Tuesday, July 23, 2013

V/H/S (2012)

I'm so out of the loop. All I knew of this film was the name, and only then because someone I follow on Instagram posted about it a while back. So I slung it on Netflix without much thought. Sometimes that is really the way to go.

What I quickly gathered was that this is an anthology film! These can work so well when done decently. It can scratch so many horror itches in one single running time, and shorter films have to work harder and be tighter in their execution, because they don't have long to get their shit done.

The film starts like a You've Been Framed from hell: a compilation of faintly unsettling footage plays out before us. There's an attack on a woman in a parking garage and pointless vandalisation of a house... It's not slick, it's not pretty and it's not even that entertaining; it's just odd, gratuitous and uncomfortable to watch.

Well played, V/H/S  I was already feeling like this wasn't going to be a movie I mindlessly let wash over me. There's potential for fidgeting in seats, exclamations - maybe even a few nervous jumps.

The central story which threads the others together, is that of a group of guys breaking into a house under the instructions of an unnamed employer, to retrieve a video cassette. Once inside the house they find not only hundreds of VHS tapes, but also a dead body. Awkward. However they seem pretty unfazed by all this, so they each investigate the house and one by one pick up a tape and start to watch the videos - and as they do, so do we.

(Image from here, as are all the following)

Remember the controversial scene in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer: the one with Henry and Otis watching footage back after taping the murder of a family, and how we the audience don't realise until the last moment that we are watching it back with them? This film kept reminding me of that scene. In pressing 'play' on this film, we are willing accomplices. This is always the case of course, but with found footage - especially of an unpleasant and criminal nature, as here - it's extra creepy when you think about it. We sit there like Henrys and Otis's, on our sofas coolly taking in the awful events, all for our entertainment.

I don't recall there being titles to the shorts during the film itself, but Wiki informs me they go by the following:

Tape 56/frame narrative
Amateur Night
Second Honeymoon
Tuesday The 17th
The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger

I include them here because titles are cool, and it makes it easier for me to refer to them!

The first, Amateur Night, centres around three guy friends. Here we see how the film makers get around the POV thing for a time, as we're introduced to "video glasses", some hipster looking specs which have a camera and mic inside them. 

Who's got one thumb and probably won't survive the night? This guy!

The kid wearing them goes out on the town with his douchebag friends to pick up girls. All on camera, all without any of the girls knowing, of course. It's a nightmarish sequence in the sense of boozy nights out. Sloppy drunks, getting chucked out of bars... and a spooky intense looking girl who seems to have a thing for our bespectacled friend.

"I like you." has never sounded so scary.

Bringing some drugs and the girls back to their hotel, events progress how you'd assume until... they really don't. Let's just say things turn sour and really, really messy.

What I love about V/H/S is that nothing was what I expected it to be. I may have been out of the horror game for a while now, but genre conventions are strong: you see a narrative unfolding and you think you know where something is heading. These tales are so banal and derivative in their set up, that it comes like a wake-up slap in the face when they then turn out to be something so much more horrible than you had assumed.

Another thing to recommend this film is the fact I couldn't tell if it was a small budget used brilliantly or a large budget used with restraint. The effects are great, but they do what they ought to, and no more. I imagine the found footage vibe helps with coming across more gritty and gross than on slick HD film; the fuzzy, sometimes jumpy visuals wash over everything like a filter so that nothing sticks out and takes you out of the moment.

Second Honeymoon spooked me. Like, watching in broad daylight and I still wanted to crawl out of my skin, spooked. It is probably my favourite of the collection. It's got a dash of the urban myth about it, and I think that's why I liked it so much. That, and it's so incredibly simple.

Also: masks are always scary.

Tuesday The 17th plays like a cabin in the woods type deal, but again, with a twist that keeps you interested. It's the weakest of the bunch in my opinion, but even so it explores a common theme in a way I've never seen before, so must be commended for that.

Between each short the main story progresses, with its own small but chilling developments. Who is the naked person crouched in the basement? How did that apparently dead body move from the chair? (and back again?). Y'know, common questions one finds oneself pondering, from time to time.

The Sick Thing... is yet another simple idea cleverly done. This one features video chatting as an alternative to "why are these people videotaping every single thing they're doing?".

(from here)

It starts as a haunted house deal, complete with classic set-ups like searching a dark room with only one weak light source, and something happening that we and the dude chatting can see, but Emily cannot. Just good old "oh shit!" moments. I enjoyed this one a lot, and at the reveal I was pretty much looking like Emily, there.

When I used to go to horror film festivals, there would be films like these shorts amongst the bigger budget studio ones. I wanted to like them all, to support the people getting out there and becoming a real part of the genre. It was always something of a hit and miss affair though, if they were any good. V/H/S is like a 'best of' mix from one of these events.

I've read that the reception for this film was mixed; complaints of it being too long (it's nearly two hours) and dropping the ball as often as it hits it out of the park. As someone who stepped back from horror because it seemed like nothing and no one was doing anything new or interesting, over and over again, I would consider myself a tough viewer to impress - and impress me V/H/S did.

There are five solid stories here and I would say I was caught unawares 4.5 times by how they developed and concluded. They all tend to reach into different sub-genres, too, so you ultimately feel a full blanket of horror satisfaction!

More horror anthology films please...?

If you've not seen V/H/S, do so. Don't read anything online, just sit and watch and then come back and tell me what you thought! And if you have seen it and its sequel: tell me, should I bother?


  1. wooh, great review. The look on the girls face creeped me out, shudder. I think if you enjoyed and found a lot to write about in the first one then the second one is definitely worth checking out!

  2. I've been told it's definitely worth a look!