Movie Review: V/H/S
If you’ve been reading GFBR for a while, then you might know how much I love horror movies and the found footage genre. I’ve been into film my whole life, but I didn’t really become the film nerd that I am now until the summer of 1999, and The Blair Witch Project had a lot to do with it. Horror movies come in many different packages, but I find the trappings behind horror to generally be more successful if it isn’t presented in a ultra-glitzy manner. There’s just something great about watching a horror movie that looks like it belongs in someone’s family videos. Perhaps it’s the almost perverse nature of watching a movie that looks like it’s forbidden, or maybe it’s just easier to accept blood and gore when it doesn’t look like it’s made of CGI or brightly lit. Whatever the case, I find found footage horror films to be among my favorite… and sometimes the scariest. That’s why I get so upset whenever I stumble on a terrible one, such as the case with the independent film V/H/S.
What’s the difference between V/H/S and other found footage horror films? Well, V/H/S is presented as an anthology (and, yes, I love anthology horror films as well) which means instead of one narrative, we are presented with six horror stories. The first story is used primarily as the framing device for the other segments. During this story, we meet some of the most despicable idiots that I’ve ever seen in a horror movie. These sleazeballs video tape themselves accosting women in parking lots, disrobing them so that they can sell the footage to amateur porn sites. But their leader has learned about a mysterious VHS tape that a benefactor will pay big money to acquire. So the sleazeballs break into a house to find this tape. It’s there that things start to get weird, and the guys each play a tape (it’s not made clear if this is the tape that they are looking for) found in a VHS player and this is how we see each of the segments as it plays out on the TV.
It’s a neat premise, to be sure, but the film never lives up to it. Simply put, V/H/S is mostly full of terrible cliches, awful camera work, silly concepts, bad acting, horrible pacing, and mostly bad writing.
The film is just filled wall-to-wall by asshole characters. We never need to worry about each set of characters for long, as each segment runs somewhere between twenty to thirty minutes, but the shortness of each segment means that we spend an awful lot of time meeting jerks and learning about their awful lives before their terrible comeuppance occurs… and then we have to do it all over again for the next segment.
I’m not saying that horror movie characters must be sympathetic, but the majority of the cast of V/H/S are just downright despicable. They are so bad, I was actively rooting for them to die in several cases. There are a few exceptions (very few), but for the most part V/H/S is filled with despicable assholes. This isn’t a snuff film; it’s not, despite the vague similarities, an entry in the Faces of Death series. So we should sympathize on some level with the characters, but that’s simply not the case with V/H/S.
It also doesn’t help that aside from a few specific moments where it’s clear CGI or some other digital effect is used, V/H/S looks like something that you could make at home. It’s got the gritty realism look down… perhaps a bit too much. Sadly because of this, the film just looks like something that anyone could make. Hell, I’ve got a box of VHS tapes in my house that look just as professional as V/H/S does. That includes the level of acting… V/H/S doesn’t display Oscar caliber acting by a long shot, and while a couple of the actors make earnest attempts to bring their characters to life, on the whole it’s mostly terrible.
Not to mention the strange misogyny on display throughout the narratives. This might be considered a spoiler, but if there’s a woman present in the segment then it’s a good bet that she’s either A) evil B) a monster or C) using her friends for some nefarious deed. Again, it’s not every segment, but a vast majority of the stories revolve around regurgitating these same tired tropes. It’s so bad that I began actively guessing as to which woman in the segment would turn out to be evil.
With each segment running between 20-30 minutes, V/H/S is a fairly long movie–nearly two hours. I understand that pacing in an anthology isn’t the same as a traditional narrative, but by the 80 minute mark, V/H/S has already worn out its bag of awful tricks and subsequently its welcome. One, if not two, of the segments could and should have been cut. Most anthology films only focus on three segments, and even if you don’t count the framing segment as one of the narratives, V/H/S still has plenty of fat to trim. At times it crosses into the most deadly thing for a horror movie: boredom. That’s right, it’s just plain boring.
Even when the premise of the segment is generally okay, V/H/S manages to pull a stupid plot twist, or it turns into something inane. Like the segment “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger.” The segment starts off interestingly enough; the entire thing is framed as a Skype video chat between Emily and her long-distance boyfriend, James. That, right there, is the most interesting thing V/H/S brings to the found footage genre. How cool would it be if an entire film were done as a Skype chat? Emily has been hearing noises at night and thinks her apartment is haunted, so she keeps calling James in the middle of the night to calm herself. Cool concept? Check. Interesting ghost story? Check. Decent acting? For once, check. But then the segment ends with a super-lame and largely unexplained plot twist which soured me on the whole thing.
V/H/S’s creators have their horror-loving hearts in the right place. The premise is sound, and sometimes the film hits the right notes, just… very infrequently. It’s like the Futurama “Twilight Zone” parody, The Scary Door. The opening dialogue from that fake TV show says:
You are entering the vicinity of an area adjacent to a location. The kind of place where there might be a monster, or some kind of weird mirror. These are just examples; it could also be something much better. Prepare to enter: The Scary Door.
V/H/S could just as easily use that as the blurb on the back of its box. V/H/S tries its best to be scary, but instead ends up being lame and silly.
V/H/S is available on video on demand, and opens in the United States in limited theatrical release on October 5, 2012.