is a POV, found footage horror film from the perspective of America's top genre filmmakers. In V/H/S
, a group of misfits are hired by an unknown third party to burglarize a desolate house in the countryside and acquire a rare tape. Upon searching the house, the guys are confronted with a dead body, a hub of old televisions and an endless supply of cryptic footage, each video stranger and more inexplicable than the last...
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Two of the more successful staples of the horror genre over the years have been the classic anthology film and the recent found footage craze. V/H/S attempts to marry the two, with mixed results, combining shorts from some of the horror genre's most promising filmmakers.
The premise that ties the film together is simple; a group of video vandals are hired to break into a house and steal a videotape. The problem for them is that the house is littered with random VHS tapes. The guys start to watch the tapes, each one containing different terrifying imagery. The first tape is director David Bruckner's "Amateur Night," a film about three friends out drinking and womanizing while wearing a pair of camera glasses who happen to pick up the wrong girl from the bar. Next up is Ti West's "Second Honeymoon," about a vacationing couple who is unknowingly being stalked by a mysterious masked weirdo. The next tape is "Tuesday the 17th," a short by Glenn McQuaid about a group of kids who go camping only to discover that there is something dangerous in the woods waiting for them. "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger," directed by Joe Swanberg, is the story of a young woman who lives in an apartment that may or may not be haunted. Rounding out the experience is "10/31/98" by Radio Silence (the collective name for Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez and Chad Villella), a short about a quartet of guys who end up at the wrong Halloween party. The shorts are all roped together by sequences showing the break-in gang finding tapes and playing them, and slowly realizing that they are not alone in the house.
Like any anthology horror film, V/H/S is hit and miss. The shorts are all very creative and compelling, but some are better executed than others. The standouts here are the last two, "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger" and "10/31/98." "Emily" is a breath of fresh air in the found footage muck, as it is told from the point of view of computer video chats instead of the run-of-the-mill camcorder shots. The title character, Emily (Helen Rogers), and her boyfriend James (Daniel Kaufman), explore the strange noises and activities of her apartment via cyberspace, and the technique helps to keep the narrative moving smoothly. "10/31/98" is the scariest of the bunch, and also has the highest quality production, with the Radio Silence members playing the lead roles themselves as they peek and poke their way around a place where they do not belong.
Although these two highlights make for good viewing, V/H/S still ends up feeling half-done. All of the shorts, including "Emily" and "10/31/98," have rushed endings that feel like cop-outs, as if the writers couldn't think of a way to end the stories and just gave up. The tie-in plotline with the criminals in the house has no resolution at all, leaving the viewer's expectations up in the air. The shorts that comprise V/H/S function better as short films rather than as parts of a whole. Some of them, like "Emily," even hint at a bigger mythology that may be better served if it were fleshed out into a feature of its own. The shorts in V/H/S are all complete films but, having little to nothing to do with each other, they stand better on their own than they do in the context of the wraparound scenario that tries to tie them together.
The found footage angle combined with the wraparound segment adds an air of authenticity to V/H/S that, understandably, is part of its appeal. The voyeuristic aspect of the film is what makes it unique, even if the camera work is so shaky that it makes The Blair Witch Project look like it was shot with a steadicam. V/H/S is a nice batch of shorts, but they don't tie together visually as well as they should, and the feature as a whole runs a little long and gets a tad tedious. The omission or editing of one or two of the weaker shorts would benefit the film as a whole, tightening it up and giving the movie more focus.
The visual effects in the films are mostly produced through editing and, surprisingly, they work well. Much of the makeup and gore is introduced through cuts and splices, giving V/H/S an almost vintage horror feel. "Second Honeymoon" and "Tuesday the 17th" have particularly slasher-y visuals, with "Tuesday the 17th" recalling "Friday the 13th" in more than just name. The antagonist in "Tuesday" is shown exclusively through what looks like camera glitches (he's even credited as "The Glitch" in the credits), giving him a mysterious and vaporous quality not unlike the villain in Predator. The effects are highly dependent on the amateur cinematography, and they're done well.
The one short with visual effects that does not rely on the editing is Radio Silence's "10/31/98." The house at which the main group of characters ends up is alive with supernatural activity, with handprints appearing on walls and arms reaching from the floors. It's all very impressive and effectively done, causing V/H/S as a whole to end on a high note.
In the right environment, the shorts in V/H/S are pretty scary, in different ways. Some are shockingly terrifying, like "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger," while others are just downright creepy, like "Second Honeymoon." The most effective, "10/31/98," is also the most frightening, with all kinds of scary hell breaking loose. The shorts are all fairly inventive, not relying too heavily on typical horror conventions, and some of the shorts are scarier than others but, on the whole, V/H/S raises some goose bumps in the right ways.
October 5, 2012