Horror rule of thumb: When making a sequel, it's either "go big" or "get the hell out of here." Fortunately for the creative team behind the independently made, found-footage anthology V/H/S/2, they chose the former when constructing the follow-up to last year's Sundance-born genre sensation V/H/S. Curiously enough, V/H/S/2—currently screening in New York City as part of the Tribeca Film Festival's Midnight section, following a Sundance premiere in January and SXSW shows in March—is actually shorter in length and scanter in total segments than its predecessor. Instead of five shorts and a wraparound story clocking in at just short of two hours total, V/H/S/2 barely passes the 90-minute mark with four segments and another wraparound. How exactly is it "bigger," then? It's all in the subject matter.
Whereas V/H/S (featuring shorts by indie directors Adam Wingard, Ti West, David Bruckner, Joe Swanberg, and Radio Silence) was, for the most part, a reasonably scaled-down enterprise, the sequel boasts a massive narrative scope. The included segments: "Phase I Clinical Trials" (directed by returning filmmaker, and franchise co-producer, Wingard) follows a guy who gets a microchip-camera implanted into his eye and starts seeing malevolent ghosts; "A Ride in the Park," co-directed by Eduardo Sanchez (The Blair Witch Project) and Gregg Hale, is a zombie romp shown from the POV of an undead flesh-eater; the incredible "Safe Haven," a collaboration between Gareth Huw Evans (The Raid: Redemption) and Timo Tjahjanto (The ABCs of Death), about a doomsday cult whose apocalyptic beliefs come to gory, action-packed fruition; and "Alien Abduction Slumber Party," a frantically paced and brilliantly executed Goonies-meets-Fire in the Sky showstopper from Hobo with a Shotgun mastermind Jason Eisener.
The filmmakers' ambitions have paid off—even those who had more complaints than praise for V/H/S have been applauding V/H/S/2's superiority. Give the producers credit: All very active online and aware of critics' reviews and message board chatter, they paid attention to what was said about the first film, addressed as much as possible, and crafted a crowd-pleasing, funny, and adrenaline-packed movie that's perfect for midnight crowds looking to get rowdy.
In town for V/H/S/2's Tribeca screenings (leading up to the film's VOD release on June 6 an its limited theatrical run beginning on July 12), co-producer, co-director (the wraparound, "Tape 49"), and co-writer Simon Barrett spoke with Complex about learning from previous mistakes, giving fans something fresh, and the advantages of making small-scale movies with friends.
Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
How did the Tribeca audience respond to the movie Sunday night?
I used to live in Park Slope, and I'd go to Tribeca every year to see films, and the crowds there, I remember, tend to be somewhat muted. They're respectful audiences, and aren't going to be shouting at the screen, and V/H/S/2 is designed for audiences to react to it. I sat in for about 30 minutes and it seemed like the crowd was into it.
It's also a good indicator when it's Sunday at midnight and people stick around for the Q&A, and most of the people did. I think it went over well, but I guess I'll do a Twitter search later today and see how people really feel. [Laughs.]
Is it weird to come from showing the film at Sundance and SXSW, where the audiences are much rowdier and more energetic?
Yeah, but every festival is different. Fortunately, I'm familiar with New York City audiences. This is a city that takes film seriously, especially at festivals. It's good to see how different crowds respond to the film. They're not all going to be screaming at the screen, and it's imporatnt to be aware of that as filmmakers.
Taking this back to the beginning, when you guys were working on V/H/S/2, had the first movie come out yet? And if so, did you use the reviews and reactions to V/H/S as learning tools and ways to improve the sequel during production?
The reaction to V/H/S was completely what inspired the sequel, in terms of witnessing how people reacted to the first film and seeing what worked and what didn't. That said, the sequel came together shockingly quickly. Basically, we based it on the reaction to V/H/S at Sundance. V/H/S was, as exemplified by its mumblecore roots, a very spontaneous thing. We didn't really know what it was going to be until it was all edited together. For example, that's when we discovered that the running time was two hours. Which seemed too long. [Laughs.]
When we were making that, we weren't sure who the audience was going to be, but then when we made it into Sundance and people responded to it, Adam, the other producers, and I had this feeling of, now that we did that, we know how to do it better. We also all had a window of time to ourselves. Adam and I were waiting for You're Next to come out, which is happening this summer. We also started putting together some larger projects, but we learned that larger projects also take much longer to put together.
There was this period in 2012 where we all realized we had a large enough window to make V/H/S/2. Gareth Evans, who we'd become friendly with, was kind of in the same situation that we were in, putting together the sequel to The Raid but also realizing that it was such an enormous endeavor. The pre-production was going to take a year on that. So we decided to work on the sequel while we were all just sitting around.
We are not filmmakers who do not read our reviews. I wish we were filmmakers who do not read our reviews. [Laughs.] But we obsessively read our reviews, even reviews that are tweeted somewhat pejoratively at us we take fairly seriously. If everyone is saying this one thing, maybe they're right. You shouldn't second-guess yourself as an artist, but you should use that as inspiration to maybe do something different. Seeing what people responded to in V/H/S was a big help, especially Radio Silence's segment, which closes the movie, and David Bruckner's short, which opens the movie. Those are clearly crowd favorites from the first V/H/S. And also seeing what people weren't responding to, particularly in the segments I'd written. That was definitely something we brought to the sequel.
It all happened very quickly, though. V/H/S premiered at Sundance in January, and in March we pretty much had the entire team for V/H/S/2 together. Everyone that we reached out to, it kind of worked out immediately. So that's why we're in this weird position of releasing a sequel that nobody even had time to want. [Laughs.] The movie is coming out on VOD on June 6 and then in theaters on July 12, and that's less than a year after the first film came out. I think some people are a little confused.