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V/H/S Review

A well-synchronized blend of old-school approach and modern gimmick, V/H/S unevenly but successfully marries the horror anthology with found footage to create an always-creepy, frequently scary collection of shorts from some of today’s best independent horror directors. V/H/S is comprised of five free-standing films and one overarching story that explains the context that has resulted in us watching these disturbing tapes to begin with. This “present day” storyline titled Tape 56 is by far the weakest for a number of reasons. For one, it is the most traditional concerning what we’ve seen from the found-footage genre, simply chronicling a bunch of morons as they rob a house to retrieve a tape for a mysterious third party and get knocked off one by one. Furthermore, because we only revert back to this tale when “the tape needs to be switched” it comes off extremely fractured and muted in tenseness. When we’re only talking about 20 minutes worth of time to unravel your story to begin with, checking in on this chapter for three minutes at a time feels more like a burden, and one that adds to an already overlong running length. That being said, things begin on a strong note with Amateur Night, a twisted combination of Superbad and Splice that follows three college guys as they attempt to get laid, all while recording everything for their gratification via a hidden camera in a pair of glasses. The more reserved, bespectacled member is reluctant to participate, though he turns out to be one of the luckier ones (or as it turns out massively un-lucky) and brings a quiet, odd woman back to their motel room. Needless to say things escalate quickly and gruesomely from there. It’s a tense and well-acted morality tale that takes your basic Twilight Zone episode and tortures it until deranged. Next is Second Honeymoon, a far more restrained chapter from Ti West, director of House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. Second Honeymoon is far more about its characters, road-tripping couple Sam and Stephanie. Their authentic exchanges as they sight-see and shoot the shit is right on par from what we’ve seen from West’s previously sharp screenplays. Things become utterly terrifying however as the duo goes to sleep in a series of roadside motor inns and they are (unknowingly to anyone but the viewer) terrorized by a knife wielding intruder (who also does odd things to some of the toiletries). Essentially, you’ll never want to sleep in a hotel again. This is one of the weaker chapters from a horror perspective simply because the actual horror is kept to short bursts in an already short segment. Next is the mandatory slasher-inspired tape Tuesday the 17th, an ultimately very interesting part of V/H/S that puts a technologically driven spin on the "cabin in the woods" trope. This is a tape actually best left undescribed, but I will say it is gory and offers up a fun twist, all while playing with the stereotypes of these characters a la this year’s aptly titled The Cabin in the Woods. Do you want to know The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger? You probably do thanks to this perplexing supernatural-haunted house story that finds a woman named Emily who begins to believe there is something sinister in her apartment. Through video chat with her boyfriend she attempts to get to the bottom of things, but these things, as it turns out, are not what they seem. Offering up more questions than answers, “Sick Thing” will likely infuriate some, but keeping in the tradition of the previous chapters, it’s all sick and twisted fun. The last and best tape in V/H/S’ canon is 10/31/98, directed by the filmmaking quartet known as “Radio Silence.” Heading off to a Halloween house party, four friends in full costume accidently arrive at the wrong house. Finding nobody, they initially suspect the abode has been set up as a haunted house for the party. They soon find out this is not the case, or at least not of the manmade variety. 10/31/98 is extremely tense and features a perfect ending for the type of film that it is, even if you’re able see it coming (genre fans likely will). The strengths and weaknesses of V/H/S as a whole basically come down to elements inherently found in the anthology format. From a found footage, shaky-cam standpoint, the shorter movies within the movie actually help mask the genre’s drawbacks, as being brief we don’t begin to question why these characters are still carrying around a camera as shit starts going bananas. On the negative side of things, there are pitfalls in both the film as a whole from a narrative standpoint and in its chapters (a weak performance here, an ineffective scare there) which do add up somewhat when all is said and done. As a whole, however, V/H/S is a diverting, fun and ultimately ambitious horror project that showcases promising talent across the board. Even if you’ve grown immensely tired of the found-footage gimmick, there is enough skilful craft on display that the film transcends its roots and doesn’t feel anything like just another cookie-cutter attempt to make a scary movie on the cheap and force it down our throats. There is genuine love on display from people who know and appreciate horror, even if they’re all twisted freaks.  


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