V/H/S is a 2012 American anthology horror film. It features a series of found-footage shorts written and directed by Adam Wingard (You’re Next), David Bruckner (The Amityville Horror: The Lost Tapes), Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, and the directing quartet known as Radio Silence (Devil’s Due).
While looking for a rare piece of footage they have been hired to steal from an abandoned house, a criminal gang watch a number of the disturbing video tapes…
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V/H/S is surely the final nail in the ‘found footage’ sub-genre’s coffin? Five mostly crappy stories and an utterly loathsome wraparound piece, all shot in a cynically, cliché-ridden ‘home movie’ style (that often suggests that the directors have no actual memory of the VHS era if this is what they think it looked like), and displaying a nasty streak of frat boy humour and relentless misogyny, this is a deeply unpleasant insult to horror fans.
The film opens with the wraparound story from Adam Wingard, who at least proves that A Horrible Way to Die was no fluke – this is equally rotten, featuring a bunch of loathsome characters who take a break from shooting Bumfights style videos to break into a house to steal a rare VHS tape. There, they find a dead man, a bank of TVs and a bunch of tapes. Looking through them to find the one in question, the various stories unfold.
Opening story Amateur Night, by David Bruckner, has more asshole bros, out to score with chicks at a club and getting more than they expected with a demon girl who chomps down on them – every dickhead’s worst nightmare, no doubt. It’s a dismal affair – awful characters and no story development , instead thinking that a lot of noise, fury, tits and gore will do the job.
This story reveals the failure of the central conceit right away – the action is filmed on a spy cam hidden in a pair of glasses – so how does something clearly shot recently on modern equipment end up in a dusty VHS tape collection? I guess you’re not supposed to think about that, but instead be impressed with the digitally created tape glitches and errors that are crudely plastered across all the stories.
Ti West’s Second Honeymoon has a remarkably tiresome couple travelling across country and having their motel room invaded as they sleep. It’s a pretty dull tale with nothing happening for most of the duration and the twist is unconvincing.
Glenn McQuaid’s Tuesday the 17th manages to be the worst offender, with a bunch of hateful males lured out to the woods by a crazy girl as bait for a possibly supernatural serial killer – the story is derivative and undeveloped, the acting awful and what little action there is takes an age to arrive… and is then messily shot.
And by this point, you start to wonder just what it was that brought these directors together – a hatred and fear of women possibly? I have no problem with women being portrayed as either victims or monsters in horror films, but when you have three stories on the trot that take the latter stance, you start to wonder.
Still, The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger at least switches the female role away from predator, being a tale of ghost-like aliens invading a young woman’s home. There are a couple of decent visuals here, but it all falls apart at the end, as if Joe Swanberg ran out of ideas and simply threw together a bunch of images from other movies (perish the thought…) and the fact that the whole thing is presented as a series of Skype conversations – conversations that on a couple of occasions we are clearly told are not being recorded – again flies in the face of the film’s overall concept, unless there are people out there storing their video chats on VHS tape for some Godforsaken reason.
The final tale, 10/31/98, offers something approaching a watchable story. The characters are still idiots, but the exploration of a haunted house and the discovery of satanic rituals in the attic are at least shot with a decent amount of atmosphere. It’s got some genuinely creepy moments and an ending that is suitably nihilistic and ambiguous (though you should avoid the alternative ending on the DVD if you don’t want any good feeling the story has built up to be destroyed). Pity that it’s directed by a ‘collective’ pretentiously named Radio Silence, but you can’t have everything. And frankly, it’s too little, too late.
Given that V/H/S has been marketed as a labour of love from established genre directors, the most remarkable aspect of this portmanteau film is just how much contempt it shows for the genre and its fan base. This is less a love letter and more a brutal kicking.
It’s a film that hates women, who are more or less all psychotic harpies here, and it also hates men – rarely have such a bunch of complete and utter f*ckwits so dominated a collection of stories.
The ‘found footage’ format is battered to death here, with so much tape damage, drop outs and other clichéd ideas that it becomes laughable – and often gets in the way of the actual story telling, what little there is. Add that to the smug pomposity of hipster horror stylings – always a joy – and you have a film that is almost entirely worthless. Another classic example of cinemasturbation. If I see a worse horror film this year, I’ll be surprised.
David Flint, Horrorpedia
“Perfs are generally good, production values and design aspects smart (esp. in terms of videotape rolling and glitching). Astute audio contributions allow for an ominous rumble to disrupt the found-sound concept when things get unpleasant” Dennis Harvey, Variety
“The lack of traditional suspense is blisteringly effective because when the terrible things happen, they have the effect of a sucker punch. These are no jump scares; they’re jump-out-the-window scares. While some of V/H/S‘s entries contain a more conventional approach to terrifying, a thread of convention abandonment runs throughout.” Rich Juzwlak, Gawker.com