Let’s not go to the videotape
By Sean O’Connell
Friday, October 5, 2012
“V/H/S” ends with an actual train wreck. But don’t think of this as a spoiler. Consider it a warning, because the rest of the film is a train wreck as well.
Realizing that horror’s “found footage” gimmick has grown stale, “V/H/S” takes the next step forward by looking a few steps back. It uses a traditional anthology format, dividing its run time across multiple shorter stories that usually are connected by a thematic thread.
On paper, it’s a clever conceit. The framing story -- which exists solely to get us to the abbreviated chapters -- follows a group of destructive idiots hired by an unknown client to break into a deserted home and retrieve a VHS tape. Once in the house, the criminals find a dead man propped up in a lounge chair, staring at a bank of television sets with stacks of videocassette tapes on either side. The thieves begin watching the tapes. From there, we’re transported into five horror shorts helmed by Ti West, Joe Swanberg and other actual up-and-coming directors in the field.
“V/H/S” probably sounded great in the pitch meeting, but it loses all luster through some shoddy execution. As is the case with most “found footage” horror, low-budget production values are masked by unwatchable shaky-cam techniques. The acting proves equally rough and amateurish, suggesting that the filmmakers recruited friends and family members to keep costs in check. Many viewers will stop paying attention to the threadbare characters and stare into the backgrounds of various scenes hoping something cool will pop out and raise one’s pulse. Rarely does this happen.
Anthology films date back to 1932, when MGM and Paramount released the star-studded “Grand Hotel” and “If I Had a Million,” respectively. And as is the case with subsequent anthology films released over the years, some segments are better than others, and the whole rarely amounts to a movie that’s worth the viewer’s time.
If there’s any commentary to be found in “V/H/S,” it would pertain to our society’s unhealthy reliance on cutting-edge technologies, and the deceitful ways our useful gadgets can be exploited. Think of “V/H/S,” then, as “Creepshow” for the iPhone generation.
The “V/H/S” vignettes are uniformly short -- a godsend when the story’s lacking, but a legitimate detriment in the one or two instances when the filmmakers require some time to expand on their ideas.
The best segment belongs to director Joe Swanberg and writer Simon Barrett, who put Skype to chilling use as a girlfriend (Helen Rogers) wonders during a video chat if her apartment is haunted.
The worst, however, has to be the over-arching frame story, which is riddled with logic questions it never bothers to answer. Who hired these guys? What’s on the tape they need to find? Who still uses VHS tapes? And why are we discussing this forgettable exercise in shock and gore? Press eject and move on.
Contains violence, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, pervasive language and some drug use.