The Video Home System (better known by its abbreviation VHS) is a consumer-level analog recording videotape-based cassette standard developed by Victor Company of Japan (JVC). The film V/H/S is one hell of a horrific ride and it, almost single-handedly, pumps new life into the found footage and anthology subgenres.
Although, V/H/S is among the best horror film experiences of the year, it is not without its shortcomings. Given the film's ambition to combine all kinds of elements and familiar horror themes, the flaws are more in execution rather than actual content. However, we'll get to those in a bit. First...let's discuss the cool shit!
Films like Creepshow, Black Sabbath and Trick 'R Treat immediately come to mind whenever I think about horror anthologies. Those films are iconic and have stood the test of time. There are several others like Cat's Eye, Two Evil Eyes and Trilogy of Terror (just to name a few) that still hold a special place in my heart. But, it takes quite a bit to make a truly memorable anthology film. Especially these days. Because the format deals primarily in stringing together multiple stories that are usually connected in some way, the presented challenge comes in creating original material that will be remembered long after the credits roll. Horror is a medium where originality isn't always the driving force in making new films.
Now, whenever I think of found footage horror films...I instantly think of The Blair Witch Project and, maybe, the Paranormal Activity films and [REC] films. Found footage isn't really the most original subgenre anymore. Especially when you consider how incestuous the medium can be. Films using up each other's inventive ideas and premises left and right. It is no wonder that this subgenre usually gets such a bad rap.
V/H/S successfully marries both subgenres, reinvigorating how we look at horror and what truly scares us in the process. It offers a new spin on the usual found footage tropes and often attempts to take the format beyond its boundaries. Something that the average big studio horror film blatantly ignores altogether.
The film is directed by as much as nine filmmakers, thus bringing a fresh perspective at every turn. The main story arc is helmed by Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die). It is probably the most disposable of all the stories as it is really only meant to serve as a means of tying everything together. After a Film Deviant reader pointed out the hipster with the mustache (thanks, Shane...hahaha!), I just couldn't stop smirking at the guy. So, that became a little distracting. While there are some potentially creepy moments that come out of the main story arc (also known as Tape 56), it never really leads anywhere.
The first high point arrives in the first segment titled Amatuer Night. David Bruckner (The Signal) shows off a truly riveting monster fest complete with a great idea of keeping the found footage camera rolling. Most films of this class usually attempt to serve up dumb excuses for a POV character to keep the camera on...but, in the end, it's almost always a little lame. Here, it's quite effective. And even though you almost know what ensues after the characters are set up, it's still a thrilling ride, nonetheless.
Ti West (whom we love around these parts) shows up to direct the next story in the anthology called Second Honeymoon. And while it's not exactly his best work, he does present some harrowing ideas that never really take off. The whole taping you while you're sound asleep is probably one of my biggest fears. Had this premise been fully fleshed out, we might've been in for more of a treat. Instead, we're left with an almost random-feeling disappointment. Ti West is still fucking awesome, though.
Tuesday the 17th is my least favorite of the bunch. Glenn McQuaid (I Sell the Dead) shows off some decent gore and a new take on the slasher. But, it is the most wasted opportunity of all the segments. It feels as though the writers thought up the idea on the way to the shoot. It's kind of disjointed and hollow and never takes advantage of its cool killer.
The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger has the longest fucking title of all the segments and it is, perhaps, the most ambitious. It also has my favorite actress in the whole film...Helen Rogers. She plays the titular Emily in the story and also happens to show off some titular things. Boobies, man! I'm talking about her boobies! This story utilizes its found footage perspective in the most inventive way, as it takes place entirely via video chat. It also happens to twist certain familiar elements and turn the tables on you...just when you think you've figured it out. Mumblecore veteran Joe Swanberg does an excellent job creating something entirely different. Also...boobies.
Radio Silence (a directing quartet who are primarily known for their YouTube films) cap things off on a high note with 10/31/98. A gripping take on ritualistic haunted house fare that usually ends up being stale and recycled. And tho the segment is mostly predictable, Radio Silence utilize everything effectively and really show off quite a bit of visual awesomeness.
I did my best to keep the entire review spoiler-free, while also delving into what was great about everything. It is a film that will surely be enjoyed by many horror fans craving for something different, as it offers a little something for everyone's taste. I really can't see why one would hate on this film, other than whatever segment happens to be least compatible with the individual's actual horror preference.
V/H/S is a well-made horror anthology found footage film that injects some good smack into the arm of horror. Aside from some low points within the segments and some failed opportunities at creating some truly inventive stuff here and there, the film is among the best of the year and should not be missed by anyone looking for an entertaining spin on done-to-death subgenres, hipster mustache notwithstanding.
Helen Rogers...you godamn cutey!
Thanks for reading,