When the bone-weary subject matter, “Found footage films,” is addressed… One typically recalls The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity. Devoted horror fanatics generally recommend the notorious Video Nasty Cannibal Holocaust. As for me, Cannibal Holocaust is the best example and birth mother to this lousy sub-genre that I have never been a huge fan of. That is, if you do not count 70’s faux pas, The Legend of Boggy Creek. Try as I may, it’s difficult for me to get behind the shaky cam syndrome. It seems that this sub-genre is all the rage presently for movie lovers. A few more examples are Cloverfield, Apollo 18, [REC], and Megan is Missing – A particularly lousy film.
Amongst the neverending, found footage sub-genre we have the 2012 horror anthology V/H/S and a sequel that has been receiving a lot of praise. Each story line is written and directed by a variety of Â rising talent in Indie horror, along with some newcomers. Roger Ebert, a mentor of sorts, coined Paranormal Activity as the best example of a found footage film. I thoroughly disagree, though we are all merely critics swimming in the community cesspool.
This anthology pays tribute to the videocassette and I admire the effort these fellas put into the making of V/H/S but on the whole I’d have to say this effort greatly disappointed. The problem that resides is that the writers and directors were spending so much time on the sheer ‘What-the-fuckery’ that they forgot to showcase all the auxiliary elements. It pains me to say this because I ADORE Glenn McQuaid (I Sell the Dead) and Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers) has had some fair hit or miss horror films.
V/H/S opens with ‘Tape 56’ surrounding a group of wankers attempting to steal some rare VHS tape that a stranger told them about. Apparently, they will know it when they see it but the house is filled with VHS tapes. There are no impressively offensive covers arousing our childhood in the horror section of our local Mom and Pop video store. It’s all just blank tapes slopped around. With a fat, beardy dead man sitting in his chair, they each pop in several raw footage tapes in hopes of finding whatever it is that they’re looking for. This is troublesome to me because we have no idea what tape they are looking for and we have no idea why the fuck this fat, old bastard has all of these tapes scattered around his crib but who cares? Lets watch some tapes!
The first segment favorably treads behind the last segment taking place on Halloween while pulling off some nifty graphics like hands coming out of the walls and invisible forces throwing pitchforkers across the room but we will get to my favorite later. ‘Amateur Night’ follows a trio of douche nozzles sporting an inventive pair of black-rimmed Buddy Holly glasses occupying a camera in hopes to film the act of coitus after finding a girl hammered enough to sleep with them. As clever as the glasses trick may be, it’s just cruel and they eventually get what’s coming to them after reserving a turbulent ride headed for Planet Succubus. Hannah Fierman contorts into off-putting positions while fully nude and I have to take a minute here to compliment her temple of a body, wide eyes, and acting chops. *shudders*
Next we have Ti West’s disappointing ‘Second Honeymoon’ that seems to drag on for several minutes only to end abruptly with possibly one of the dumbest ‘twists’ I have seen on film. That being said, it’s important to pay attention to details in this segment because I believe West is trying to send us a cryptic message that very few have caught onto. If you’re a fan of digging deeper into the ‘meaning of it all’ then I highly suggest giving ‘Second Honeymoon‘ a couple of viewings.
Onto ‘Tuesday the 17th,’ McQuaid’s addition, we follow four young spirits out in the middle of nowhere in hopes to get a traumatized gal pal over her daunting past. It seems that something evil lurks the woods, killing anyone who gets in its way and this broad managed to escape, only to return again while using her friends as bait. I know what you’re thinking, “That just sounds silly.” Yes, it’s completely redundant and painful for me to watch. We never get to see this monster on film because he has the ability to defect the footage but I can say that the amount of bloodshed and gore was pleasing and completely made up for the lackluster story telling.
Here’s where it gets extremely confusing for me. ‘The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger,‘ I don’t even know where to begin and I am not completely certain that I understood what the hell was suppose to be going on. This segment is directed by the star of ‘Second Honeymoon,’ Joe Swanberg. Swanberg’s piece centers around a long-distance relationship over Skype that has a Paranormal Activity feel at first then ends with…. I don’t even know how to describe what happens and I do not wish to spoil the ending so it’s best to watch and figure it out for yourself. Joe Swanberg basically described it as follows, “Being in a long-distant relationship is difficult anyway, but when you’re in a long-distance relationship and the person you’re with needs help, it feels terrible. you feel like you can’t be there for them. It definitely increases that uncomfortable horror aspect.” His explanation did shed some light but there’s still little for me to figure out for I am dumbfounded and that doesn’t happen regularly. Maybe the X-Files-Esque twist pulled me away from every redeeming quality about the cleverly crafted Skype drama.
My favorite out of the bunch, ’10/31/98′ delivered an abundance of neat tricks and a fun story line that is easy to follow. Four young guys are off to a party on Halloween and stumble upon an empty mansion with an exorcism and spooky behavior taking place. This is the only segment that had me feeling anything for the characters involved. The previous segments were finely acted and the editing was impressive but they all failed to make me care about who lives or dies. In 10/31/98, I desperately wanted to see this group get out of their alarming situation unharmed.
In closing, the film wraps around with the conclusion of square one, ‘Tape 56.’ You won’t find any spoilers here but I can tell you that it doesn’t end well.
Despite my disappointment, V/H/S is fresh, cleverly crafted, and fun to watch in the dark. There are a few scares here and there and gore lovers will not be disappointed. It’s hit or miss for most VHS collectors. The gritty feel is present. You actually feel like you are watching a VHS and I found the amount of effects and intricate shots they were able to dish out to be impressive. They also managed to capture the element of surprise in every segment. The viewers have no idea what’s going to happen next with a pinch of disoriented reality. It’s funny, now that I am writing this all out in detail, weighing the good with the bad, I think I kind of liked it. Kind of.