S-VHS Review [SXSW 2013]

Without offering anything substantially new or better from the first one, S-VHS is a found-footage horror anthology film that underperforms. With the exception of one horror short (actually, the longest one of them all) that literally blew me away and was balls-out terrifying, the collection of shorts was gimmicky and the wrap-around as lame as the first V/H/S.

The first V/H/S met with generally positive reviews, despite a weak wrap-around story about some pranksters hired to break into a house and steal a VHS tape. It also got a lot of flack for misogynistic overtones (whoever heard of horror movies and gender equality?).

The second one, S-VHS, opened at SXSW to some positive buzz. Supposedly it was better than the first, the whole misogyny thing had been improved and it boasted the indie horror directorial powers of Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener and Gareth Evans (among others).

So, how did it pan out? Well, here’s a breakdown.

The wrap-around was a general continuation of the first V/H/S movie. There was a strange house, a room full of VHS tapes and old TV monitors, and a few young people breaking and entering and watching some of the VHS tapes (out of curiosity?). So here S-VHS is no improvement over the original.

But then we come to the good stuff (hypothetically); the horror shorts of this anthology. There were less shorts in the sequel, only four, with one short running over 30 minutes (luckily, it was the strongest). I’d have to say that, with the exception of Evans’ short, the rest are on par with those in V/H/S. There weren’t as many shorts about Frat-type guys trying to score (ok, there may have been a point to the misogyny accusations), but instead the shorts either aren’t that scar or are just too gimmicky.

And by gimmicky I mean too clever for their own good; or the worse crime of over-reliance on jump scares and loud sudden sounds. These can be scary, but the type of scary that leaves you jittery and shaking simply because you know something is going to pop out, or crash loudly, and not necessarily because of a great horror script, story or directing.

The first short typified this type of jump-scare-heavy horror. It’s about a guy who had a robotic eye implant and soon discovers it allows him to see more than other people. The whole movie is shot through the POV of his robotic eye, which could have been really interesting but ended up just gimmicky because of a shallow story and tons of jump-scares/loud sounds.

The second short is kind of clever, but became tedious very quickly. I feel like movie audiences are just zombied-out, and even a new take on the whole zombie genre has to be extremely compelling not to feel tired. In the end, “A Ride in the Park” by Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sanchez does feel tedious, and though they bring a somewhat novel idea to the short (but not entirely, and you’ll know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen Warm Bodies), it just isn’t clever or different enough to stand out from the mass of zombie cinema out there.

Now we come to the third short, and by far the best. It’s so good in fact that I almost want to say that S-VHS is better than the first just because of the existence of this one short. Unfortunately I can’t though, because one great short does not give the rest of the film more merit than it has. The short “Safe Haven” proves that Evans (The Raid: Redemption) is a master of suspense, horror, and mind-blowing action sequences. His take on a Doomsday cult is a slow-burn story that felt subtly wrong right up until it went full-out terror.

The fourth short is an alien abduction scenario with some likable young’ens as the main characters. Admittedly, it’s one of the better shorts and haa some good special effects as well as an interesting use of sound. I liked Eisener’s Hobo With a Shotgun, but someone has to say it: Mr. Eisener, in cinema you just don’t do that to a dog.

Another big complaint I have is with the found footage conceit. It’s old. I’m tired of it. Also, and I might be in the minority here, but it makes me physically nauseous to watch. And in S-VHS it felt like they had ramped up the “hand-cam” look and feel of it, so that the shakey motions and flashing lights were so intensified I felt like I was going to have a seizure at any moment.

Like the first V/H/S, I doubt this one will have much staying power. It’s a fun enough horror film to watch (if you can stomach it, literally), but the shorts are generally weak. If you’re a horror buff, I do recommend giving it at least one watch for Evan’s short alone, but be prepared to sit through an hour of tedious and mediocre horror to get to it.

S-VHS Review [SXSW 2013]

S-VHS is a mediocre follow-up to the mediocre V/H/S, but it does contain one short by Gareth Evans that deserves its own feature-length film and is about the scariest horror film (short or otherwise) I’ve seen in years. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make the other 60 minutes of S-VHS any more watchable.