Directors: Adam Winguard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence
Starring: Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes, Adam Winguard, Hannah Fierman, Mike Donlan
Running Time: 115 minutes
Genre: Horror anthology
The found footage gimmick is becoming stale. It's resurgence in recent years due to the success of the Paranormal Activity has brought up a host of cheap and tacky imitations trying the same trick over and over. V/H/S is a breath of fresh air in that regard. Unlike the majority of these films threats of near-misses for 90 minutes and then one big reveal at the finish, V/H/S goes straight for the jugular. It's gruesome, nasty, vile, ultra-violent and disturbing in parts, but one thing you can't deny is that it is an effective horror film that sticks a middle finger to the safe horror that is constantly being thrown into cinemas.
Rather than being one long haul, V/H/S is an anthology film, broken into six short segments (five of which are seen in one main arc called 'Tape 56'). This allows for greater variety in tone and style, which is often a hindrance on such films, where the found footage gimmick can wear thin pretty quick. Tape 56 suffers the most from being broken up in bit segments while the other shorts play and is the most confusing, but there are a few chills to be found, despite the group being a bunch of douchebags. The opening short, Amateur Night (directed by David Bruckner) is the best of the bunch. Following three guys on a night out, their drunken antics (except the quiet and nice guy of the group cameraman) and their inability to see that everything isn't okay with one of the chicks they pick up from a bar. Cue madness. This segment is bat-shit bonkers. The warning signs are evident for the boys early on and it's horror movie school 101 stuff, but is executed with such thrilling style and makes exceptional use of the found footage format. Visceral and pretty much every young man's nightmare, it's a fantastic opening segment. The second segment, Second Honeymoon (directed by Ti West) is a more subdued affair. Anyone who knows West's output will instantly know his involvement here. Slow building and full of quiet menace, a couple on their second honeymoon become victim of a deranged stalker. Here, the use of the found footage is haunting and eerily creepy. West's horror instincts (as seen in the great The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers and probably the main reason I wanted to see this film) are old school, the slow build, the ominous signs and the night scenes. They are beyond scary. The stalker using the couples camera is a master stroke. The menace and threat of the stalker in those scenes do more than the blood-letting that comes afterwards. The shockingly brutal climax will warrant a strong stomach and is about as explicitly violent a film can get without being censored. Be warned!
The third segment, Tuesday the 17th (directed by Glenn McQuaid), plays with the slasher movie format and after the first two segments feels like a let down. It has its moments with some genuinely spooky flashes. One or two of the kills are rough and nasty, but the over-reliance on gore here (and some shoddy effects/fake looking props) hinder. It has its moments, but nowhere as effective as the previous two. The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Young (directed by Joe Swanberg) is the weakest segment of the film. Relying on a Skype camera call scenario, a young woman who suspects there is a ghost in her apartment contacting her doctor boyfriend to keep a record of the events. There are scares to be had here, as the Paranormal Activity premise is turned on its head in pretty disgusting fashion. Two impromptu surgery scenes again keep the recurring theme of extreme gore at a high. This is perhaps the weakest segment of the film, but given the tricky and confining setting, it does well all things considered. The final segment is the most fun of the bunch, 10/31/98. Directed by Radio Silence, this segment has by far the most visual scares of the film, as a group of guys go to the wrong Halloween party and enter a real life house of horrors. The scares are not a gruesome as the previous segments and there is a lighter feel to this segment (for the opening exchanges anyway). The scares are great, giving more in jumps in 15 minutes that the combined Paranormal Activity franchise combined.
V/H/S is a great horror film. Mean and nasty, but with enough clever touches to stop it from being exploitive, there are enough scares and blood here for hardcore horror fans. Definitely not for those with a weak stomach though. All involved have made an entertaining and genuinely unique take on a horror sub-genre that has relied on safe and basic scares. V/H/S rectifies this, with blood-soaked aplomb. Be warned, it is intensely violent and gruesome. One for Halloween then!