Monday, July 8, 2013
V/H/S (2012) Movie Review
With V/H/S/2 set for national release this weekend, I figured that I should finally see the first movie in this fledgling found footage anthology franchise. I enjoy the horror subgenre of found footage, but anthology movies never appealed to me so I wasn't particularly interested in seeing V/H/S in spite of the buzz that it has generated in the horror fan community.
Regardless, I'll give V/H/S credit: It's the first film that attempted to combine the visual style of found footage with the anthology approach to horror. While the end result isn't a success, it has enough interesting ideas to whet the appetite of found footage fans for what a better film could do with the same approach. Read on for my complete review.
Anthology movies are usually hit-and-miss in terms of quality (some more "miss" than others), and V/H/S is no exception. V/H/S is divided into six stories:
* "Tape 56", directed by Adam Wingard. A group of criminals that record their crimes and sell the footage online take a job that requires them to break into a house to find and retrieve a particular video tape. When they arrive at the house, they find a corpse sitting in front of a stack of TV sets and VHS players. "Tape 56" is the framing narrative for the rest of V/H/S, with the other stories being represented by tapes the criminals watch during their search.
* "Amateur Night", directed by David Bruckner. Three friends set up a motel room and a hidden camera with the intent of making amateur porn video with the women they plan to pick up during a night of bar-hopping. Their plan goes horribly awry when one of their intended sex partners reveals that she isn't what she appears to be.
* "Second Honeymoon", directed by Ti West. A married couple's second honeymoon is disrupted by a series of increasingly strange events.
* "Tuesday the 17th", directed by Glenn McQuaid. Four friends go on a camping trip to an isolated location that was the site of several brutal murders the year before.
* "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger", directed by Joe Swanberg. A girlfriend tells her boyfriend via video chat about odd noises she hears in her apartment during the night. She uses her laptop's built-in camera to show her boyfriend what happens when she decides to investigate the noises, and in doing so she learns that she's not alone.
* "10/31/98", directed by Radio Silence. A group of college students get together to go to a Halloween party, but wind up somewhere that is farthest thing from a party.
As with other entries in the found footage subgenre, the crucial detail is whether the movie benefits from using the found footage aesthetic. If you're going to shoot a movie as found footage, then the movie has to integrate that detail as a primary part of its narrative; otherwise, the movie might as well be shot as fiction films usually are and not as found footage. Unfortunately, the found footage style does not add much to the stories in V/H/S. Each of the protagonists use consumer-grade video cameras to document key moments of their lives in some way, but the cameras and the act of using cameras do not feel integral to the telling of the stories.
Further hindering the quality of V/H/S are the stories themselves, which are neither original nor engaging. I’m particularly disappointed that the film did not take advantage of one of its own recurring plot points--the idea of a collector who amasses a sizable inventory of footage of people in final days, hours and minutes of their lives.
Even though V/H/S won't bring any new fans to the found footage subgenre, it does have a few noteworthy moments:
* There's a chilling scene in "Second Honeymoon" involving video footage shot in a hotel room in the middle of the night. While this doesn't sound exceptional on the surface, director West sets it up to be the most memorable sequence in the movie.
* "Tuesday the 17th" is like an abbreviated slasher movie, but with two unique details: its "final girl" has a very disturbing idea about how to stop the killer, and it uses static and digital distortions in the footage to indicate the direct presence of a malevolent force. The distortion effect is unnerving to see--it's sort of like the Predator's cloaking device, only much more surreal--and it's a shame that the story didn't make better usage of it.
* "Tape 56" and "Amateur Night" play with the idea of sleazy digital voyeurism, although both use it as a plot device to set up the protagonists for their grisly yet predictable fates. Yet when I watched these characters plan and execute abusive, violent and exploitative activities for the sake of recording them for profit, I couldn't help but to think of recent all-too-real controversies surrounding high schools in Steubenville, OH and Saratoga, CA, where teenage rapists used digital media to document and brag about their crimes. With that in mind, I'm guessing that a found footage variation on I Spit on Your Grave is only a matter of time.
From what I've heard so far, V/H/S/2 is a better movie than its predecessor. In contrast, V/H/S is an intriguing but unsuccessful experiment with the found footage subgenre, and it thus would only be of interest of the subgenre's most devoted fans.