Even though the first thirty-five (or so) minutes of "V/H/S" is so virtually unwatchable that I almost turned it off, this new collaboration horror film (which is essentially six very separate short films) from directors David Bruckner, Glenn McQuiad, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Adam Wingard and the team of Radio Silence, is one that is still riddled with a lot of redeeming qualities sure to draw the interest from both low budget horror buffs and novices (aka, those who thought "Paranormal Activity" was the scariest thing ever). V/H/S tells the story of a group of thieves hired to steal a rare VHS tape (aren't they all?) from the house of an old man. When they get to the house, they find out that said old man is a video tape hoarder, and so they must sift through (and watch) the mounds of tapes in order to find the mystic VHS in question. OK, so the overarching storyline of watching people watch movies is pretty nonsensical and the way the filmmakers incorporate the VHS aspect into these little horror shorts is, at times, quite farfetched, but due to some very intriguing visuals (which will have many audiences completely baffled as to how certain effects were accomplished) and two borderline scary but quite entertaining storylines, "V/H/S" is worth checking out; even though it is so hit and miss, it can only be defined as slightly above average, at best .
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