to surprisingly frightening, there was still an element of excitement to the endeavor as a whole. The idea was that this could be a delivery device for up-and-coming filmmakers to experiment with the found footage format in whatever ways they desired. That idea has yielded some thrilling results this time around in V/H/S/2, a sequel that truly improves upon the original and has produced at least one jaw-dropping film that is deserves to be seen by every fan of horror.
The frame story is much more tolerable this time around and V/H/S/2 loses the misogynistic streak that plagued the majority of the first film. While the short films here tread well-worn genre conventions(a ghost story here, an alien abduction story there), each entry adds something new and fresh to the mix to warrant a viewing. And each one succeeds in eliciting shrieks and even laughter. But one film stands apart from the rest.
“Safe Haven” comes from the writer-directors Gareth Huw Evans and Timo Tjahjanto. Evans’ last feature-length film was the action-packed wonder The Raid: Redmption. Knowing that he was behind one of the segments of V/H/S/2 was enough to get me excited about it, and rightly so. “Safe Haven” is a jarring, unsettling play on the cult infiltration trope. I wouldn’t want to spoil anything further, but I’m not even sure that’s possible as it contains some of the most astounding images we’re liable to see on-screen this year. There is virtually no way to overhype this short film. It truly has to be seen to be believed.
The rest of the entries are each entertaining and effective in their own right. The second and fourth entries are especially fun and rollicking. (The only part I balked at was an instance of a family pet put in peril. It’s a cheap way to elicit emotion from an audience, and one I’m tired of seeing in film after film.) But “Safe Haven” makes V/H/S/2 the can’t-miss horror film of the year.
V/H/S/2 is currently available on VOD and various On Demand services. It opens theatrically in the US on July 12.
Scares and laughter have gone hand-in-hand for ages. I know I’ve scared myself silly more than a few times watching some of the most frightening films. Once you get enveloped into a either the story or just a moment and forget that your watching a movie, and something happens that just rattles you, it’s natural to laugh it off. You laugh at yourself for forgetting that it’s just a movie or just at the fact that you just spilled popcorn everywhere.
Many films have tried to be funny and frightening at the same time. Most horror films add even just a few light moments to ease the tension. The trouble a lot of films have is keeping the balance between horror and humor without sacrificing one for the other. It’s one thing for a comedy to have genuinely frightening moments in it, but it’s another thing entirely for a truly scary film to have humor that doesn’t break the reality of film. [REC]3 Genesis finds that balance and exploits it for all its worth.
While it’s not necessary to have seen the two previous [REC] films, it’s helpful in seeing just how much fun the filmmakers have in taking a truly serious and intense franchise in an unexpected direction. If [REC] wasNight of the Living Dead meets Alien and [REC]2 was Aliens meets The Exorcist, then [REC]3 would have to be 28 Days Later meets Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Set parallel to the events in [REC] and [REC]2, [REC]3 takes place at the wedding of Koldo and Clara. We’re introduced to these characters, as well as their friends and family through some wedding film footage taken by both a professional filmographer and a few guests with personal mini-cams. For a while, the film feels like a genuinely entertaining found-footage romantic comedy. Then, of course, all hell breaks loose, Koldo and Clara become separated and each spend the rest of the film trying to get back to the other one.
While [REC]3 owes a lot to Shaun of the Dead, it has the benefit of a truly serious and frightening tone established by its predecessors to play around with. The threat is the same as it was in [REC] and [REC]2: fast-moving zombies biting and attacking humans who, if they aren’t eaten whole, become zombies themselves and so on and so forth. But where the previous films mined their dread from being set in a claustrophobic, locked-down apartment building, [REC]3 takes place at a spacious estate. This leaves more room for the protagonists to relax in between zombie encounters. But that actually provides more unexpected terrors than the constant on-edge tone of the previous films. So, while you’re laughing at characters walking around in medieval armor, you’re bracing yourself as their may be a horde of zombies just around the corner.
[REC]3 makes up for its decreased intensity by grounding the film in Koldo and Clara’s search for each other. This is where the film one-ups Shaun of the Dead. Koldo and Clara do seem very much in love and, even if they weren’t before, fighting to get to each other gives both a purpose as well a hope in a practically hopeless situation. It gives the film more urgency and depth then the previous films in giving the audience more of a reason to care for these characters than the fact that a camera is following them around.
All this wouldn’t really amount to much if the filmmaking and performances weren’t all top-notch. Director Paco Plaza has shaken off his shaky-cam origins and created a crisp, beautiful film that has some iconic images bound stick in the mind. Diego Martin looks like a Spanish Colin Firth and makes Koldo’s terror and resolve ring true throughout the film. Leticia Dolera has the toughest job making Clara come across as both a blushing bride and a strong woman kicking zombie ass. She never becomes super-human, but definitely sells Clara’s manic intensity in the face of rampant carnage. She’s a very realistic strong heroine.
[REC]3 is not only a thrilling diversion in a stark horror franchise, but a spectacularly entertaining horror comedy that not only earns a place beside this year’s equally impressive The Cabin In The Woods and The Innkeepers, but also deserves to be mentioned in the same category as Shaun of the Dead and Evil Dead 2. And even setting all that aside, it’s still a shockingly romantic film. Koldo and Clara may have hell rising up against them, but nothing’s going to keep them apart on their special day.
[REC]3 GENESIS is currently available on VOD from Amazon and various other platforms. It opens in theaters September 7.