V/H/S is the found footage horror anthology that unites six indie directors in one blood-curdling horror pic. Part of the “midnighters” run at SXSW, V/H/S/ has been on the radar for some time as a horror film to watch for. Though it doesn’t earn top marks, partly due to its not-so-fresh “found footage” aspect, it does offer some authentic scares and effective gore.
It didn’t surprise me that, barring the found footage schtick, V/H/S would deliver some major scares. It couldn’t disappoint, not with the creative mish-mash of directorial powers behind it including Adam Wingard (You’re Next), Radio Silence, and David Bruckner (The Signal). Not to mention Ti West (The House of the Devil), Joe Swanberg, and Glenn McQuaid (I Sell the Dead).
The major complaint I have surrounds the shaky hand-cam style of found footage films in general, and in particular lower budget indie horrors like this. The frenzied shaking of the camera in an effort to catch what looks like authentic events by an amateur cameraman literally makes me sick. I know other people who have this complaint, and the nauseating effects of these palsied movements of the camera were intensified by the lower production values, film stock, and added “VHS” effects like tracking lines and blurred out images.
Other than that, V/H/S is one hell of a scary pic. If you can get past the shoddy visuals (yes, purposefully so), the individual episodes in the anthology were all good, though there were clear winners and losers. The wrap-around story, or the main concept binding all the mini-stories together, was the weakest point of the film.
The premise of V/H/S is that a group of misbehaving boys, with their own slightly illegal “captured” video biz, get hired to break into an isolated house to steal a VHS video. They aren’t told what is on the video or why it’s needed, only where the house is.
Once they break in, they find a room full of TVs and stacks of VHS tapes. There’s a dead old guy in a big chair facing the TVs, and the boys find more disturbing clues around the house and in the basement. Throughout the night, each one happens to stick in a random tape, and what they watch comprises the “mini-eps” of the anthology.
I think Radio Silence’s episode is one of the best of the film. Radio Silence is actually four guys who co-direct short YouTube films. As far as I’m concerned, their non-traditional directing co-op is highly effective, as their old-school haunted house story had just about everything.
Wingard’s relevant Skype episode started off well, though the ending went a little strange. Still, it’s one of the stronger offerings, surrounding a girl and her fiancee communicating via Skype and sharing some frightening haunts.
In my opinion, one of the second strongest episodes was the evil-spirit-in-the-woods tale by McQuaid. It not only had a scary-as-hell plot, but the violence was gruesome, the effects chilling, and the camera/film manipulation highly effective.
West’s addition was on the slow side, and like some of his other work (Innkeepers) it just kind of plodded along until it lead to a hurried wrap-up. The “she-beast” episode, as I like to call it, was Bruckner’s offering. It ended with plenty of gore and supernatural theatricals, but its set-up was overly long. Not slow and boring, like West’s; it just spent too long on introducing the characters, who weren’t very likable, and then watching them party down and get really shit faced.
Ok, so V/H/S/ has its drawbacks, but for such a collaborative directorial effort I think it worked. Anthologies can often go very wrong, but the strength of some of the individual episodes saved a weak wrap-around story and the irritation of yet another found footage horror pic.