Thursday, September 27, 2012

V/H/S

Horror anthology films are a cool idea in theory that almost never succeed in practice. They carry with them a strange sense of hope--if one short film doesn't entirely work, the next one just might. Personally, I've got a soft spot for horror anthologies in general, and '80s anthologies like Creepshow and Twilight Zone: The Movie in particular, but I'll admit that the results in even these sentimental favourites are wildly uneven. The new anthology V/H/S is a fun and well-intentioned attempt to meld the spirit of those movies to the current found-footage horror craze (with a retro-sounding title thrown in for good measure), but while there's something to enjoy in each of the five segments (six if you count the wraparound segments, directed by Simon Barrett) none of them is fully successful.
A framing sequence called "Tape 56", itself composed of shaky camcorder footage, sets up the premise. A group of criminals who specialize in uploading their antisocial activities onto the Internet are asked to break into a house and steal a particular video tape, having been told by their employer that they'll " know it when they see it". Turns out the house is filled with unlabeled VHS tapes, as well as a dead (or is he?) old guy seated in front of a staticky TV set. The gang watches tape after tape in search of the right one, uncovering one macabre tableau after another while things in the house begin to get weirder and weirder.
The first film, "Amateur Night", follows three unlucky douchebags who outfit one of their number with camera-equipped glasses, for the purpose of picking up strange girls in a bar and recording the sexy results in a nearby hotel room. Directed by David Bruckner, the film builds to a predictable twist, but is carried off by imaginative effects and an effective performance by leading lady Hannah Fierman. Next up is "Second Honeymoon", from director Ti West (House of the Devil, The Innkeepers), a tale of a vacationing couple being trailed by a mysterious girl. I have a lot more patience for West's slow-burn style than most, but other than a creepily voyeuristic interlude that recalls the opening shot of Manhunter, it's pretty dull stuff and probably the weakest of the bunch. Thankfully, it's followed by the best installment, Glenn McQuaid's "Tuesday The 17th", a slasher-in-the-woods riff that has some good shocks and the nifty gimmick of a killer who can't be videotaped (all that shows up are tracking lines in the rough shape of a man). Joe Swanberg's "The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger" is told in the form of Skype messages between a med student and his girlfriend, who claims to be menaced by ghostly children in the night. A couple of effective scares and an imaginative storytelling device can't make up for the confusing wrap-up, though. And the last film, "10/31/98" (from four directors collectively known as Radio Silence) is probably the most visually ambitious of the group. A gang of dudes on their way to a Halloween party end up at the wrong address and wind up barging in on a ritual sacrifice, unleashing a very real house of horrors as a result.
It could be that V/H/S's biggest failing is that its framing sequence is kind of a dud. We never do learn who wanted the mysterious tape, or what was supposed to be on it (is it one of the ones we in the audience get to see or isn't it?), and what exactly happens to the would-be thieves is unclear. Still, I'd rather sit through an ambitious failure than another in the seemingly endless string of exorcism thrillers that don't seem to be going away any time soon. Ambition trumps repetition every time, which makes the flawed-but-fun V/H/S worth a rental at the very least.

1 comment:

Shawn McLeod said...

I had the same thoughts. Imperfect but ambitious. An enjoyable experience.