“V/H/S” has been one of the more talked about horror films of late, and one which has been enjoying rare mainstream success, going down well at a variety of festivals, most notably Sundance, and having been called ‘The Scariest Film Of The Year’ by Rolling Stone. The film is an anthology piece, bringing together a gang of the most promising talents in modern indie horror – Adam Wingard (“A Horrible Way to Die”), Glenn McQuaid (“I Sell the Dead”), David Bruckner (“The Signal”), Joe Swanberg (“Young American Bodies”), Ti West (“The Inkeepers”) and the collective Radio Silence, known for their internet viral videos.
The fun kicks off with a framing device revolving around a group of thuggish dropouts being hired to steal a mysterious VHS tape, without being told why or what’s on it, simply that they’ll know it when they see it. Things get weird when they arrive at the house, which turns out to be deserted apart from a seemingly dead old man slumped in an armchair in front of a bank of television screens and video players, VHS cassettes littering the floor. As they explore the house in search of their prize, various tapes are played, leading to six ‘found footage’ style weird tales that range from demons and slashers to internet webcam terror.
“V/H/S” really does live up to the hype, and manages to breathe new and freaky life into both the found footage and anthology genres – no mean feat given the depths to which both have sunk of late. One of the great things about the film and the reason why it works so well is that in spite of the presence of a wraparound story, the different segments are entirely random and all seem to be striving for increasing anecdotal weirdness, in some cases not even building towards the usual expected twist endings. Though inevitably as a complete package the film is uneven in tone, it somehow all hangs together, and the excellent variety on offer keeps things interesting. Viewers will likely find different favourites, though probably the strongest of the bunch are Bruckner’s amusing and gory opener “Amateur Night” (whose much uttered catchphrase ‘I like you’ will stick in the head long after the credits have rolled) and Ti West’s mundanely creepy “Second Honeymoon”.
The film also benefits from a real punk rock, indie feel, making great use of a number of different film making techniques and technologies, and though some of the web stuff feels a little forced, the directors all succeed in the not inconsiderable task of making found footage horror seem fresh and vital again. Crucially, this works well to ground the film and to add immediacy and a sense that the segments really could have been recorded using phones or everyday video equipment. Though the question as to how or why the footage would have been transferred to old fashioned VHS tapes is never explained, this device does up the intensity, and again underlines its overall air of violently fun innovation. It helps that there’s a good amount of old school gore on show as well, most of the segments managing to pack in at least a few bloody moments, with some good special effects and makeup work along the way.
All in, it’s hard to imagine horror fans not getting a kick out of “V/H/S”, even those who are, quite understandably, very fed up with the seemingly endless found footage boom. A rare example of directors actually making creative use of the form, it’s easily one of the best genre efforts of the year, and the already in development sequel is a very welcome prospect indeed.
“V/H/S” opens in UK cinemas on 18th January 2013 through Momentum Pictures.
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin (segment “10/31/98”) (as Radio Silence)
David Bruckner (segment “Amateur Night”)
Tyler Gillett (segment “10/31/98”) (as Radio Silence)
Justin Martinez (segment “10/31/98”) (as Radio Silence)
Glenn McQuaid (segment “Tuesday The 17th”) (segment “Tuesday the 17th”)
Radio Silence (segment “10/31/98”)
Joe Swanberg (segment “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger”)
Chad Villella (segment “10/31/98”) (as Radio Silence)
Ti West (segment “Second Honeymoon”)
Adam Wingard (segment “Tape 56”)