One Of The Scariest Scenes In V/H/S/2 Is The End Of Safe Haven

(Welcome to Scariest Scene Ever, a column dedicated to the most pulse-pounding moments in horror with your tour guides, horror experts Chris Evangelista and Matt Donato. In this edition, Chris invites you to watch a fun, harmless documentary where absolutely nothing goes wrong.)

I'm hit or miss on the "V/H/S" franchise. I love me a horror anthology film, but more often than not, this series comes up short for me. However, every now and then the on-going franchise will produce a segment that rises above the fray, like the excellent "The Empty Wake" from "V/H/S/94." But I think most people will agree that the all-time-best "V/H/S" entry is Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans' "Safe Haven" from "V/H/S/2." Not only does it make great use of the found-footage angle (something that can't be said for other entries), it's genuinely scary (again, something that can't be said for other entries). 

The setup

The "V/H/S" series is comprised of found footage horror stories, all of which vary in quality, and many of which completely abandon the whole "VHS" angle for more digital-looking entries. In "V/H/S/2," a private investigator and his girlfriend are hired to look into the disappearance of a college student. The P.I. and his gal break into the missing student's dorm room where they find a stack of mysterious VHS tapes, all of which contain scary, disturbing footage. And one of those tapes contains the short film "Safe Haven." 

The story so far

In "Safe Haven," a group of documentary filmmakers — working with both normal and hidden cameras — sets out to infiltrate an Indonesian cult known as Paradise Gates. Things are off-kilter as soon as the group arrives, but it's more of an atmosphere of unpleasant weirdness than anything scary. At least at first. But you can sense that something is going to go wrong. And slowly, the tension builds, and builds, and builds.

The scene

Anyone familiar with creepy cults will know that they often result in mass suicides. And that's what happens here — but there's more to the story. All at once, all hell breaks loose within the compound that houses the cult. Members begin brutally killing themselves, and each other, all while our hapless documentary crew is forced to watch. They try to make their escape, but one by one they're bumped off. Lena, one of the documentary filmmakers, is hauled away by a group of women. It turns out Lena is pregnant, but not with a normal, healthy baby. No, there's something inhuman inside her and the cult members are ready for its arrival.

All of this unfolds with manic, anxiety-inducing energy. There are some cuts here and there that obscure things and sap the moment of some of its power, but overall, the filmmakers don't flinch away from the madness and horror, which makes the sequence all the more terrifying and unnerving. It's such a good sequence, and short film, that it probably hurt the "V/H/S" series as a whole — because no one has been able to come close to capturing the scary magic on display here. 

The impact (Matt's Take)

Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans are the kings of the "V/H/S" franchise. There's been no segment before or since "Safe Haven" that's knocked it from first place. Horror anthologies are frequently mixed bags, and "Safe Haven" represents what the best anthology segments can become. Breakneck cult aggression, creature effects, and unrivaled intensity are its signatures. Everything defies horror anthology stigmas.

The scare Chris details is effective, but the entire short feature is impactful. Tjahjanto and Evans use the found footage format to bring viewers into the eye of an apocalyptic, Anti-Christ ritual as chaos reigns for the segment's duration. There's a survival horror quality as filmmakers flee from Paradise Gates as the walls crumble around them, each room bringing new horrors. Eventually, all that's left are undead versions of schoolchildren and protagonists — obstacles in a single escapee's path.

Between the gunshots and demonic birthings, "Safe Haven" cycles through a cavalcade of horror ideas. Where anthology segments sometimes play too simply, hinging on one sole reveal, "Safe Haven" explodes with excess. It's a rare cinematic experience that has snowballing momentum from start to finish, rolling faster downhill, picking up speed until reaching the finish. It's a bit of a horror anthology unicorn and one that I'll never forget — a "Safe Haven" for horror fans.