SXSW 2012 Review: ‘V/H/S’ May Have You Reaching For the Fast-Forward Button In Search of the Really Good Stuff
Anthology horror films are an inconsistent genre by their very nature, but when they work well the results can be fantastically creepy entertainment. Films like Asylum, Creepshow, and Trick ‘r Treat are well written excursions into fun-filled terror. Unfortunately, the anthology film is in decline, and of the handful that do find release only a few manage any degree of consistent quality.
Sadly, V/H/S is more miss than hit.
The movie features five stories plus a wraparound tale all presented in the “found footage” style, but while the last two segments are pretty damn cool and terrifying the initial three (and wraparound) leave a lot to be desired. They each have a singular standout element, but it’s never enough to make you forget how lacking in scares and thrills they are. (And the third one should have been cut all together.) Much like its home video format namesake, V/H/S chooses running time over quality, and the result is a movie that never really finds its footing until roughly two-thirds of it has passed.
But once it hits that second to last story the scares, fun and wide-eyed thrills come fast and hard making the film well worth a watch…provided you don’t mind wading through mediocrity to get there.
The film’s framework tale from director Adam Wingard involves a gaggle of pricks who videotape their adventures as they roam around vandalizing property and assaulting women in parking garages. The guys are offered money in exchange for a specific VHS tape hidden somewhere in a creepy old house, but upon entering they find the owner dead and a pile of tapes to sort through. One by one they sit down to watch a tape, and it’s from those that the five segments are born.
David Bruckner’s “Amateur Night” leads things off with the film’s most obvious and unoriginal story as three (more) pricks head out to a bar looking for loose poon. The trio’s geekiest member documents the night’s festivities with a pair of spy glasses which records them meeting two girls and bringing them back to a motel room. One of the girls is bug-eyed, easy to startle and fond of whispering “I like you” so you can already see where this is going. Some nice practical effects work impress, but they’re not enough to save the segment.
Ti West’s “Second Honeymoon” features a young couple video documenting their road trip through the Southwest who spend a couple nights at a small motel with a nocturnal visitor. The arrival of that third party while the couple sleeps offers the film’s first minor chill and the segment’s only highlight.
Glenn McQuaid’s “Tuesday the 17th” finds a group of friends heading out to the woods for some woodsy, lakeside fun, but their getaway plans go to hell when a masked killer (who resembles the lakeside murderer in Minority Report) begins dispatching them in gory ways. The story takes a stab at some meta-like awareness on the part of one of the gang, but the only worthwhile element here is the killer’s digitally staggered look.
Joe Swanberg’s “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” is the movie’s first real success as it tells a story completely via Skype (or a Skype-like video chat anyway) about a young woman trying to convince her distant boyfriend that her apartment is haunted. There are some genuinely creepy as hell scenes here, and while I won’t pretend I fully understood the ending I also won’t deny that I’ve come to love its audacity.
Radio Silence’s “10/31/98” is the final of the five segments, and it’s by far the most balls out, freaky deaky, kickass fright-fest of the bunch. The story is deceptively simple as a quartet of friends heading to a Halloween party mistakenly wind up at a truly haunted house, but it’s a fast moving thrill ride loaded with scares, weirdness, and fantastic imagery.
V/H/S is far from a great horror anthology film, but examples of the genre are so few and far between that we should be happy it exists at all. The idea, a callback to the 80s mashed with found footage, is a solid inspiration point even if the end product is left wanting at times. A stronger wraparound and a higher percentage of solid segments would have been ideal, but at least the film goes out with a bloody bang. Undiscerning horror fans will eat it all up, but even those with taste will find at least a couple segments to love here alongside a hefty dose of violence, gore and big-breasted ladies. Go see it with friends and maybe we’ll get a sequel called L/A/S/E/R/D/I/S/C complete with a mid-movie pause to flip the disc.
The Upside: Some cool and creative effects; the final two stories offer some creepy, memorable, and fun scenes.
The Downside: Film feels too long; first three tales and the wraparound offer little in the way of fun or scares; stylistic videotape “glitches” are overused; opening half hour is wall-to-wall assholes.
On the Side: The screening was preceded by a teaser for the upcoming Drafthouse anthology, The ABCs of Death…and it looks ridiculously fucking over-the-top and awesome.