Movie Review – V/H/S
October 5, 2012 2 Comments
I got to think the makers of this horror anthology got to really wonder if their audience is going to remember what the hell VHS tapes are. I mean, DVD doesn’t have a very ominous sound to the name like V/H/S does and it probably harkens back to the time when VHS swap meets were a popular place to pick up obscure and rather hard to find videos. Of course, this could be an attempt to short sell the film on the basis that it is a series of horror vignettes, dressed up in the alluring “found footage” premise. Hollywood loves to circle jerk over that genre because it means low budget and high return for them.
I wouldn’t dismiss V/H/S as just another entry to the found footage circle nor would I short change the medium itself, but V/H/S does managed to do something unique with the genre while creating a story within a story. I am a fan of the less is more approach with horror films where shorter run times allow for a tighter creation of atmosphere and constricted, fit stories. This is a bold movie, both in content and ambition where we get 6 stories from several different directors that are all tied together around one wraparound story about some kids in search for a particular VHS tape.
It’s fairly hard to describe each of the different vignettes of the V/H/S tapestry, since different directors, some indie and a few Hollywood, each bring their own brand of story telling and horror movie preferences to their specific 20 minutes piece. But what we know from the wraparound story that binds it together is that a group of hoodlums break into a house in search of a particular tape. What is on the tape, we don’t know, but the teens document their robbery of a dimly lit house and it’s apparently dead resident. Each member of the group checks out a particular tape, hoping that they will find what they want. Each tape leads into the separate vignettes.
This is an ambitious anthology, trying to weave together this tapestry of gore, violence, chills and visceral images that come with the territory of the horror genre. I can appreciate the attempt to bring together multiple directors and styles, but the issues lies within the construct of separate storytelling. You are going to get good and bad stories which are forced to sit through because it’s all part of the larger narrative. I hate to say, the bad outweighs the good here.
The highlights of the stories come from the more established directors of Ti West (House of the Devil) and David Bruckner (The Signal), who direct “Second Honeymoon” and “Amateur Night” respectively. “Amateur Night” follows the exploits of three young guys out on the town for some ass, naturally, and they are successful in bringing back two women. They film this adventure through the use of a hidden camera in the glasses of one of the men, who watches the couples engage in that splendid act of sex which naturally leads to murder in horror movies. One of the girls isn’t what she seems to be and blood, gore, limbs and bones are just thrown about like a blender was turned on.
“Second Honeymoon” is more of a slow burn story from Ti West who definitely knows how to do very well paced horror stories. It follows the story of a young couple out in the southwest, hiking and shaking up in a motel. They get disturbed by a vagrant who is outside the place, just standing there and the frights are sudden and tense when the apparent lingerer is inside the room, toying with the sleeping couple as they sleep. The twisted story takes an unexpected turn right at the end of the vignette, which solidifies my love of West and his ability to use this medium and short constraint very well.
The remaining stories aren’t that strong to be frank. They come from young directors who are still getting their feet, but indulge in their need to upstage and prove their worth. The effects and gore are just thrust in our faces, with an uneven story to go along with all the visuals compounds the fact that you have to sit through it. I will say that the story “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” is a good story that could have used a lot more time and focus as the it tells the tale of two long distance lovers as they try and deal with the females unhinged behavior as she starts seeing ghosts.
V/H/S is a visceral ride, with gore and blood being used liberally in several vignettes, but the best moments are the subdued times where we get to see a tightly wound story start to unroll before our eyes and it offers true horror moments. But there is really only two bright spots in an otherwise tedious movie. At two hours, this is a long and unnerving movie to sit through. It’s not because of the content, which is good mind you, but it’s the thrusting of this found footage angle that just starts to chip away at your patience. You have to put up with grainy images, static, analog signal scrambles, abrupt jumps and cuts, shaky cams handling and a litany of other things that come with the territory. It will try your patience much like it did mine.
I appreciate the effort that they put forth. I love seeing horror movies dabble in shorter stories to keep us in the mood for horror and the atmosphere. V/H/S is just disjointed and not tied together by an overarching mood that can be felt in each story. Instead you get different directors doing their own thing without really tying it all together to one particular theme. What you get is more showcasing of individuals that take you out of the mood once the VHS tape has run its course.
For the horror film fans out there, this is a must for you, only because you get something different in short bursts, but for the lay person like myself, it’s a cluster of good and bad that takes its toll on you while you watch. The long run time and overblown found footage tricks just don’t hold up in the long run.
Rating: 3 VHS Tapes out of 5
Editor Note: I gave the final score 3 out of 5 mainly because of the found footage quirks. It just chips away at your enjoyment over time and at 2 hours, it can really be grating. The weaker stories were still entertaining as the amateur filmmakers get their moment to shine, but some control and guidance could have been used.
*images via RottenTomatoes