Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Tyler Gillet, Justin Martinez, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Chad Villella, Ti West and Adam Wingard.
Starring Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes, Mike Donlan, Hannah Fierman and Joe Swanberg.
When a group of misfits is hired by an unknown third party to burglarize a desolate house and acquire a rare VHS tape, they discover more found footage than they bargained for.
Living in the UK often means that films come out with a lot of hype surrounding them. If you know horror movie lovers, then you won’t have escaped the hype that V/H/S brought last year. It seemed I couldn’t go to a social media channel without hearing something about this movie and how it ‘re-defined’ horror anthologies. Sadly, some of these films just don’t live up to the hype they get – and V/H/S is one of them.
Clocking in at a staggering 1 hour and 56 minutes, V/H/S is a long, bloated, boring and ultimately headache-inducing movie that offers no scares, no thrills, no excitement and no imagination.
V/H/S is an anthology movie akin to films such as Twilight Zone: The Movie and Trick ‘R Treat but uses the ‘found footage’ gimmick that has ruined many other horror movies over the last year or so. These five stories are loosely interlinked by a group of youths who film themselves breaking into an old man’s house to find a VHS tape (for reasons that are never explained). While there, they find the old man dead and one by one they begin to watch the VHS tapes that he had around or in his VHS player. And here is where the main problem lies.
The first story (Amateur Night) involves a group of horny teenagers who plan on making an amateur sex tape using a pair of glasses with a digital camera installed in them. If the group recorded their footage on a digital camera, why does the old man have it on a VHS tape? The first story isn’t the only one to fall for this either and in fact only one of the stories (the last one) actually uses the VHS gimmick with every other story using digital cameras or webcam recording facilities (because when you think VHS, you think Skype). If you’re going to go to the trouble of making an anthology horror based around people watching old VHS tapes, why wouldn’t you make the effort to give all your stories that VHS feel or take advantage of the sounds that VHS players made? Each of the directors try to give their stories a grainy effect in post-production, but you can’t get away from the fact these are digitally recorded and therefore would not be on VHS.
Aside from being uncreative with the anthology format, the stories themselves are less than inspired. The first story is far too long and becomes nauseating to watch as the lead character runs at high speed and we view it from a first person perspective. The story does have a nice progression and probably the best ending of the lot, but the characters are highly unlikeable and it never seems to end. Conversely the second story (Second Honeymoon) is far too short but has best set-up of the bunch. A couple on a road trip stop off and get a card from a fortune telling machine which seems to accurately predict their fate. It reminded me of The Twilight Zone episode Nick of Time but this doesn’t have the payoff and reward that story gave us and instead cuts off short without giving a satisfying conclusion.
The third story (Tuesday the 17th) appears to be a parody of teen slasher movies of the 80s like Sleepaway Camp and Friday the 13th as it plays to the clichés of the sub-genre. However it doesn’t tell its story well and it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. We’re never told who the killer is or how he operates and because we don’t care about the cut-out characters, we’re not emotionally invested in the tale. From a story and conclusion standpoint, the fourth VHS (The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger) is probably the best but does come off as a poor Paranormal Activity knock off. Unlike the third story where it doesn’t give its audience any information, this story does well in informing its audience of what they are watching and aside from the contrived webcam recording gimmick, this is probably the most effective story.
As previously mentioned, the final story (10/31/98) is the only one (outside of the connecting thread) to take advantage of the VHS gimmick and is probably the most visually impressive story from the collection. The haunted house motif is played quite nicely, the special effects are chilling and the ending is effective, but it’s ruined by the POV self-shot perspective and terrible characterisation. Like the majority of the stories within V/H/S, poor writing and terrible pacing let this story down which does ruin any impact it could have had.
In the last episode of The Flickering Myth Podcast, I mentioned how last year’s Chronicle was a great movie that was ruined by the found footage sub-genre. While I don’t think V/H/S would have been a better movie without the stomach turning shaky cam method of filmmaking, it still would have failed as an experiment because the stories just aren’t strong enough. They’re not given enough time to develop character and/or story and just resort to simple scares to try and get a rise from its audience – which, when looking at the running time, seems remarkable.
Sadly, V/H/S does not live up to the hype it received. The found footage method doesn’t work within the films rules and becomes infuriating and sickening by the end and the stories themselves are boring, bland and uncreative. The first story is too long, the second is too short, the third makes no sense, the fourth is a Paranormal Activity knock-off, and the fifth comes too late in the day. I know we’re only a couple of weeks into the new year, but I will be amazed if I see 10 films worse than this in 2013. A horrendous movie.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ / Movie ★
Luke Owen is a freelance copywriter working for Europe’s biggest golf holiday provider as their web content executive.