None of the stories tie into any overarching theme or villain. The directors of the short seemed to have free range to do what they want so long as it's found footage. What saves the film is that the segments are conceptually creative. The technical prowess in spite of found footage's limitations is also fascinating. Overly shaky cams, deliberate colour degradation (to mimic a VHS tape), and a lot of disbelief suspension detract the film from being the sum of its parts, but it's a mildly entertaining attempt to keep the found footage style alive.
"This collection is killer."
Here's a found footage horror film that I really hadn't heard anything about. I knew nothing about what it was about going in and I believe that is probably the best way to go into it. It's bloody, it's weird, and at times it's effective with its scares. Overall, I don't really know what I think of the film though. There were parts I really liked and parts that just didn't really do anything for me.
A group of criminals break into a home after being hired by an unknown third party. Their only mission is to steal a video tape. When they arrive though, they find a dead body and a numerous amount of video tapes. The tapes are the movie. Each one has its own little story, turning this film into more of a horror anthology than anything else. The most interesting tape is the last one in the film, which made it all worth while.
While I can't say that I really liked this film, I can't really bash it either. It did some really interesting stuff and definitely is a welcome addition to a dying genre. For horror fans, there's definitely enough here to merit a look. It probably won't blow you away, as I was less than blown away, but there are individual sequences that work extremely well. These directors definitely knew how to use the limitations of the found footage genre to their benefit.
Normally, found footage movies consist of 80 minutes of drawn out nothing for five minutes of something in the end. Usually, the payoff is not worth the ensuing drudgery of waiting for anything to happen. Watching the Paranormal Activity movies has become akin to viewing a "Where's Waldo?" book, scrutinizing the screen in wait. V/H/S has improved upon the formula by the very nature of being an anthology movie. Rather than wait 80 minutes for minimal payoff, now we only have to wait 15 minutes at most. I call that progress. I haven't seen too many found footage films that play around with the narrative structure inherit with a pre-recorded canvas. I recall Cloverfield smartly squeezing in backstory, earlier pre-recorded segments being taped over. With V/H/S, this technique is utilized once and it's just to shoehorn in some gratuitous T & A. Plus, the anthology structure allows for a greater variety. If you don't like some stories, and chances are you won't, you know another one's just around the corner.
For my tastes, the stories got better as the film continued. I was not a fan of the first few stories. The wraparound segment ("Tape 51") involves a band of delinquents who are hired to retrieve one VHS tape in a creepy home. The guys are annoying jackasses, and our opening image involves them sexually assaulting a woman and recording it to sell later, so we're pretty agreeable to them being killed off one by one inside the creepy home. I just don't know why anyone would record themselves watching a movie. It's not like it's Two Girls One Cup we're talking about here. I found the wraparound segment to be too chaotic and annoying, much like the band of idiots. It ends up becoming your standard boogeyman type of story and relies on characters making stupid decision after stupid decision. Why do these idiots stay in the house and watch movies? Why do these people not turn on the lights?
The first actual segment ("Amateur Night") has a solid premise: a bunch of drunken frat boys plan to make their own porn with a pair of spy glasses. They bring the wrong girl back to their motel room and get more than they bargained for. Despite some interesting commentary on the male libido (interpreting a woman's spooky actions as being sexually aroused), this segment suffers from a protracted setup. There's a solid ten minutes of boys being boys, getting drunk, that sort of thing. And when the tables are turned, the spyglasses lead to shakier recording, which is odd considering they are pinned on the guy's nose. The horror of the ending is also diminished because it's hard to make sense of what is literally happening. The weakest segment is the second one ("Second Honeymoon"), which is surprising considering it's written and directed by Ti West, a hot name in indie horror after The Innkeepers. West's segment is your standard black widow tale, following a couple on their vacation to the Southwest and their home movies. However, a stalker is secretly videotaping them while they sleep. Borrowing from Cache, this is a genuinely creepy prospect, and the sense of helplessness and dread are palpable. It's surprising then that West concludes his segment so abruptly, without further developing the stalker aspect, and tacks on a rather lame twist ending that doesn't feel well thought out. "You deleted that, right?" says one guilty character on camera washing away blood. Whoops.
The second half of V/H/S is what really impressed me, finding clever ways to play upon the found footage motif and still be suspenseful. The third segment ("Tuesday the 17th") begins like your regular kids-in-the-woods slasher film. The very specific types of characters (Jock, Nerd, Cheerleader) are set for some frolicking when they come across a deranged killer. However, the slasher monster is a Predator-style invisible creature that can only be seen via the video camera. When recorded, the monster creates a glitch on screen. I think this is a genius way to cover the biggest head-scratcher in found footage horror: why are you still recording? With this segment, the video camera is the savior, the protector, the only engine with which they can see the monster. The fourth segment ("The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger") is shot entirely through Skype conversations on laptops. Emily is convinced her apartment is haunted and seeks support from her boyfriend, away on business. This segment's co-writer and director, Joe Swanberg, is more known for being the mumblecore king than a horror aficionado, but the man makes scary good use of the limitations of his setup. The story might be a bit hard to follow, especially its ending, but there are some great jolts and boo-moments. There's even a fantastic gross-out surprise as Emily shares her own elective surgery/exploration.
But it's the last segment that takes the cake, ending V/H/S on a fever pitch of action. The wraparound segment isn't even that, since it ends before the final segment, "10/31/1998." It's a haunted house story about a group of guys who stumble into the wrong house on the wrong night. Initially they think the human sacrifice in the attic is part of the show, but then weird things start happening like arms coming through walls and door knobs vanishing. This segment is a great example of how effective atmosphere can be aided by smart and selective special effects. When the madness hits the home, it feels just like that, and the rush to exit the house is fueled with adrenaline. You don't exactly know what will be around the next corner. The CGI effects are very effective and the lo-fi visual sensibilities give them even more punch. The frenzied chaos that ends "10/31/1998" would be apt for a feature-length found footage movie, let alone a 15-minute short. It's a satisfying climax to a film that got better as it went.
With all found footage movies, there's the central leap of logic concerning who assembled this footage, for what purposes, and how they got it. With movies like the abysmal Apollo 18, I stop and think, "Why do these people assembling the footage leave so much filler?" V/H/S doesn't commit a sin worthy of ripping you out of the movie, but when it's concluded you'll stop and ponder parts of its reality that don't add up. The very idea of people still recording onto VHS tapes in the age of digital and DVD seems curious, but I'll go with it. Several segments obviously had to be recorded onto a hard drive; the Skype conversations would have to be recorded onto two perhaps. So somebody transferred digital records... onto a VHS tape? And it just so happens that this tape then got lost.
While inherently hit-or-miss, V/H/S succeeds as an anthology film and generates new life into the found footage concept. Not all of the segments are scary or clever, but even during its duller moments the film has a sense of fun. There's always something new just around the corner to keep you entertained, and the various anthology segments give a ranger of horror scenarios. The lo-fi visual verisimilitude can be overdone at times, but the indie filmmakers tackle horror with DIY ingenuity. I don't know if anything on screen will give people nightmares, but it's plenty entertaining, in spots. V/H/S is an enjoyable, efficient, and entertaining little horror movie just in time for Halloween. If you're going to do a found footage movie, this is the way to do it.
Nate's Grade: B
When a group of misfits is hired by an unknown third party to burglarize a desolate house and acquire a rare VHS tape, they discover more found footage than they bargained for.
Some folks might be a little deterred from seeing V/H/S when they learn it's a found footage movie. Well, rest assured, there's nothing to worry about as this is an excellent example of the sub-genre. Perhaps at the root of the film's success is its structural format. It's an anthology movie, made up of a selection of short stories based around a series of videotapes found by burglars at a scary house. While some of the segments are better than others, where this one scores is that even the weaker stories contain some very scary moments. Each and every one delivers the goods in this respect and that's half the battle when it comes to horror flicks. The different stories are basically disturbing in the way that the best found footage flicks are, in that we are literally put right into the shoes of these people and their terror transmits more easily.
I won't reveal many details of the contents but, amongst other things, there is a vampire, malevolent ghosts, a supernatural serial killer, a house invader and a weird ritual. There's a skillful combination of visceral and suggested horror. From the former there are several scenes of blood and guts including a beheading by knife and some disembowellings. But it's the mysterious moments that create the genuine tension, such as sinister figures seen briefly on camera, strange sounds and general weird goings on. The combination with both styles of horror is very successful. Overall, I have to say that this is a rather fine example of a recent horror film. It's genuinely unsettling quite often and the anthology format means that no idea overstays its welcome. It's definitely worth catching this one.
Side Note: There is an issue that has become more and more apparent when talking about the found footage genre of the past few years (including V/H/S). This very distracting issue is the extra-shaky camera techniques used, seemingly in an attempt by the filmmakers to demonstrate some kind of proof (or something) that what audiences are seeing is, in fact, something filmed on a handheld camera (as if the resolution wouldn't give it away). This manual dumbing down of an already dumbed down genre, not only makes a mockery of its audiences intelligence, but purposefully shaking the camera more than necessary makes it so nobody in the theater (or at their computer) can see what is going on in front of them. And I for one go to the movies, to see what's on the screen.
Since this is not your traditional narrative, the following is a mini synopsis of each short:
1. As I had made mention of prior, the first story is actually the overarching story following four thieves for-hire, who are given money by an anonymous client, to steal a VHS tape. This one starts the entire movie off rather poorly, as the audience must watch these rather dumb characters, do nothing but banter back and forth for fifteen minutes. And once they get into the house and begin watching the tapes, it becomes so predictable that this particular story can't end fast enough.
2. The second story is actually the first tape played. That said, it is one of the worst horror shorts I have ever seen. It follows three ridiculously annoying and overwhelmingly loud frat guys, who go to a bar with the intentions to get laid. Once there, they meet a couple of girls who agree to come home with them. Seems like your everyday teenage, American Pie, date-rape movie right? Well, it would have been, if not for a twist (which is all together given away in the trailers) that's only purpose seemed to be to shock audiences. And while this twist does shock, it's not in a good way. In fact, the only interesting thing about this short is that in the beginning, the filmmakers establish that the frat guys have placed (or given the illusion to have placed) a camera in one of the men's glasses. But that rather cool, film geek aspect is quickly forgotten, as audiences are plunged headfirst into an aggressively vulgar horror story, reminding us all as to why the shaky camera/found footage genre is on life support.
3. The third story (or the second tape played) from acclaimed Indie-horror director Ti West, is essentially the first film worth paying attention too. It documents a couple staying at a hotel on vacation, when a stranger comes to the door. With a deceptively simplistic story, West showcases what he does best (not counting "The Innkeepers) which is Hichcockian suspense.
4. The fourth story is one that doesn't really work at all, as far as the plot goes. In the ill-constructed tale, which follows a group of annoying teenagers venturing off to a cabin in the woods, it's pretty much all about the visual effects; which are cool...but only to a certain extent. This one isn't at all scary or even spooky, but it's not as unwatchable as anything in the first thirty minutes.
5. The fifth story started off spectacularly strong, telling the story of a FaceTime conversation (or a rich man's Skype) between a couple (well kind of) via their computers. The woman has been experiencing paranormal phenomena for the past few nights and attempts to document it by showing these strange happenings to her "boyfriend", who is out of town at the time. Truly delivering scares and ghost effects that rival the likes of "Insidious", this is one of the rather compelling shorts that is absolutely ruined by an ending that is beyond absurd . In saying that, this may be one of the most technically innovative shorts, simply because of the way the filmmaker uses FaceTime. I know we have all seen the trailers for the dreadful looking "Paranormal Activity 4", but trust me, the effects via FaceTime in this short are on a whole other level of filmmaking than anything in the God-awful PA4 trailer.
6. The final tape played is in fact the main reason to watch this overlong film (around 2 hours). Directed by a team of directors out of L.A., who call themselves Radio Silence, this segment follows a group of guys (all in their 20's) going to a Halloween party. But when they get there, they quickly find out that instead of walking into a Halloween party they may have just walked into an actual haunted house. From the fact that the POV camera is explained by having the protagonist dress as a nanny cam, to the brilliantly stunning low-budget special effects, the final short is essentially the found footage film (with the perfect amount of shaky camera) that I've been waiting for ever since this genre's inception. It's just a shame that horror fans will be forced to wait until the last twenty minutes of "V/H/S" to see anything truly innovative or new.
Final Thought: The overall problem with "V/H/S" is how, when put together in this anthology type format, it doesn't really make any cohesive sense. That is to say, there is very little that links these stories together. I'm not saying that "V/H/S" is all together poorly made or simply thrown together, but there doesn't seem to be any point to putting these shorts all in one film. Furthermore, and probably most importantly, what "V/H/S" has not done is succeeded in retrieving the shaky cam/found footage, horror genre from the threat of obscurity; a threat which has plagued the main stream horror genre since the introduction of torture-porn in the early 2000's. Though many of these filmmakers do get a chance to show off why they are visually at the top of their games, showcasing a multitude of techniques and effects never before seen in film prior (especially in low-budget film) in the end only two out of the six films are fully entertaining and, due to some interesting effects, two additional shorts were semi-watchable.
Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland
Follow me on Twitter @moviesmarkus
Comprised as an anthology, sandwiched & punctuated by a story of nihilistic youths on a mission to retrieve a lone VHS tape, the film features five different segments that range from the eerily paranormal to the grimly realistic.
The main wraparound story offers little more than a means to place this crude compilation of videos in some sort of context. I found it an unnecessary mood breaker and feel it would have been better suited for the cutting room floor. The director of these segments really took the amateur footage look to an obnoxious level. These youths supposedly make money from their vile videos, but they cannot keep the camera steady to save their lives. Most of the footage appears as if someone strapped a flip camera to a wild boar and just let him run amuck. Yet, the film really picks up once the various short films begin.
David Bruckner's "Amateur Night" gets things off to a rather robust start. It follows a group of friends, who after purchasing a pair of video recording glasses, decide to lure some women back to their drab hotel room in hopes of capturing their sexual exploits on tape. Ironically, their pursuit of the flesh ends up costing them their own skin in the end. While not the most ground-breaking section, the acting is surprisingly solid & the use of video glasses helps to solve many of the logistical problems of the genre. Allowing the viewer to get truly immersed in the terror.
The second segment entitled "Second Honeymoon", directed by indie sensation Ti West, is easily the film's strongest section. It features a road-traveling couple & the threat posed by an ominous stranger who becomes an unwanted companion on their journey. West doesn't bog the story down with needless exposition or motive & instead focuses mostly on constructing a spine-chilling atmosphere. Much like his debut film The House of the Devil, he builds & builds until it is almost unbearable, only to break open the flood gates in the end. Even though I know his patented formula all too well, the end result is still just so damn refreshing. Unfortunately, West's section sets the bar really high, making the highly inferior third film pale in comparison.
I'm not sure what director Glen McQuaid was going for in his section entitled "Tuesday the 17th", in which a group of campers are stalked by some sort of digital monstrosity. I'm not sure whether it is supposed to be on the campy side or taken seriously. Either way it just doesn't seem to work. The story is ludicrous even for horror standards & the dialogue is turgid, delivered by actors who don't seem to understand the tone of the film either.
The 4th film attempts to regain some of the ground lost by the 3rd, but sadly doesn't earn many of its scares. It is a unique idea in which a long distance Skype relationship goes awry when the woman begins experiencing abnormal phenomenon at night, but feels rushed & stumbles where a lot of modern horror stumbles nowadays in substituting gore for horror.
The 5th & final short is a haunted house thriller with an always welcome satanic twist. Again, the idea is original & features a smattering of terror. But does not reach the heights of the other films.
V/H/S is not short on originality & offers plenty of scares especially in the first two entries. But bringing together a mixed bag of directors will yield varying results & the genuine thrills start to wane halfway through the film. However, this film should not be seen as a failure, but a testament to the success of these found footage films when placed in capable hands.
As is usually the case there's a wraparound segment, here directed by Wingard. A bunch of sociopaths who make money forcing women to flash their breasts break into a house looking for a mysterious VHS tape which someone is willing to pay good money for. Once inside they discover the corpse of a recently deceased old man and a variety of tapes. They begin to look through the tapes and thus we get the five segments.
First up is "Amateur Night", directed by Bruckner. This features some of the most annoying frat-boy stereotypes my ears have had the displeasure of listening to. These characters are enough to make you want to skip to the next segment. Although it's only twenty minutes or so, this one really drags on with it's unoriginal tale of a creepy girl with a secret and the ending gets ridiculously over the top. In it's favor it does have a clever way of ensuring it's protagonist keeps filming throughout.
West's segment "Second Honeymoon" is next and his contribution is the one I was most curious about. My criticism of West has always been that his films are all build-up and no pay-off. With only twenty minutes to tell his tale he'd have to quicken the pace but this is just like any of his feature length films. A couple are being followed by a girl as they vacation in the SouthWest, even being filmed by her one night as they sleep. There's a twist ending but it's a dull affair throughout, and steals liberally from movies like "The Strangers" and "Vacancy".
"Tuesday the 17th" is McQuaid's contribution and probably the one with most potential. Four stereotypical slasher victims go camping in the woods unaware that one of them has invited the others along for a sinister reason. This has a clever gimmick of static interference on the camera whenever the killer is nearby which does create some tension. McQuaid proved last year he's a capable director with "Stake Land" and I think he should have developed this into a feature film. There's definite potential here but it just feels far too rushed as a short and the ending is very weak.
The next segment is the only one which comes close to being effective. Swanburg gives us "The Strange Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Young" which cleverly uses a series of web-cam chats between a guy and his girlfriend whose new apartment appears to be haunted by the ghost of a child. There are some creepy moments and a nice twist but like so many haunted house tales it's just not credible that anyone would remain in a house where such creepy things are happening. Had this plot-hole been ironed out this would have been a decent little flick.
The film-making collective known as Radio Silence conclude things with "10/31/98" which is just an excuse to show off some admittedly impressive effects. Another bunch of annoying jocks turn up at the wrong house for a Halloween party and discover some people take the festival a bit too seriously. As I said the effects are top notch for a low budget movie but that's all it really has going for it.
Most of the film-makers involved seem to have interesting ideas but as I say so often, the biggest problem with modern cinema is the lack of good writing. What made "The Twilight Zone" work was the scripts, written by some of the best storytellers of it's time. That said, there are very few quality anthology movies and this might add a new concept to the sub-genre but nothing more.