V/H/S – The Review
The new horror film V/H/S combines the ‘found footage’ genre with the anthology format to terrifying effect. It has no fancy special effects and sparse use of a couple of digital demons. It’s shot with constant low-quality vertigo-inducing shaky cameras, but it’s an extraordinarily efficient horror film, a celebration of rock-bottom production values – and proof of how it doesn’t take bells and whistles to scare us. Each of the five segments is written/produced/directed by different artists who take a fractured, mixed-media approach to their respective stories, all of which are strong. The wraparound story tells of a group of anarchist criminals who are hired to steal a VHS tape from a dilapidated house. They’re told they’ll know which tape it is when they see it but what they find is a stack of tapes and a dead body in a chair. They set about watching the tapes for clues, each tape becoming a chapter of the anthology.
V/H/S/ starts off with a bang with Amateur Night, directed by David Bruckner, which follows three drunk college guys (one with a camcorder fitted into his eyeglasses) who bring two girls, one wasted – the other a wild-eyed waif who keeps saying “I like you” (a perfectly spooky Hannah Fierman), back from a nightclub to their hotel room for sex. Filming naked women against their will is a theme running throughout V/H/S and these guys get a big time comeuppance when the drunken gal passes out and the other turns into a castrating winged demon succubus. All hell breaks loose with some top-notch, low-key special FX in what may be the most terrifying ten minutes I’ve seen at the movies all year. This was my favorite of the five segments but that doesn’t mean the film goes downhill as the second story is almost as strong.
Second Honeymoon directed by Ty West (HOUSE OF THE DEVIL) follows newlyweds (Joe Swanberg and Sophia Takal) on a vacation in the western United States. When a stranger knocks on their motel door in the middle of the night, they suspect something is amiss and the audience is soon wondering who exactly is holding that camcorder. The premise is simple, building tension brilliantly throughout and heightened by small but important details and scenes like one where the couple is climbing some canyons and he disappears for just long enough to make one unsettled. This short is masterfully directed and really gets under the viewer’s skin, focusing on terror until it climaxes in pain and blood.
Tuesday the 17th by Glenn McQuaid. A group of four college friends vacationing at the site of a series of brutal murders smoke weed and get offed by a killer who’s depicted as a sort of distorted video effect. Because this camcorder diary riff on the standard doomed-horny-teens-in-the-woods formula is the most conventional (and goriest) it’s probably the weakest but still provides some solid chills. If the 117 minute long V/H/S could have chopped out one story for a more palatable length, this would have been it.
The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger directed Joe Swanberg’s is presented mostly as a skype chat as Emily (Helen Rogers), terrified by noises in her apartment, is in communication with her boyfriend James (Daniel Kaufman) who she believes is out of town. We soon realize Emily may be suffering from mental problems which leads to self-mutilation and gooey little creatures. Funny, disgusting, Lynchian weirdness.
10/31/98 is the final segment and is by a YouTube filmmaking group known as Radio Silence. It’s a terrifying Halloween haunted house story as four costumed friends head to a Halloween party but mistakenly wind up at a house full of poltergeists and homicidal Satan worshipers. It’s the most technically impressive short here loaded with scary effects, weirdness, and frightening imagery.
V/H/S is intense but its nastiness and nauseating style may turn off moviegoers seeking something more conventional. However, for die-hard supporters of unsettling peeks into the dark side of human nature, this is a welcome excursion. Like most anthology films, it’s a mixed bag, but has no really weak stories and is a good, scary time at the movies.
4 of 5 Stars
V/H/S opens in St. Louis today at Landmark’s Tivoli Theater