Film Review: V/H/S
Directed by six promising figures in horror, V/H/S is a found footage horror anthology, in which a framing story of some criminals breaking into a house for a videotape turns into five different stories of recorded horror, ranging from creature features to slasher and ghost stories. The framing device, Adam Wingard (the director of 2013’s big horror release, You’re Next)’s Tape 56 is by the worst part of the film, a boring, unpleasant film about hateable ‘lads’, who abuse woman on camera and cause destruction, which is full of unanswered questions and holes, but at least manages to pick up steam at the end with some effective shocks and gore.
The first short film is Amateur Night, directed by David Buckner, which once again concerns loutish, drunken guys trying to film themselves secretly having sex with drunken women. Main man Clint (Drew Sawyer) finds himself with the enigmatic and bizarre Lily (played creepily by Hannah Fierman), but when his friends try to get in on the act, she reveals her true self. It’s an interesting creature story that offers one of the best acting performances in the film and some nasty Cronenbergian body horror, but is the basic found footage 101, with irritating shaky cam and a disappointing lack of scares. The ending is surprisingly transcendent and ambitious, but it’s an average start.
Directed by Ti West, who first came to prominence with the ambitious but deliberate The House of the Devil, Second Honeymoon is about couple Sam and Stephanie (played by Joe Swanberg, who directs a later feature, and the engaging Sophie Takal), who go on vacation to a sleazy motel, and run into a disturbing dummy fortune teller (who offers them some clever foreshadowing) and a mysterious girl who sneaks into their room at night. While it uses excellent locations and disturbing voyeurism, it also lacks any real scares, and the twist is completely out of the blue.
Tuesday the 17th, by relative unknown Glenn McQuaid, is a classic story of four friends who go for a trip to the woods only to discover the site is infamous for a murder, but becomes something more interesting. Offering genuinely scary jump scares, as well as the eerie main location, Tuesday the 17th is possibly the short that works the most as a found footage, incorporating a killer who only appears distorted on camera (and offer us a fairly intriguing leading psycho) and flashes to older murders. Of course, it is full of holes, like most of the films, but even with its ending which resorts to cliché, it’s an enjoyable and atmospheric piece.
Offering a fresh and unusual take on a haunting film (although, as you’ll discover, not a ghost story), previous actor Joe Swanberg’s The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger is a creepy but slight film about a girl talking to her boyfriend on Skype while experiencing strange occurrences in her apartment. You’ve seen it all before, right up until a twist that suggests something very different from the norm. It has a few good shocks and some gruesome gore, but it’s a bit too low-fi, even for V/H/S.
Finally, 10/31/98, directed by filmmaking quartet Radio Silence, is a retro, grainy looking Halloween set shocker about a group of friends (emphasis on them being drunk and rowdy) who go to a “party”, only to discover a disturbing satanic ritual in the attic. Even though it doesn’t make a lick of sense, and is less scary than the youtube short they made to test out effects (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEVfREVGcaY), it looks fantastic, has an intriguing premise, some really disturbing imagery and a brilliant punchline.
With any anthology film, you can expect a mixed bag, and V/H/S is no exception. At its worst, the film houses despicable male characters and tragic females, along with criminal behaviour that makes most of the characters unlikeable. At two hours, it is quite clearly far too long, and does threaten to become incredibly dull at times, especially in the long set ups of each short. However, there are some decent performances, interesting ideas and a few solid scares, which keeps it watchable. V/H/S is not a game changer or a particularly exceptional addition to the found footage canon, but if you are in desperate need to watch one of the genre’s many films, you could make a far worse choice.
By Harry Ford