Directed by: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Chad Villella)
Starring: Calvin Reeder, Hannah Fierman, Mike Donlan, Joe Sykes, Drew Sawyer, Joe Swanberg, Sophia Takal, Helen Rogers, Daniel Kaufman, Norma C. Quinones, Drew Moerlein, Jeannine Elizabeth Yoder, Jason Yachanin, Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Paul Natonek
1/2 (out of 4)
Watch out, boy, she’ll chew you up.
V/H/S is a popular entry in the never-ending found footage horror genre, the cinéma-vérité-styled world of POV shots, where every amateur with a super-8 imagines himself a Spielberg. The biggest problem with the found footage genre is that it gives up professional cinematography in favor of “realism,” which often means nausea-inducing shaky-cam, and V/H/S serves as a perfect example. Fortunately, once you get past the first few segments the shakiness lessens a bit (either that, or I got used to it) and it’s easier to get into the voyeur mode that the filmmakers desire us to be in. V/H/S wants us to watch, but at first I wasn’t entirely convinced that it wished to indict the audience for doing it, I tended to think it just liked cheap thrills. Hey, as it happens, so do I.
The film is served up as a horror anthology featuring shorts from directors Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die), Glenn McQuaid (I Sell the Dead), Radio Silence (a group of directors including Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, and Chad Villella), David Bruckner (The Signal), Joe Swanberg, and Ti West (The Innkeepers, House of the Devil). The shorts are surrounded by a framing device in which asshole thieves (who love to videotape their crimes, the dopes) break into a home to steal a tape for a mysterious client of theirs. This wrapping device (directed by Wingard) depicts one of the them watching some VHS tapes while the rest are searching the house; each of the tapes being watched is broken up into five segments, which I will cover briefly.
Amateur Night (Director: David Brucker)
A trio of asshole college guys go out for a night on the town looking for girls (one of them is secretly wearing “cam-glasses” which I suspect are close to how Google glasses probably work, except the glasses used here are much more dorkier). Fortunately, the spy-cam wearing Clint (Drew Sawyer) runs into Lily (Hannah Fierman), a wide-eyed freak who says “I like you” in the creepiest way possible, and doesn’t seem to mind his dork-lenses. Actually, “fortunately” is not a good word to use, as Amateur Night soon devolves into a twisted shoutout (kinda) to the Lover’s Vow segment of Tales from the Darkside: The Movie. Hannah Fierman is pretty hot for a demon-girl/succubus, I must admit.
Second Honeymoon (Director: Ti West)
A couple’s road trip to the grand canyon and surrounding area goes horribly wrong when they are stalked by a strange girl. This segment is simply plotted, and I wasn’t sure about it at first, but it gets better on subsequent viewings, I think. Like The Innkeepers, and The House of the Devil, it’s subtle (like the fortune teller machine it features says, “It’s a whole lot better to say just a little bit than to say too much and wish you hadn’t”), but the build-up leads to a disturbingly graphic murder. The ending causes you to re-examine all the dialogue and behavior of the leads that came before (Joe Swanberg and Sophia Takal play the honeymooners – safe to say that their marriage is short-lived).
Tuesday the 17th (Director: Glenn McQuaid)
This is a Friday-the-13th homage where four college kids head to the woods for the weekend, only to be brutally killed by a murderer who has done it before. The spin here is that it’s not possible to properly film the killer, who appears as a video “glitch.” (I wonder if the “glitch” is just McQuaid’s version of a supernatural killer’s avatar). In a way, I liked that the video tracking always went haywire when the killer attacked; it reminded me of watching a fifth generation copy of The Evil Dead (or something similar) when I was a kid.
I’ve got something I’d like to play for you!
The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger (Director: Joe Swanberg)
The decision to stick this segment in a horror anthology called V/H/S is a curious one, since the whole thing plays out in Skype chat. A mentally disturbed girl (Helen Rogers) chats online with her med-student boyfriend (Daniel Kaufman) while being haunted, Paranormal Activity-like. Things get worse, and yes, a “sick thing” happens to Emily. I actually enjoyed this one, despite the fact that there’s no way a Skype chat would end up on a VHS tape, but whatever, I liked the ending twist.
10/31/98 (Director: Radio Silence)
Radio Silence is a quartet of filmmakers based in Los Angeles. The filmmakers – Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, and Chad Villella, also act in this segment, playing some naive dudes on their way to a Halloween party, but they show up at the wrong house and find a woman being tortured. But is she really the victim? It ends with a haunted-house reveal, another girl who is not what she seems, and an actual train-wreck.
Overall, V/H/S is an enjoyable ride, if uneven. The best tales are Amateur Night, Second Honeymoon, and The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger. The rest is passable, the framing device is confusing and unnecessary (why send out a bunch of droogs to find a video cassette and not tell them which one it is?), and the film as a whole probably wouldn’t warrant multiple viewings. With that said, there is some interesting commentary in there on the human race, that is – we’re all assholes. There have been complaints about V/H/S being misogynist, with all the females characters being goaded into various states of undress at one point or another, and almost all male characters being stereotypical males who only desire sex and nothing else. But as IMDB commenter DeusExKatrina said, the film is both “misogynistic, for the fact that all the female characters are evil betrayers, and misandrist, for the fact that all the men are horrible sleazy douchebags. The fact of the matter is the film’s simply misanthropic, and portrays humans as awful creatures.” I couldn’t have said it better myself – V/H/S hates everybody equally, although maybe it treats women worse, since every main character who is not what they appear to be is a female, and all males are just simple creatures running on base instincts who simply don’t know any better.
So I take it back – maybe V/H/S isn’t just about cheap thrills. Maybe it is slyly indicting us, using video as an ugly reflection of humanity. In any case, you still have to deal with motion sickness (if you’re prone to that) and simplistic dialogue (this is realism, after all, and when it comes to linguistics, aren’t most people limited in vocabulary?) I still would recommend the film over any of the Paranormal Activity sequels, for sure.
– Bill Gordon
Buy V/H/S on DVD (LOL)
Buy V/H/S on Blu-Ray (double LOL)
And yes, you can also Buy V/H/S on VHS, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Come on, Adam Sandler.. make me laugh!