Spoiler-free review of new horror film “V/H/S” – 3.9 stars

V/H/SV/H/S is a new horror anthology film made up of a series of found-footage shorts written and directed by Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, and the a directing foursome called Radio Silence.  This film is part of the “found footage” horror genre in case you weren’t aware.

Out in theaters now, I had the chance to record and see it early thanks to DirecTV’s HDNet channel which typically has one free showing of a film each month before it’s in theaters.  Fortunately for me, the films are typically indie, foreign and often horror genre.

Overall I REALLY enjoyed this film for trying something new.  I will always be supportive of films that try to do something interesting even if the final product isn’t perfect.

The poster at left is an inventive image of a skull made from VHS tapes arranged to form a pattern.  I particularly like the use of old school video given most young people seeing this won’t know what the hell a video tape is….

So what is the film “about?”  The overarching story (aka “Tape 56″) follows a group of low level criminals who seem to spend most of their time f’ing stuff up and filming themselves (ala almost anything you see on “World’s Dumbest…” show on TruTV).

I particularly liked how they showed distortions and videotape glitches that those of us growing up making video/audio tapes remember well.  Taping over prior recordings was S.O.P., but due to bad timing and/or physical glitches distortions and bleed through were common.  I even had times were audio for something old mixed with video for something new.

Young people today growing up with MP3s and other digital media are spoiled with near perfect quality and recording tools.  Hence anyone can be an instant YouTube popstar.  But back in the day, shit could get weird and when you see what this group of ne’er-do-wells is taping over it’s pretty funny.

The film is basically about this group of guys breaking into some guy’s home to steal a videotape.  One of the group promises he got the job as a test from someone, it pays well and if they succeed more work like this is coming.  We’re never told what the videotape is that they’re looking for (which is fine with me), nor why someone would pay to have it stolen.  They break in at night and find a creepy dark house with a room full of TVs and VCRs upstairs and a collection of videotapes tucked away in the basement.  Splitting up, one group is in the basement gathering up tapes (in a very claustrophobic basement filled with clutter and only illuminated by their video cameras’ lights).

The other group keeps searching the upstairs and playing the videos left in the TV room.  When they hit play, our view is the video they’re watching.  Essentially there are then a series of short films inserted into the overall burglary story.  Are they truly scary and terrifying?  I’ve certainly seen scarier films.  I had a really bad headache by the end and I believe 2 hours of the handheld camera motion did it to me.  It seems to die down over each film as the first few were really motion-jarring, but all of them have the running and filming issues.  So big warning if you get motion sick from shaky cameras (hallmarks of “found footage” films) this might be a rough ride.

The films seemed to get better as the film progresses.  I was particularly interested to see the short film by Ti “House of the Devil” West.  All of them are interesting and have some creepy moments (some more than others).  One about 4 friends going to the woods is a really great idea once you know why 1 of the girls has gotten to this particular camping spot and the f/x of the horror in this one was REALLY cool both visually and the audio.  The last story I really loved the set up and though it goes a bit overboard with visual effects which frankly I thought were too much and unnecessary, I like the story and use of sound as 4 guys going to a Halloween party explore a house where they think the party is at (unless they’re lost and this is really the WRONG house).

So other than some unnecessary visual effects and the caveat about motion sickness concerns, I definitely recommend horror film fans check it out.  I hope it also inspires more horror anthologies as short films are perfect for horror which is often stretched to 90-120min with only 30 min of really horror story.  In terms of “found footage” which began really was born of “Blair Witch Project,” I think “V/H/S” and “Sinister” have both taken this format in new directions, but though we’ll see more it’s probably a well that’s running dry.

How to rate this film?  Individually I would say:

Amateur Night” – 3.5* (Directed by David Bruckner) – the main girl – creepy as all hell, slow burn

Second Honeymoon” – 3.5* (Directed by Ti West) – slow burn (definitely his style) and based on a road trip he took and recreated here with the horror added (which is also his trademark making “The Innkeepers” about a scary hotel after cast/crew stayed in a creepy hotel making his first film “House of the Devil”) – reminds me of David Lynch’s “Lost Highway” in a few aspects.

Tuesday the 17th” – 4.5* (Directed by Glenn McQuaid) – really liked this new take on killer in the woods with group of young people, f/x in particular awesome!

The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” – 3.5* (Directed by Joe Swanberg) – creepy and obviously influenced by “Paranormal Activity” and other films which I can’t mention as it would spoil it.

10/31/98” – 4.5* (Directed by Radio Silence) – really liked this story of lost guys looking for a Halloween party, use of sound in particular is really well done as they move through/up an old house and the sounds get louder…

Overall:  3.9* out of 5*

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iv6S3RGMGw8

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Posted in author, Horror, Movies I recommend, Musings on art, Musings on movies, Terror, Video items, writer, writing
3 comments on “Spoiler-free review of new horror film “V/H/S” – 3.9 stars
  1. Hunter says:

    Thank you for posting your review of V/H/S, Robert. I went online Friday afternoon and rented V/H/S just before leaving my office at DISH. It was loaded on my Hopper and ready to watch by the time I walked in my door. I have always loved a good horror anthology, and there are a few found footage movies that I have really enjoyed. I know there is a tendency to review each vignette, but that is a disservice to the film. Each vignette had its share of good and bad, but over all I liked the movie. The only thing I take issue with is the lack of story surrounding Tape 56 and the collection. Maybe if we knew more about how that collection came into existence, I wouldn’t have such a problem with a Skype chat being recorded to a V/H/S tape.

    • robertropars says:

      Thanks for the comments, very much appreciated! I generally would agree, but felt such diverse reactions to each that I wanted to review separately as individual short horror films. I liked some of the vagueness of the overarching story, but seemed somewhat haphazard and not as scary as it could have been. Who was that person briefly glimpsed in the basement? The guy in the chair disappearing and reappearing seemed like trying to be creepy, but never felt that scary. And I didn’t want to get too into details since it was just coming out (spoilers) but I had the same “issue” with the Skype thing… Not impossible that someone recorded their screen during Skype chats and output to video, but why? I’m going to watch it again after some time goes by and see if hits me differently. The motion of the handheld cameras really ended up giving me a headache which is one thing about these “found footage” flicks I’m not a fan of, but such is the nature of this type of art.

  2. J. Michael Wright says:

    I’ve seen this movie at the local Redbox and I’ve been interested in seeing it. Thanks for the review. It seemed pretty creepy.

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