V/H/S Review by Steve Pulaski
David Bruckner’s “Amateur Night:” 2/4 stars
Ti West’s “Second Honeymoon:” 3/4 stars
Glenn McQuaid’s “Tuesday the 17th:” 3.5/4 stars
Joe Swanberg’s “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger:” 3/4 stars
Adam Wingard’s “10/31/98:” 2.5/4 stars
Overall rating: 3/4 stars
If you’ve been paying even minor attention the horror festival circuits and cult cinema, it’s more than likely you’ve heard about V/H/S, the latest in horror anthology films created by a group of directors who have become recognizable names in the horror field. It seems the hippest thing to do today is to pay homage to horror styles from decades past, and that is what V/H/S‘s ultimate goal is; to bring us back to the past. It mainly wants to revive the bleeding style that went into many horror films that were shot on Betamax, super 16mm, VHS, camcorder, etc, where as another anthology horror piece, Chillerama, which pampered someone like me, was more concerned of lampooning the most baffling aspects of cheesy horror films. It’s safe to say, both work on their own terms.
Again, the only way to efficiently grade an anthology film is to look at each of the segments individually, rate them accordingly, merge them together to give an overall score, and then determine if the experience is worthy enough for a person to sit through the lesser shorts in order to get to the better ones. This one is, and even its weakest short will summon a smile to a nostalgist’s face. We start things off instantaneously, in the mix of static, blue-screens, fuzziness, shakiness, and everything else that made handheld camcorders so unique and primitive.
We begin with the central story arc, following a group of underprivileged delinquents who enjoy committing acts of vandalism and sexually harassing women right in front of their boyfriend’s eyes. They are sent by an unknown person to retrieve a VHS tape called “Tape 56.” The group of thugs enter into a strange house, accompanied by a dead man on a reclining chair in front of the Television, and begin to watch the abundance of tapes that are there in order to find the right one. Between the shorts, there will be a punctuated little snippet of the continuing events of these troubled misfits, before we return to another short.
Our first short is by David Bruckner, titled “Amateur Night,” about three friends who go out clubbing one night, with a camera hidden in one of their eye-glasses, at an attempt to hook up and have sex in their rundown hotel room. They pick up two girls, one of them has bug eyes and a soul-penetrating stare. This will, as we assume, lead to some deadly, however familiar consequences. This is the weakest short by far, mainly because of its traditional feel and its intent on following conventional little quirks found in many recent paranormal films. The effects are good, especially the cinematography, which is one thing to praise about all the shorts, the atmosphere is present, but there isn’t too much to note and it becomes an “over before you know it short” unusually quickly. Not to mention, I grew very weary of the incomprehensible camerawork early on.
Next up is Ti West’s “Second Honeymoon,” a short revolving around a married couple, vacationing in the west, where they encounter a woman who asks them for a ride (off camera). After politely declining, we see the couple being stalked by this unseen figure throughout the night, with gruesomely satisfying results. West is clearly shaping up to be one of the revivals of the horror genre, already creating a smart exercise in “slowburn” horror filmmaking with his film The Innkeepers. He is intent on atmosphere and slow-moving suspense that, more often than not, ends with a cherishable bang. Great work here.
Glenn McQuaid’s “Tuesday the 17th” is an exercise in gorgeous cinematography, showcasing four friends who vacation down to a cabin in a remote woodsy area, where one of them tells the story of how murders were committed around these parts. The other friends dismiss the stories as tired fables, but the girl is dead serious about a black-cloaked man who wanders the woods, causing frequent technical glitches in the video camera they take along and choppy sound and video whenever he appears. The short is just what it should be; eerie, unfamiliar, and intriguingly suspenseful. Possibly the only one that could’ve spawned a feature length film.
Joe Swanberg’s “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” is next, and the short is a bleeding gums exercise in style and subversive horror filmmaking. The entire short is shot on a computer screen, with a woman and her boyfriend talking in separate windows via webcam. The woman is frightened when she believes her apartment is haunted, and that paranormal demons have come to claim it. An eye-rolling idea, certainly, but terrifically executed because of stylistic intentions. Swanberg’s fascination with human communication, his interest in subversive tactics, and the lack of the incomprehensible camerawork (traded delightfully for steadiness and clearness) makes this a thoroughly enjoyable short and the film occupies a twist that you may might not have seen coming, no matter how many horror films you’ve seen.
We end things with Adam Wingard’s “10/31/98,” a favorable, yet familiar short in the world of horror. The short follows four friends (one with a nanny-cam conveniently hidden in their costume) who head to a stranger’s house for a costume party. Upon their arrival, they notice the house is deserted, but find in the attic that suspicious men are assaulting and mutilating the guests. Fun for a while, but ultimately, a little tiresome.
Regardless of quality, V/H/S never leaves its roots or abandons its idea to recreate a low budget film in homage to the camcorder days. The film’s several directors are all capable in their own way, and even if I didn’t particularly care for one of the shorts, I didn’t find one of unwatchable quality and always found something surprisingly interesting in each one. This is a fun little romp through the anthology genre of horror. It will also serve as a nice introduction to those who have no idea what the anthology genre is.
Directed by: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, and Radio Silence.