Video Killed The Horror Film Star: “V/H/S” Review
Anyone who has paid any level of attention to the horror genre landscape is probably unhappily familiar with “found footage” films. Since “The Blair Witch Project,” the device has skyrocketed in popularity, as though filmmakers found some hidden kernel of genius within the gimmick that is used at a frequency viewers can’t perceive. But damn if they’re not going to try to convince you. Franchises like [REC] now pour their movies into theaters in deluges of terrible camera work, as though all you need to make money is to pile on the gore and be able to convince your audience that the camera being used doesn’t cost tens of thousands of dollars. At this point, you could probably make a good chunk of change off your uncle’s colonoscopy video if you were willing to claim he had a demon camping up in there.
Needless to say, it’s getting kind of old.
“V/H/S,” a found footage anthology film released simultaneously in select theaters and online for download and streaming (iTunes has it if you’ve been jonesing), is the latest attempt by a handful of filmmakers to change your mind. The movie, which consists of five shorts by various directors wrapped up in a stage-setting master segment, actually ends up handling its gimmick rather well. Each short provides some good shameless horror fun for viewers without getting too self-congratulatory in its execution.
The plot of the bracketing segment is simple, self-aware, and silly, and follows a group of burglars who are paid to break into an old house and steal a video tape for their employer. Once inside, they find a corpse and a metric shit ton of video tapes (disappointingly, few of them are Disney sing-a-longs). Confident that nothing weird could be going on in the house, one of the burglars decides to sit down and watch some of these mysterious tapes (presumably out of a sense of nostalgia), as the rest of the group searches for the object of their break-in. The film returns to this story between the other shorts, revealing that, oddly enough, something weird IS going on in this ramshackle hell hole, and that this weird going-on is not too pleased with the thieves’ intrusion.
The first (and best) short, titled “Amateur Night” and directed by David Bruckner, follows three friends trolling for women at a hotel bar who end up picking up more than they can handle. The second, called “Second Honeymoon” is the work of one Ti West and deals with a romantic getaway overshadowed by an ominous fortune, which plays itself out over the course of the vacation. Glenn McQuaid’s “Tuesday the 17th” puts a fun spin on the killer-in-the-woods subset of slasher films while “The Sick Thing That Happened When Emily Was Younger,” (phew) directed by Joe Swanberg, shows a woman undergoing disturbing symptoms as her doctor/boyfriend attempts to help from afar. Finally, “10/31/98,” directed by the collective Radio Silence, deals with a group on Halloween experiencing some paranormal activities. The various segments were directed without contact between filmmakers, which means that a few cover similar territory but each is so short that it really doesn’t matter.
In fact, the relatively short running time of the shorts make it very easy to overlook their minor flaws and occasional descents into cliché. The film has no pretensions and knows exactly what it hopes to be and, as a result, it’s very hard not to like. In truth, there isn’t really that much to say because the ambitions on display are so minimal. Each segment vibrates with an energy that’s infectious so even when they stumble, you’re still left with something that was clearly very fun to make.
“V/H/S” will in no way go down as a horror classic, but at no point does it seem like it thinks it will. Rather, it’s content to entertain and to milk a healthy number of scares from its viewers before sending them on their way. There’s really not much more for which you can ask from a film like this. Especially in a time when the horror genre has so clearly devolved and fractured into little islands of shameless commercialism and joyless violence, it’s great to see a film with such a good sense of humor about itself and such a genuine investment in the enjoyment of its viewers. As a result, I predict that a good number of people will return to this film, whether it be for Halloween parties, casual late night viewings, what have you. “V/H/S” is a good-natured reminder that horror and the drive to frighten don’t need to be dour or ugly. Rather, just like the best pieces of all genres, a good horror movie has to be fun.
And goddamn is “V/H/S” fun.