Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Adam Wingard, Matt Bettinell-Olpin, David Bruckner, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Joe Swanberg, Chad Villella, Radio Silence
Aside from zombies, ‘found footage’ has run amok throughout the horror genre over the last several years. With the exception of a rare few, most of these films have struggled to bring the goods on a consistent level. The latest installment in this sub-genre, V/H/S does a solid job of keeping the audience entertained at the very least throughout it’s nearly two-hour running time.
One of the things that irks me about the pitch of V/H/S is it is labeled as an anthology created by America’s top genre filmmakers. With all due respect to the eight credited directors in this anthology, there isn’t much fire power coming from anyone not named Ti West, Adam Wingard or Glenn McQuaid. If this were truly a horror collection created by the top American horror minds in the indie genre, I would expect much more variety behind the camera- namely a few directors without penises. It’s clear this is a fun project made by a group of film making friends who were able to get a lot of buzz generated about their latest project before it even hit the film festival circuit. Following a very successful premiere at South By Southwest, the project is off to a strong start on Video On Demand and limited theatrical release.
While there was a handful of things to really like about V/H/S, I was able to come up with almost as many bones to pick about the project. As a genre fanatic with a deep affinity for super low-budget films, I feel that the choppy footage and ‘recorded over footage’ gimmick ran its course long ago and only served as a somewhat annoying distraction to this series of short stories. I loved the special effects particularly in the last segment and the make-up and practical effects in two others, however I was expecting more original story lines considering West, McQuaid and Wingard are responsible for some of the most original films to represent the indie horror scene over the last few years (The House Of The Devil, The Innkeepers, I Sell The Dead, A Horrible Way To Die).
The film starts off by introducing us to a group of low life idiots who spend their days acting like Jackass/Brazzers wannabes filming their stupidity. They are offered a chance at a big pay day if they can acquire a rare video cassette tape from a mysterious home in the middle of nowhere. When a dead body is found in front of a collection of televisions and a mountain of VHS tapes are discovered in the basement, this sets up our viewing of the five short films that make up V/H/S. The events that transpire in the empty home with the dead man and the crew of punks are spliced in between each segment of the film. Thus, we begin our descent into found footage madness.
‘Amateur Night’ is the story of three buddies who rent a hotel room hoping to get lucky after a night at the bar. They hope to record some homemade porn by means of a pair of web cam glasses worn by the only guy in the trio who seems to have an ounce of honesty in him. After wrangling up a beautiful brunette and a mysterious raven-haired gal named Lily who utters nothing but creepy whispers, the group heads to the hotel room where all shit hits the fan. Turns out the crazy looking girl in the bar whispering “I like you” and looking like a spot-on Christina Ricci bug eyed impersonator probably should have been left alone. Whatever she is, she isn’t human and no always means no. Lily, played creepy as hell by Hannah Fierman, contorts her body in the dark and plays one bad ass blood thirsty cretin.
After this segment, we see one of the creepiest parts of the film. Two of the vandals in search of the big money VHS tape at the desolate home are in the basement when one of them spots a naked old man shuffling across the basement darkness for a split second. Excuse me if I spilled some M&Ms when I saw that.
Next up, we meet a young married couple enjoying a trip out West as their second honeymoon. Hence the segment’s title, ‘Second Honeymoon’. When Stephanie inserts a dollar into a fortune teller machine at one of the couple’s sideshow attraction stops, she is told she will be visited by a loved one. Later that night, in the hotel room, a mysterious young woman knocks on the couple’s door and asks for a ride in the morning. Sam, the over-analytical husband, is clearly creeped out by his conversation with the mystery gal but the couple falls asleep to little drama that night. Until we see that this mystery woman is much more than just a creepy hitchhiker. One voyeuristic scene in particular made me mutter “who has the fucking camera?” while watching with one eye closed. One huge glaring question is never answered within this segment.
The third segment, ‘Tuesday the 17th’, was my least favorite. As the title suggests, it’s a cheesy nod to the ‘Friday the 13th’ franchise. Only this killer is not nearly as awesome as Jason and the four friends in the woods have about as much character development to them as the seaweed at the bottom of the lake they venture to. Possibly the most irritating issue with ‘V/H/S’ is the illogical notion that the killer hunting the group cannot be seen completely on camera. Supposedly he is able to transport and hide his appearance on tape. This is certainly the chunk that could have easily been cut out and placed as an extra on the DVD release to keep the film from toeing the two hour line.
‘The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger’ was the strongest and most entertaining piece of the film in my opinion. A beautiful young woman named Emily is video chatting with her boyfriend James when she tells him she thinks her place is haunted. James, being out of town, tries to convince her she is just struggling to adapt to the new apartment but when the footsteps and doorknob twisting continues night in and night out, it’s clear Emily isn’t alone. Helen Rogers aces the role of the tormented Emily. Sure, I freaked out hardcore when the best scare of the entire film occurred about halfway through this segment. And yes, this portion also ends with a few gaping open ended questions left unanswered, but overall, it’s full of ‘what the fuck moments’ and was definitely the highlight of the evening. Ghost kids are always terrifying.
The final segment, ’10/31/98′, is your typical “Halloween night gone awry” tale that includes a haunted house, a crazy cult performing an exorcism and four friends trying to do a good deed but getting punished for meddling with evil. The effects in this story are fantastic- ghostly hands emerge from the walls and floors of the truly haunted house, while hand prints emerge across the walls as the group of costume clad buddies try to escape the house with a seemingly tortured young woman in tow. The actions of the guys before the action really gets going is what kills it for me- I don’t care who I’m expecting to meet, I’m not going through an empty house on Halloween night. Especially after seeing unsettling ghost images around just about every corner.
Overall, V/H/S doesn’t do much that hasn’t been done ad nauseum in the world of horror. Lots of boobs and a lot of easy to dislike characters far outweigh the folks you’re rooting for in this film. However, thanks to some fantastic effects, a few good scares and the mere fact that it plays as a loving tribute to the homemade films that all of us wish we could make on our own, it is one worth checking out. Just be sure to be kind and rewind for the next soul.