Well now, that's more like it: another anthology but with scary bits this time! V/H/S is a collection of indie horror shorts from different writers and directors, consisting of one bizarre framework story wrapped around five self-contained tales. The linking conceit is that all of it is "found footage" which, if I'm honest, was pretty wearying by the end. But when V/H/S came out, that style hadn't been done to death yet (I guess) so I'll allow it.
The framework story, "Tape 56," directed by Adam Wingard: a group of truly gross (all white, all male) thugs like to film themselves doing reprehensible things - sexual assault in parking garages, vandalism - and have the video camera (how quaint!) rolling when they do some B&Eing. They've been hired to find some rare VHS tape. They find a dead body in a room full of televisions and VCRs. While most of them split up (don't do that!) to search the house, one sits down with the dead body (WTF - why would you do that?!) and watches a video.
#1, "Amateur Night," directed by David Bruckner: This was probably my favorite as it made sense, had progression, went to a weird and bloody place and had resolution. Three hard-partying bros, one wearing camera eyeglasses (to get the "found footage"), go out for a night on the town that ends very, very badly. Moral of this story: when you're out to pick up some strange, make sure it isn't TOO strange.
#2: "Second Honeymoon," directed by Ti West: I liked this road trip one pretty well too and found it uneasy enough to watch through my fingers for a bit. A young couple road-trip through Arizona, doing young couple-y road-trippy things and videoing each other (to get the "found footage"). They get their fortune at a kiosk a la Big (Big is actually referenced) and things get sketchy from there. At first I was all WHY DON'T YOU DEADBOLT/CHAIN YOUR MOTEL ROOM DOOR and then I realized that it just didn't matter.
Framework: We keep popping back in to the B&E as the thugs keep disappearing as they search for the videotape. The dead guy also keeps disappearing - he's not always in his chair. Yikes.
#3: "Tuesday the 17th," directed by Glenn McQuaid: Four unlikable and, frankly, uninteresting young folks go up to a remote rural lake. One of them is the survivor of a massacre there from a couple years ago and she's brought her friends along as bait to try to catch the maniac. She videos it all for proof that the maniac exists (and also to get the "found footage"). It all ends as well for these kids as you might imagine. There are some interesting shots, when the video camera glitches to show the previous massacre's victims, but it all ends up muzzy and confusing: why does the killer only show up in the static? And then everyone gets killed before there's really any time to care.
Framework: Dead guy is back.
#4: "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger," directed by Joe Swanberg: The found footage here is all via Skype chats between a girl and her boyfriend who lives some states away while going to medical school She thinks her apartment is haunted - and keeps digging and scratching at her arm, yuck - and calls him at night so he can see, via the computer, what is going on. I didn't see the twist coming and, quite frankly, don't know what the hell was going on. This is one that I wish had been a little more explain-y because I liked it up until that one point when the lights came on.
Framework: From my notes: "Where's the dead guy? NOT SO DEAD"
#5: "10/31/98" by Radio Silence: This one is one of the stronger offerings with very nice special effects for such a low budget piece. Four buddies head out for a Halloween party (one guy is dressed as a teddy bear nanny-cam ... to get the "found footage"). While their driving around lost to find the party goes on a little long, once they get to the place - or what they think is the place - things start to get fun (for the viewer) and weird (for the characters). There is no one actually at this Halloween party and tension slowly ratchets up as the guys go through all the empty rooms, looking for the party. They finally find people in the attic but those people are absolutely not right; as it turns out, the house is haunted/possessed and, as the guys try to rescue the screaming woman they find tied in the attic, they find that things are not as they seem to be.
V/H/S is a mixed bag. I liked the short form story-telling, I liked the indie/low budget/practical effects and I liked the scary bits which, when they worked, worked well. In the end, however, found footage is difficult to do well and I was over it by the end.
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