V/H/S (2012) review

VHS posterDirectors: David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Adam Ingard, Radio Silence

Starring: Hannah Fierman, Mike Donlan, Drew Swayer, Joe Sykes, Joe Swanberg, Sophia Takal, Norma C Quinones, Drew Moerlein, Helen Rogers, Daniel Kaufman, Chad Willella, Nicole Erb

“You’re all gonna fucking die up here.” (Wendy, V/H/S)

I’ve spoken of the low-budget junkyard that is the found footage genre a number of times on TWABM in the past.

While early examples like Cannibal Holocaust and The Blair Witch Project felt fresh and genuinely terrifying, for the most part the genre has since become a cop-out, an easy way for talent-starved directors to make a cheap horror movie without much effort or skill.

For every umpteenth Banshee Chapter, The Tunnel and Frost out there though, there’s the occasional Paranormal Activity or The Taking Of Deborah Logan – films that actually use the limitations of the found footage style to their advantage.

V/H/S falls firmly in this latter category, offering a selection of creepy tales that are made better by their low-quality production values rather than forced to grudgingly accept them as a necessary evil.

Kenny's Football Manager obsession was so bad he didn't realise his girlfriend, waiting in bed for him, had been dead for months
Kenny’s Football Manager obsession was so bad he didn’t realise his girlfriend, waiting in bed for him, had been dead for months

That’s right, a selection. What makes V/H/S stand out among other found footage offerings is that it’s actually an anthology film consisting of five short stories, much like Creepshow or Sin City.

As with many anthology films, V/H/S has a ‘frame narrative’ – in other words, a main story that leads to all the other ones.

This one’s about a group of hooligans who have been tasked with breaking into a home and stealing a specific video tape, which will apparently make them a lot of money for some reason.

When they get to the home they find a dead guy and a load of videos. As they split up to search the house and end up getting involved in spooky goings-on, we get to see some of the tapes they watch.

For this one, it’s probably best to break each story into its own mini review. So that’s what I’ll do.


Amateur Night

The plot: Three boozy pals fit a pair of glasses with a hidden camera and decide they’re going to use it to go out, pull some ladies, take them home and make an amateur POV sex tape.

Things start going tits-up (no pun intended) when one of the girls isn’t as she seems.

Jess didn't react too warmly to her boyfriend's suggestion that she wear a Dustin Hoffman mask during sex
Jess didn’t react well to her boyfriend’s suggestion she wear a Dustin Hoffman mask during sex

The verdict: Of the five short stories in V/H/S, this one’s the best.

It does a fantastic job of building tension – one shot will have you struggling to look at the screen for fear of what’s potentially about to happen – and though it’s clear early on that there’s something iffy about the girl in question, you may not necessarily see the ending coming.


Second Honeymoon

The plot: A married couple head to Arizona and film their holiday as they do.

When a strange woman comes to their motel room at night and asks for a ride, the husband tells her to piss off. He soon regrets this though, because she isn’t done with them yet.

Amanda Holden had gone too far this time
Amanda Holden had gone too far this time

The verdict: This one drags on a little with unnecessary holiday footage and could probably have been told in five minutes, when all’s said and done.

There’s one really clever reveal shot when you first notice shit’s going down, but the twist is a little flat. Considering V/H/S clocks in at nearly two hours in length, I don’t think it would have been a tragedy to cut this one entirely.


Tuesday The 17th

The plot: A group of four goes into the woods for a camping trip but it soon becomes clear they’ve been led there for a reason – namely, one involving an odd glitchy killer who can’t be filmed.

The good thing about this film is you have no way of telling if these screenshots are bad quality
The good thing about this film is you have no way of telling if these screenshots are bad quality

The verdict: This is essentially V/H/S’s take on the slasher genre and it’s a decent effort that’s only really let down by some terrible acting and an ending that isn’t really that satisfying.

The killer’s odd tracking error style appearance is a cool little effect, and slasher fans will be pleasantly surprised by a handful of gory moments.


The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger

The plot: James and his girlfriend Emily regularly talk to each other with video chats online.

Emily’s not been having a good time of it lately – she’s developed a strange bump on her arm and she’s certain her flat is haunted. James tries to help her figure out what’s going on, but is his heart really in it?

"What do you mean he was sexy in Rain Man? I'm not wearing it, Joel"
“What do you mean he was sexy in Rain Man? I don’t care, I’m not wearing it, Joel”

The verdict: I believe this is the shortest story in V/H/S, and it’s probably the one with the oddest ending too.

For a while it feels a bit like a cross between Unfriended and Paranormal Activity, what with the Skype-like chat and the way it forces you to study the dark corners of a house to see if there’s anything lurking there.

Then it all just gets, for want of a better phrase, a bit mental with an ending you’ll shake your head at. I liked this one: the guy playing James wasn’t the most emotive actor you’ll ever see but I suppose given the ending it could be argued this was deliberate.


10/31/98

The plot: In the final story, a group of four lads head out to a Halloween party, but when they get to what they think is the right house, it’s semingly empty.

Before long, they start to experience paranormal goings-on. Deciding it’s the right house after all, they start playing along, but they’re about to realise they done fucked up.

The verdict: This is the last tape that plays before the credits and it’s a brilliant way to end things as it just goes all-out with ridiculous shit.

It’s also the story with the most impressive special effects, with some genuinely nifty little set-pieces that must have been harder to pull off given the handheld nature of the footage.


So, that’s everything. In all, a decent wee collection of stories, all sharing a handheld found footage style in common.

It isn’t the only thing they share, mind. There’s something else that, perhaps more than anything, will determine whether you end up enjoying V/H/S.

One of the overriding themes of all five stories (plus the frame narrative that surrounds them) is that none of their goings-on are ever really properly explained.

"Don't worry missus, no explanation necessary, I'll just be quickly on my way"
“Don’t worry missus, no explanation necessary, I’ll just be quickly on my way”

There isn’t a single moment where the reasons for any of the bizarre, often supernatural events in these stories is ever explicitly made clear: you’re just expected to go with it.

For some a good dose of what-the-fuckery is all that’s needed for an effective horror movie, as it can still be scary despite – or maybe even because of – this ambiguity.

If you’re the sort who didn’t mind not know what happened at the end of The Blair Witch Project, or wasn’t really fussed where the antagonist in It Follows came from, then V/H/S will be suitably creepy to to keep you on edge for weeks.

If, however, you’re the type who needs logical explanations for everything and demands to know exactly how Teen Wolf was able to suddenly become so hirsute, then you might be left wanting by what’s essentially a collection of weird and unexplained set-pieces.

Ultimately, V/H/S is worth a watch if you aren’t averse to the found footage genre. Its first story in particular is worth the price of admission alone, and while the rest vary in quality the overall package is a fun ride.

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HOW CAN I SEE IT?
V/H/S is available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK, and also on DVD and Blu-ray in the US. Given the nature of the film, you don’t really gain anything by watching it on Blu-ray.

Alternatively, if you have access to the US Netflix library, you can also find V/H/S there as well as its two sequels.

SHOW ME THE TRAILER:

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