V/H/S (2012)

The horror anthology, it seems, is back. If you haven’t heard of V/H/S yet, you will soon. It’s opening in select cities today but it’s been bouncing around the festival circuit to universal raves all year. I suspect its biggest success will come when it hits DVD in a month or two. If you do happen to catch it in the theater though, you’ll be treated to a preview for the next buzzworthy indie horror anthology, a gimmicky compilation called The ABCs of Death, which will be comprised of no less than 26 creepy shorts, one for each letter of the alphabet. There will be a quiz after.

There are anthology films in other genres – Four Rooms is a relatively recent example and there are many more to be found with a quick search – but horror is by far the most common. Maybe that’s because horror lends itself to bite size samples more readily than, say, historical epics or romantic comedies. Or maybe it’s because those same bite size samples in any other genre are packaged as Short Films, to be curated rather than collected. Movies are best enjoyed as exhibits in seven-hour lectures on remodernism, amiright? I would not have done well in film school.

VHS stands for Video Home System. Wouldn’t HVS make more sense?

The story: I debated doing a set of my goofy little headings for each vignette but that is vastly more work than I care to do. Instead, I’ll just give you the framing convention, which has enough meat on its own to sustain a nice throughline for the other segments.

It starts with a bunch of hooligans who resemble nothing so much as mustachioed versions of the droogies from A Clockwork Orange. They make money selling videos of themselves sexually assaulting women in parking garages. They don’t quite rape anyone, but they’re still fucking revolting.

I loved you in Raising Arizona.

Whoever’s been buying their hideous cinematic creations offers a bonus if they’ll break into some guy’s house and steal a special videocassette. When they get to the (seemingly) unoccupied house, they find stacks of tapes and, of course, decide to pop a few into the VCR to figure out which one they’re supposed to snag. They don’t just take them all and go, thankfully, or we wouldn’t have much of a movie. Instead, we see what they see, and what they see ranges from grisly snuff films to amateur coverage of the apocalypse and everything in between.

Cher?

Biggest letdown: Each story in an anthology needs a sufficient pop at the end, but there isn’t much time to ramp up the tension organically. This can lead to acute Shyamalanitis, where everything accelerates rapidly in one direction before squealing the tires for a startling twist at the end. V/H/S is guilty of repeating this formula one or two times too many. The first instance got a well deserved “What the fuck!” from me. But, as Knight will tell you, go that direction too often and you lose all credibility with the audience. Caucasian Airbenders in yellowface wait at the end of that road. No one wants that.

Another issue common to anthologies is there’s so much to see you can’t get too invested in any of the stories. It’s like a birthday party for a  five-year-old. Give him a pile of presents and he’ll tear through them all in rapid succession, never really appreciating their contents so much as looking forward to opening the next one. V/H/S has some of that feel to it because, though all the segments are neatly done, few draw you in deep enough to be truly disturbing.

This is what happens when you skimp on primer.

Why you should watch: You likes the found footage? Then you have come to the right place! Not only are all five vignettes done in that most faddy of all fad styles, the framing convention is as well. It does raise the question of who found the found footage of the punks finding the other found footage but, well, now I’m lost. Anyway, there are a number of shortcomings in each segment – not least of which the deplorable ad libbing in the framing storyline – but taken as a whole it’s a really strong offering, and one that showcases most every commonly used explanation for how such recordings survive the events they depict, and even some I’ve never seen before. (Nannycam sewn into a halloween costume? A bit of a stretch but I’ll allow it.) It’d be nice to think something this exhaustive will speed the end of the found footage craze but the format is just too effective and easy to produce. It’s probably here to stay for the foreseeable future. There are worse things in the world.

I, too, record all my Skype sessions.

Memorable Moment: My favorite segment was the least sensational one. It opens with a cute couple filming their road trip vacation. They stop at a motel where hubby tries and fails to convince his lady to make a sexy sex tape. (Runner up for choice quote: “Take your sweatshirt off. I have a super good idea.”) They goof around merrily until a sudden pounding on the door jolts them out of their intimacy. This subtle scare stands in stark contrast to the supernatural extremes that populate some of the other segments. It’s terrifying because it accurately depicts the be-quiet-and-hope-it-goes-away reaction we’ve all had at some point to an intrusion into our safe space. The aftermath is the best part, as we see the husband visibly shaken, his manly pride destroyed by a confrontation with something that shouldn’t have been intimidating but was. It is difficult to be brave in your comfy pants.

Choice quote: “I don’t wanna look at him. He’s a ghost. It freaks me out.”

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2 Responses to “V/H/S (2012)”

  1. […] V/H/S – Who transfers Skype sessions to tape? […]

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