If you liked V/H/S, just press play on V/H/S/2; if you didn’t, don’t even start.
With one fewer segment than the original, this second stack of lo-fi tales of taped terror opens with no credits — just the wraparound story of two private investigators whose gig takes them to a house, where in front of a bank of TVs, littered VHS tapes await viewing, thereby leading to four freestanding bits.
In the first, “Phase I Clinical Trials,” a man is befitted surgically with an experimental eyeball that doubles as a camera. The orb is not without its side effects. The Blair Witch Project co-director Eduardo Sánchez returns to the woods for “A Ride in the Park,” in which a biker unwittingly pedals his way into a horde of zombies. Its 15 minutes are better than any of the recent spate of independent features on the undead.
From The Raid: Redemption’s Gareth Evans’ “Safe Haven” starts to grow tired, before redeeming itself in a balls-out finale. Finally, Jason Eisener (Hobo with a Shotgun) steals the show with the self-explanatory “Slumber Party Alien Abduction.” If you must only watch one piece of V/H/S/2, Eisener’s is it. —Rod Lott
Never say never, because here’s something I’ve now said twice this year: Josh Duhamel is really good in this.
An indie dramatic thriller, Scenic Route casts Duhamel as Mitchell, a finance exec/family man on a road trip with Carter (Dan Fogler, Take Me Home Tonight), an old friend from whom he’s grown apart of late. Carter lacks everything that Mitchell has: a wife, a kid, a job, a house, confidence, ambition.
Add “operational vehicle” to the list, in the middle of Death Valley. As temperatures plummet, tempers flare and secrets are revealed. Just when you think screenwriter Kyle Killen (The Beaver) has neutered his own script’s balls in the final minutes, give him until the bitter end.
Drastically altering his vanity via a real Mohawk is only part of Duhamel’s appeal here. Maybe it’s those Transformers movies or his marriage to a Black Eyed Pea, but we tend to think of Duhamel as mere lightweight pretty boy. Well, the pretty boy gets to act, and he rises triumphantly to the challenge. The film is the best gift his 10-year career has received, so overcome any preconceived notions of the rom-com refugee if you can. —RL
World War Z
The Z stands for “zombies,” of course, but this is an action-thriller, not a horror flick. Like TV’s ridiculously popular The Walking Dead or 2009’s more-fun-thanfunny Zombieland, it’s a watered-down depiction of the days and nights of the living dead — a zombie film for who people who can’t handle a “real” zombie film. It’s entertaining without approaching extraordinary.
Former UN investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) rather reluctantly leaves his wife (Mireille Enos, TV’s The Killing) and two daughters on a military aircraft while he trots around the globe, helping to pursue a cure to whatever virus has caused this pandemic. No matter his destination, super-fast zombies are present for a greet-and-eat. Repeat for two hours.
Based very loosely on Max Brooks’ novel, Marc Forster’s film needs no setup. What it does need is — no pun intended — more meat. Shouldn’t a depiction of a global catastrophe come equipped with a serrated edge? At least what there is now can be seen at home, where projection issues during night sequences disappear.
Pitt makes for a fine host on his travelogue of terror.
Too bad Enos can’t be there with him. It’s demeaning that her role amounts to moping on a cot. —RL