Jan 2, 2013

V/H/S (2012)
Director: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, and Radio Silence
Writers: David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Ti West, Chad Villella, Justin Martinez, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Nicholas Tecosky, Simon Barrett, and Tyler Gillett
Starring: Hannah Fierman, Joe Swanberg, Sophia Takal, Helen Rogers, Jason Yachanin, etc.

The Plot: V/H/S is an anthology title that brought together several successful independent film directors in the hopes of creating something very unique and nostalgic within the horror genre. The story within the movie focuses on a group of punks who cause mayhem in their small town by committing various criminal acts while shooting their actions on VHS video. They have become known for grabbing women within parking lots and pulling down their tops in order to capture shots of their breasts in order to sell the videos at a later date. Growing tired of this simple game, they decide to take one big job. All they have to do is visit an old house, hold some old man down, and steal a VHS videotape. However, when they get there, the old man is dead and the group separates in order to dig through the tapes. On one tape the group finds a young man who wears a pair of hidden camera glasses while he and his buddies try to score. However, the girl that they pick is something more than human. In the second we find a couple on their honeymoon vacation who find themselves being stalked by a mysterious girl who shows up outside of their hotel room. In the third we meet a young girl who goes camping in the woods with a group of friends, but when they arrive there appears to be another entity watching them in the distance. Following that we see a story told through Skype conversations, featuring a young woman who is apparently being visited by ghosts while holding conversations with her longtime boyfriend. Finally, the last story focuses on a group of friends who go off looking for a party on Halloween night, but accidentally end up walking in on a real life exorcism.

The Review
Growing up as a child from the eighties, there are things in this world that I will know about that my eleven year old nephew will never have any clue about. For one, he’ll never know about hooking up multiple inputs to an RF switch on a Nintendo. He’ll never know about adjusting the antenna in order to get better reception on local television. Most of all, he’ll never know the outright horror of VHS video footage. Growing up, I always knew that there was something creepy about camcorder video footage. There’s something about the murky look of video recorded footage that seems to take away from the humanity of the situation being recorded. The distancing from reality and the mechanical look of the product distracts from reality. This opinion of mine comes from the hundreds of mondo death videos released during the eighties and nineties, but the low budget world of video violence that came into fruition also helped solidify this opnion of mine. The August Underground series, the Guinea Pig movies and even the more recent Psycho: The Snuff Reels could have never been quite as effectively disturbing without the grainy and nasty look of VHS footage. With all of this in mind, the appropriately titled VHS brings to life the most sordid views of VHS horror that audiences could have ever expected.

If you’re the type of person who believes that the “found footage” genre has completely run its course, then I seriously doubt V/H/S is going to change your mind. However, if you’re open to the genre, or a softy for it like I am, then this is a title that is going to immediately grab your attention. Directed by a gathering of young and very interesting directors, V/H/S seems to be a title that hopes to capture the attention of horror fans in the way that Trick or Treat did just a few years ago. Working in the same genre, V/H/S is an anthology title, but it delivers upon this genre in a way that is more traditional. There is one main story that introduces all of the various stories within the movie, but the reason for this is primarily because this project acts as a way to draw together some of the most interesting names within independent cinema. Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers) and Joe Swanberg (LOL, Hannah Takes the Stairs) are chief among the big names involved, but if there’s anything that this project proves, all directors involved in this project are highly talented.

So, to really tackle the film, it seems necessary to actual tackle the segments individually. So, I believe I’ll go through each of them in order. First of all, the film is structured around a series of shorts called “Tape 56,” which features our porn-dealing punks from the above plot synopsis. They break into the VHS-riddled home that holds all of the tapes that comprise the short movies that we will soon be watching. The first segment that pops up is quite possibly my favorite of the entire film, a short called “Amateur Night” which was directed by David Bruckner (The Signal). It turns out to be a relatively spooky segment that shows what happens when a group of dude/bros use a pair of hidden-camera-glasses to go out on the town in order to shoot their own little homemade porn video. The segment pushes the boundaries in terms of sex, and actually features full frontal from both male and female cast members. All of the sex inevitably culminates with a great deal of blood and gore, as is the tradition within horror cinema. The strongest aspect of the short though might be the appearance of Hanna Fierman who plays Lily, a young girl who shows up at a club speaking with a very quiet demeanor. All she seems to say is “I like you” before we eventually discover that she is a lot more than just a girl with relationship issues. Fierman carries the short due to her tremendous eyes and general creepiness. If you remember nothing else from this short, you will remember her startling eyes and intense stare.

Second Honeymoon from Ti West may have been the most anticipated short within this collection. West is easily the most popular filmmaker from this collection and his short was probably expected to be the one that would steal the short. While his entry is packed with several intriguing ideas and a twist that actually did catch me off guard, his short is far from amazing. It is certainly entertaining, however, and stands up well to the rest of the segments included in this collection. Next up would be “Tuesday the 17th,” directed by Glenn McQuaid. Featuring horror movie references that range from the obscure to the blatantly obvious, this is the one short that seems to borrow most heavily from genre archetypes. However, despite it being a Friday the 13th clone, the short does have a number of differentiating qualities going on with it. This short takes full advantage of the VHS gimmick surrounding the movie and includes a slightly supernatural twist within the story. You see, whenever our slasher-movie killer pops up in frame, he is blurred out with VHS tracking errors that obscure the audience from seeing anything more than a general shadow of the person doing all of the killing. It is a gimmicky move, but it is highly effective.

Another entry that might have been hyped up by some would be “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger,” which was directed by mumblecore icon Joe Swanberg. This entry is a little gimmicky as well, but it too finds a way to work. This segment of the feature is the only one that seems to be explicitly digital within the context of the movie, because it is shot entirely via webcams over a series of Skype conversations. Although I know very little of the mumblecore movement, other than many of my friends hate it, I must say that this is arguably the best short on the collection. Dark, shocking, scary, and complete with an interesting storyline, “The Sick Thing…” captured my imagination. With some of the eeriest moments in the movie, Swanberg managed to craft a showstealer that could have been made on a $50.00 budget. The last of the main segments is “10/31/98” which was shot by a group called Radio Silence. As the title tells you, it takes place on Halloween 1998 and it follows a group of friends who accidentally stumble upon an exorcism. The short is another slow burn that builds into something genuinely creepy. Featuring shots that are reminiscent of the classic “Demons Hands Coming Out of Wall” viral video, the short steamrolls into a twisting and turning series of supernatural shocks. A fitting way to end this nearly two hour lineup of horror, 10/31/98 is certainly at the top in terms of frightening execution.

The Conclusion
I believe V/H/S has been given mixed reviews within many circles, which is something that I can barely fathom. I suppose the old “faux-documentary” style will hold the movie back with some audiences, but I found it to be the best anthology title that I have seen since the aforementioned Trick or Treat. I would certainly recommend checking this one out. I know it might be too early to call it a “classic,” but it’s a movie that I will do my best to promote to any of my close friends. I’m giving it a five star rating. Definitely give it a look, because there’s few reasons that you shouldn’t.