Wednesday, October 03, 2012

V/H/S Review



V/H/S is a found-footage anthology horror film--two difficult forms that come together surprisingly well. I just got back from a preview and rather than post the trailer up at the top, I've posted the video of the song that closes the film for two reasons:
  1. I love the Death Set and that song is among my favorite of theirs
  2. Any advance information about this movie takes away some of the fun of it
I watched the trailer which made me check Wikipedia and thus I knew the backstory of everything in the movie

Check the archives. I never claimed to be smart.

If you want to see the trailer, click on the film's title, but frankly, even the brief clips there give away too much.

I'm not giving anything away when I say that it's a found-footage anthology film, though. The frame is a group of hooligans who videotape their various antics and are hired to get a videotape from a house. When they arrive, rather than find one tape, they find many and start watching them to figure out which tape they're supposed to leave with. The five tapes they watch--and that we thus watch--make up the rest of the film with short returns to the group in the house between tapes.

The five stories are:
  1. A trio of guys, one with a hidden camera in his glasses, go bar-hopping to pick up girls.
  2. A couple is making a video diary of their trip in the Southwest.
  3. Four college-age kids go for a trip in the woods and bring a video camera.
  4. A couple videochats with each other, the woman telling her boyfriend that she thinks her house is haunted.
  5. Four guys go looking for a Halloween party in 1998. One is dressed as a Nannycam--a teddy bear with a camera hidden in its head.
I realize these are the thinnest of descriptions, barely even set-ups, but they're all I'm comfortable relating. The second piece was done by Ti West who blew me away last year with The Innkeepers and was a big reason I was excited about seeing this movie. Unfortunately, while good, it's also the weakest of the five--partly because it's too subtle, partly because the horror at its core is too mundane (although it is a nice dramatization of certain urban legends). There are hints of stress in the couple's relationship, but that can't be effectively explored in a short, and the found footage element isn't as interesting as it is in the others pieces. I would have preferred if this wasn't in the movie but was rather done for Masters of Horror. What is has right now isn't enough for a feature-length film, but could be fantastic at 45 minutes to an hour.

The other four shorts, and the frame itself, have the medium very tightly integrated into the story. Even the third story where it's just some kids taking a camera with them--which should sound as unambitious as the camera in the Ti West piece--ends up making the horror that emerges very uniquely video-based and visual. If anything, it reminds of the video game Slender

I don't want to say much more--that's a lie, actually. I want to talk about this movie in giddy, giggling terms. The film is just a fun, fun ride. Watching it makes me feel like the Halloween season has officially started. If I have any other criticisms, it's the same one that I have of Grindhouse: the affectation of artifacts being added to the film. In Grindhouse it was unnecessary film scratches and other elements to make it look like an old grindhouse movie. Here, it's video artifacts: digital hangups in the videochat, blue screens and static when cameras get hit. The artifacts are affectations and, curiously, decreased the manufactured reality of the clips. They seemed to shout, "You're watching a video!" which broke the spell. Fortunately, the pieces themselves were strong enough to overcome those moments.

V/H/S is available on Video On Demand, but has a limited theatrical release starting Friday, October 5th. Catch it in the theater if you get the chance. It'll be gone too quickly and that's where it's really effective--because that's where it's immersive. This is something you want to fall in to.

4 out of 5

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