If you like horror films, then you pretty much owe it to yourself to see ‘V/H/S’, an interesting experiment in merging together a bunch of different sub-genres that transcends the idea of simply being an anthology flick. Here we have a group of filmmakers taking the same jumping off point (and progressing in an order from the wraparound footage that works as the basic plot) and pretty much being able to do as they see fit, which leads to some wild creativity. This isn’t for anyone who doesn’t like their horror soaked in blood, but if that’s you, then Halloween has come early for you, as this is tailor made for your enjoyment. Almost all of the segments have either a twist or a quirk to them that sets them apart from most full length horror features of late, though each obviously has a point of reference it wants you to start out from. About half of the segments were ones that I’d have liked to have seen be made into full length, but they’re optimal at their current duration and even the ones I didn’t think quite as highly of I still very much liked. That’s rare for a film of this ilk. The movie is hitting theaters in October, but I wanted to get fans of fright flicks excited early about this one. It’s easily the best horror movie of the year so far in my eyes.
We begin with the wraparound device (directed by Adam Wingard) that sets up each of the segments as well as gives a reason for why the VHS tapes that the title is referencing are watched in the first place. A group of troublemakers, seen initially causing havoc like wrecking homes and pulling down women’s’ tops (all filmed, of course) have been mysteriously hired and tasked with breaking into a home and stealing a certain VHS tape and bringing it back. They enter the house, but find an old man, presumably dead, in front of a bank of televisions. There’s a whole host of tapes there, and as they’re seen, you begin to understand just why these aren’t any ordinary video tapes…
The first tape becomes essentially the first of 5 short films that make up the majority of this anthology type film. Tape #1 is David Bruckner’s ‘Amateur Night’, which follows a trio of guys out on the prowl for women. They find two and bring them back to their hotel room, but one is way more than they bargained for. Tape #2 is Ti West’s ‘Second Honeymoon’, following a couple on a vacation that turns horrific when a young woman disturbs them one night and then appears to be filming them while they sleep. Tape #3 is Glenn McQuaid’s ‘Tuesday the 17th’, a take on the “slasher in the woods” sub-genre, focusing on a group of kids in the woods dealing with someone or something that’s got some very violent plans for them. Tape #4 is Joe Swanberg’s ‘The Strange Thing that Happened to Emily When She Was Younger’, a more high tech outing that deals with a girl web chatting with her boyfriend about the ghosts she thinks are haunting her apartment. This segment features the best twist, at least to me. Tape #5 is the last one, directed by the Youtube group Radio Silence (consisting of Matt Bettinelliolpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martin, and Chad Villella), and is called ’10/31/98′. This one follows a bunch of friends going to a Halloween party. They wind up in the wrong house and find themselves caught up in something very supernatural and horrifying.
None of the segments feature terrific acting, but they all do their parts. The film is made up of no-names, but a few do manage to stand out. One is Hannah Fierman, who gives a great bit of energy to Tape #1. Another is filmmaker Joe Swanberg, who acts in Tape #2 (not to be confused with directing a different segment) and does a very credible job. The other is Helen Rogers, who is the lead in Tape #4 and deserves slightly higher profile recognition after this (though in the interest of full disclosure, my girlfriend was once her roommate in High School…just throwing that out there). Many of the writers and directors in this flick do double duty by also acting in the movie, but for the most part they’re forgettable.
The segments are all very good to me, with some of them a step up, but they’re all well directed and manage to deeply unsettle. David Bruckner starts things off by pacing things slow and deliberately, leading to a big shock when things go really nuts towards the end of his segment. Ti West is a little more interested in characters, which makes us a bit more disturbed with what happens to his characters. Glenn McQuaid is playing around with a cross between ‘The Blair Witch Project’ and ‘Friday the 13th’, something he has a bit of fun with. Joe Swanberg moves away from Mumblecore to do a take on the ‘Paranormal Activity’ series, though with a big twist that I absolutely loved. As for Radio Silence, they’re working with a slightly bigger budget and get to play around with special effects in their haunted house type segment, used to great effect, I might add. Adam Wingard’s wraparound device is a little bit of a mixed bag, but that has more to do with the need to set things up than anything else. As for the other behind the scenes members of the crew, the writers who didn’t turn in any directing here are Simon Barrett and Nicholas Tecosky, in case you were wondering.
In the end, I found ‘V/H/S’ to be rather effective and delightfully good time if this sort of film is your thing. Pushed to rank the sections, I’d say they go #2, #4, #1, #5, #3, and then the wraparound segment, but they’re all good in my book and next month when the movie comes out I have a feeling that you’ll enjoy them all like I did. It’s not for the weak hearted or those who are made queasy by gore, but if you’re stomach can handle it, I highly recommend checking this crazy horror flick out!
-Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!