Thanks to our good friend Corey Pierce (aka Goon) from the CriticalMassCast for hooking us up with this latest horror review of V/H/S/.
Found footage movies have been greeted with a growing amount of contempt over the last year, and I’ve been one of the voices of contempt. While I’ve enjoyed [REC.] and to a lesser extent it’s sequel, in general for me this style is a gimmick I can do without, and shrug at even more than 3D. I wasn’t even satisfied with Chronicle. The format for me seems to often be an excuse for lousy dialogue and not much happening, where even the slightest bit of terror or entertainment becomes much bigger than it actually is. Maybe I’m just a cynic with this stuff, or maybe I’ve seen enough well done fake documentaries than found footage just does not cut the mustard.
I caught this as a double feature during Toronto After Darks’ Summer Screenings. After seeing Joseph Khan’s excellent Detention, and since I had a free pass, I had actually resigned myself to possibly walk out if I wasn’t digging the much-hyped V/H/S, an anthology film promising a reasonable, easily digestible number of segments – more than Creepshow, but less than Paris Je T’Aime. I was already quite tired and had tasks at home going ignored anyways. Instead I found myself very engaged for the full run time, even if not always for purely positive reasons.
The framing device around this film (known as “Tape Fifty-Six”) … is pathetic, and could have been dropped entirely in place of just showing the short films in order with little effect on the overall product. The story goes that a set of lowlifes, who make money humiliating women by pulling off their tops for bootleg videos, are called upon to retrieve a specific video tape from a spooky home where a dead man sits in a room full of video screens. These scenes are never engaging, falling victim to every bad trope of horror movies, and never pays off in any satisfactory way or successfully coheres the individual films into part of a larger story. I was actually quite annoyed before we even got to our first real segment, and every time we had to cut back to the main storyline I was anxious to move along to the next. They are never long enough to drastically detract from the overall experience though, so on to the shorts:
“Amateur Night” (there are no title cards to the these segments by the way – the titles are in the end credits) is more or less my negative stereotype of found footage movies, and yet I found it to be one of the better segments. A crew of douchebags, not unlike the tools in our framing device, have a pair of video-glasses that they intend to use to film some sort of secret POV porn back in their seedy hotel room. We are treated to dialogue along the lines of “Shit dude, like… fuck” repeatedly as we watch them kill brain cells at a local club trying to find someone to take home with them. Eventually a creepy girl emerges who likes the meek, out of place, nerdy man behind the glasses. She’s obviously feral, however they’ve been drinking, she could pass for drunk, and she’s game, so they take her back to the hotel. From here I refrain from exposing what happens, only to say that it’s a bit obvious, but it’s effectively and convincingly presented with a solid payoff.
Ti West’s contribution, “Second Honeymoon”, is a step up in some ways, but lacks a satisfying conclusion. A couple is documenting a trip that seems to be somewhere around the Grand Canyon, which was a surprisingly pretty sight to be found footage movie. Very soon on their trip they come across a woman looking for a ride who we don’t really see, who gets more involved with their trip than the young couple is aware of. Ti West, unlike other horror filmmakers, seems to understand that it’s okay for your characters to be sweet and likeable. I don’t know why most horror movie characters need to be assholes rather than like these two. Maybe this is a statement about the kind of people who see horror movies, dumbing them down so they can see themselves on screen? I don’t get it. Considering the ending, this story wouldn’t even work without the character work Ti West puts into this thing, letting that development make the tense moments all the more horrifying.
“Tuesday the 17th” has an interesting gimmick of a killer who only appears as a glitch on video tape, however otherwise, is a bottom-level in-the-woods crapfest that should have been cut from the film altogether, as it is by far the worst story here. The acting is ridiculously bad, and the dialogue is worse. There is actually nothing to say about it more than this, because there is really nothing there. Next.
When “The Strange Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” started, I thought it was going to suck, and I’m still not sure if it did or not. In this story 2 people in a long distance relationship are having a series of video Skype chats during which some creepy ghost action is going down, which the boyfriend is helpless to help and can only observe. The format is both clever but also highlights some huge questions regarding a potentially mega-plot hole and a lot of questionable behavior. However most of these frustrating aspects may be settled by a twist that was both decent and lame at the same time. Considering at this point the short had taken on a “Seriously? Really?” throw-up-your-hands camp quality, I’m inclined to say that it actually works.
The final piece, “10/31/98″, has a pretty simple haunted house story, and once again, we are back to the “Shit dude, fuck” school of dialogue and “Why are they still recording this?” annoyances that bog down most found footage films. This one however, was seemingly most peoples’ favorite, because the people in this one play up their horror very amusingly, and at one point this thing takes a turn from the usual tropes into a very entertaining and impressively produced ride. It also has the most satisfying conclusion, which the film mercifully ends on rather than jumping back to the lousy framing device.
After the screening a number of ladies were conveying annoyance at the nudity in this film, and I get it. While “Amateur Night” has a right to lay claim with the porn angle, and “…Emily” ties it in regarding the long distance relationship, when you combine it with the disturbing nudity in the framing device, which very played unwarranted through the end credits numerous times, I wince. In the case of “Emily”, I actually (maybe I’m a prude) felt a bit odd. I find it always weird when the heroine or final girl in a horror movie lets the bra drop instead of the murder bait. There’s something about it that doesn’t feel right, feels tacked on, just because they can, just because they hired a lower tier actress who will do whatever is asked of her. Again, maybe I’m a prude AND a hypocrite (Hey, when these boobs appeared, I did look and evaluate), but it was distracting.
All in all, V/H/S works and could make a lot of coin if it had a proper release. Sure, it’s overhyped, it’s not actually scary, and it’s definitely not revolutionary… but it kept a horror/found footage cynic happy for nearly 2 hours. That’s gotta account for something. Genre fans may be more hard to please, or maybe easier, I don’t know, I don’t exactly get horror buffs. I can only tell people like me, who I know are out there, that there are far worse horror movies out every other weekend you should be ignoring in place of giving reasonably clever and occasionally great little flicks like this a go.