Editor’s note: Sundance screamfest V/H/S finally hits theaters this week after a successful VOD run, so here’s a re-run of our original review, first posted on January 26, 2012. Chilling!
The brainchild of producer Brad Miska, horror anthology film V/H/S features five shorts (and one wrap-around story) from a variety of genre directors, writers, and actors handily proves that the found footage genre is far from dead and there’s plenty of new material to bleed. The film’s “wrap-around” section features a group of Jackass-inspired wankers who get their kicks by filming mayhem and destruction. Dispatched by a mysterious person to break into a house and steal something, they agree – partly for the laughs, partly for the pay-off. The item they must procure? A simple, singular VHS tape. The actual mission? Multi-level and rife with unexpected complications.
When the boys reach the house they must search to find the alleged tape, it’s appropriately creepy. And when they reach a room filled with tapes and screeching, staticky television sets, it’s even more nail-biting. Of course, they do the only thing that makes sense to dudes who don’t give a crap – they start searching the house and popping in tapes. This is the conceit of V/H/S’s anthology style, and while a film like V/H/S demands a wrap-around storyline to bring everything together, its logic is by the far the weakest part of the film. On a basic level, just how did some of the shorts get put to VHS (one is from an online video chat, one is from a pair of glasses with a camera stuck inside), and just why does the house’s inhabitant have them? And just what is that tape they’re meant to steal? If audiences overlook these lapses in judgment, and enjoy the atmosphere of Adam Wingard’s wrap-around piece, the rest of the film will prove to be, forgive me, a scary good time.
David Bruckner’s section, Amateur Night, opens the film – a tale about some college-age dudes who got out for a night on the town with one of them sporting glasses with a camera inside to capture their antics. They pull some chicks and head back to their hotel room, and that’s where things just get…messy. Bruckner’s short takes a while to unfold, but its worth the terror of its final five minutes.
Following Bruckner is Ti West’s devious little short, Second Honeymoon, also mainly set in a hotel room. The section tracks a young couple (Sophia Takal and Joe Swanberg) on a road trip across the American West. When a stranger knocks on their door in the middle of the night, they can’t shake the feeling that there’s something not quite right about her. And there’s not.
The third film of the anthology, Tuesday the 17th, sticks with a vacation-gone-wrong storyline, but sets it mainly outdoors, in some appropriately spooky woods that are home to a sick-looking lake and a ton of secrets. Director Glenn McQuaid has a lot of fun with his tale, using some standard tropes (teens gone wild! scary places! premonitions!) to lull his audience before flipping everything around. Seriously – everything.
V/H/S’s penultimate section, Joe Swanberg and Simon Barrett’s The Strange Thing that Happened to Emily When She Was Younger, is by far the most amusing and the one most likely to illicit audience response. A twisted tale of a couple who speak via webchat, and the nasty thing that keeps popping up behind the couple’s female half, it’s hilarious and gruesome and wonderfully weird.
The film’s final short comes to us from YouTube sensations, Radio Silence (Matt Bettinelliolpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martin, and Chad Villella), and continues with the giggles that Swanberg and Barrett’s work first pulled from the audience. A haunted house story set on Halloween, the film follows the dudes as they go to a party in a big, creepy house, not realizing they may have just picked the world’s worst address. It’s a perfect way to end V/H/S – well-made, hilarious, and terrifying.
The Upside: V/H/S has something for every horror fan – jump scares, beasts, mythology, blood, technology monsters, gore, kills kills kills, haunted houses, ghosts, twists, turns – along with a wicked sense of humor to go along with it. Everyone will walk out of the theater with a favorite short.
The Downside: As with any anthology film, certain sections won’t appeal to certain moviegoers. The beginning and the first short are particularly slow, but worth getting through for some serious pay-off. The Wingard-directed wrap-around section works to engage, but it really doesn’t make a lick of sense when pondered.
On the Side: Oh, look! The film has already been picked up by Magnolia!
Related Topics: Sundance