Written by: Simon Barrett, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Glenn McQuaid, Nicholas Tecosky, Chad Villella & Ti West
Directed by: Bruckner, McQuaid, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, West & Wingard
V/H/S is a new horror anthology film (ala Creepshow, Trick ‘r Treat, Black Sabbath, and everyone’s favorite… Tales From The Hood) from a group of independent film writers and directors. The two biggest names involved are Ti West (who we’ll get to later) and Glenn McQuaid (Stake Land, I Sell The Dead). I’m going to try to review this without spoiling it, but I’m not usually very good at that. So, if you feel the need to bail–even though you’ve probably made up your mind just by the cup rating above, I’ll say it’s worth a shot. It’s well put together, but with some glaring flaws.
My chief complaint with V/H/S isn’t its wonky premise, or even its inconsistency; that’s just the nature of anthology films, really. There will always be hits and misses and there are certainly hits and misses here. It’s more about its casting and characters. The film is comprised of about 90% douchebags. So when I say the phrase “white college frat boy douchebags” to you…you know that person you immediately picture in your head? There are about fifteen of them in this film. A few of the men depicted show redeemable qualities, but they are a small minority. And not only are their personalities the same, they look remarkably similar between the stories as well. The film has been criticized for being misogynistic. While some of the stories come off that way, I don’t feel myself qualified to deem the entire film one way or the other. I can most certainly say is that none of the men shown here are people that anyone reading this will want to be around for long periods of time.
[ad#longpost]The wrap-around-story-and-premise, called “Tape 56,” is this: a group of douchebags (and, as you’ll quickly learn, these are the biggest and douchiest of them all) are hired by an anonymous scumbag to break into a house and retrieve a specific VHS tape. When they arrive, they discover a murder scene, dead body, and a pile of unlabeled VHS tapes. The only identifying information given to them is that “they’ll know it when they see it”, so they…sit down in the middle of this murder scene, and start watching tapes…while filming themselves…you know, like you do. Through the course of watching these tapes, all hell breaks loose for them. The end is fairly predictable (“So…that thing we focused on totally won’t be a thing later on…”), but there’s some small comfort in knowing these guys get their well-deserved comeuppance at the end.
The first story, “Amateur Night,” written and directed by David Bruckner (The Signal), is pretty good. A decent twist on a certain creature that’s enjoyed a surge of popularity lately, though telling you which would spoil it. What makes this story great is Hannah Fierman, the girl who plays “Lily.” She is creepy. Like, unnaturally creepy. There are several parts where, due to the nature of the filming method, she stares directly into the camera; and it is all you can do not to check your phone, look at the popcorn bowl, anything to avert from this woman’s gaze. It’s our nature to look away from someone staring into your eyes, but this is a whole extra level of squirm. There are no CGI effects, no make-up prosthetics or lighting tricks (at first) that I could tell, just this woman’s ability to be unsettling. More Douchebags get creepy girl and her friend drunk, and take them back to a motel. Then all hell breaks loose. It’s also worthy of note that, according to the credits, the motel this is filmed in is called “The Beer Goggles Motel.” Well played, motel.
The next story, “Second Honeymoon,” is written and directed by Ti West. A couple on their second honeymoon run into a creepy girl, and all hell…sort of dribbles forth. Ti West has also written/directed The Innkeepers, Cabin Fever 2, and House of The Devil. I like Ti West. If you haven’t seen House of The Devil, I highly recommend it. It’s Ti West doing what Ti West does best: creating an atmosphere and slow burn horror. You’ll watch House of The Devil, and won’t believe it wasn’t made twenty-five years before its release in 2009. Save for some dialogue bits, he crafts the atmosphere of the 80s creepy house film unbelievably well. Unfortunately, what you need for atmosphere and slow-burn plots are time. Time, of course, is not available in a horror anthology. So, I couldn’t help but feel “Second Honeymoon” was a waste. It’s not even that it was a bad story, it was just so completely inconsistent with the other stories. In a feature-length format, or a different anthology all together, it could have been good. As it is, it feels like the weakest link in V/H/S‘s chain.
Then comes “Tuesday The 17th.” This story basically feels like the writer/director (Glenn McQuaid) had an idea for a really awesome scene, and built a small story around it. To that end, I though it was fabulous. The character called The Glitch (really pays to watch the credits for this film) was something really clever and done really well. Glenn McQuaid has a background in visual effects, and he certainly showcases his talent. Unfortunately the acting here may be the worst of the bunch, and as I said, the story is…well there wasn’t really much of one at all. So, take it as just a cool scene built around a cool idea, and you’ll come away from it fairly happy.
Next, courtesy of Simon Barrett and Joe Swanberg, is the most fun title: “The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger.” Alternate title: “Man, This Chick Is A Total Nutcas-HOORAY BOOBIES.” Here we’re basically watching a young couple dating over Skype. The girl believes her house to be haunted. So…wait for it. Yes, all hell breaks loose. Yes, we’re watching a screencap of someone’s computer with Skype running. Yes, this is supposed to be on a VHS tape. Remember how I said the premise was wonky, and you were all like “but, it’s called V/H/S, and we’re watching a bunch of VHS tapes, what’s wonky about that”? There ya go. Wonky premise. Anyway, this is another twist on a popular theme; this time haunted house films like Silent House and Paranormal Activity. It’s done fairly well, and though the scares are completely predictable, the twist I did not see coming at all. Unfortunately I didn’t really get it either, again, until seeing the character names in the end credits. Looking back on it, that may well have been my own personal thickness. So, well done “TSTTHTEWSWY (AT:MTCIATNHB),” for doing something original to an overused trope, even if it did take me forever to figure it out.
The last story is “10/31/98,” written and directed by a team called “Radio Silence” (no relation to the Thomas Dolby song, I assume). A group of college douchebags go to a house where, they’re told, the will be a totally bitchin’ Halloween party. They find the house to be empty, save for a few scares “set-up” on the main floor, and the group of people in the attic. The group of people in the attic are having a party, the douchebags join, everyone has a good time, and everything is fine. That, except for when all that doesn’t happen, and all hell breaks loose instead. This is a basic Lovecraft-flavored haunted house tale, and by that standard, it’s quite good. The effects involved in the scares are a nice mix of old classics and stuff you likely have not seen before. The ending is predictable from the start, when you see “the thing that couldn’t possibly be a thing later on,” but the journey to get there is quite fun. I may have just been sucked in by the effects, but I thought this was the best film of the bunch.
So, for all it’s flaws, V/H/S was crafted well. It won’t be unseating Trick ‘r’ Treat as the best horror anthology film since Creepshow, but it’s definitely worth seeing. On the subject of seeing it, you can do so via Amazon Instant Video. It’s currently in limited theatrical release, before it hits DVD/Blu-Ray in December. If you’re a fan of the genre, I’d say it’s worth catching on VOD. Full theater ticket price…well, I wouldn’t advise against it, but I’m glad I didn’t. If you miss all that, or if you’re only casually into horror, it’s certainly worth a rental.