Fantasia 2012: ‘V/H/S’ – a film effective in turning voyeurism into horror

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V/H/S

Directed by David Bruckner, Ty West, Radio Silence, Glenn McQuaid  Radio Silence  Joe Swanberg and Adam Wingard

Screenplay by Simon Barrett, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez , Glenn McQuai, Radio Silence, Nicholas Tecosky, Chad Villella and Ti West

2012, USA

The faux-documentary, “cinema verité” camera style is increasingly prevalent in horror flicks these days, mostly because it cuts down on budget-costs for genre filmmakers. There are various ways in which the found footage genre uses the camera to tell the story. Some let the camera do all the work while others provide interviews, commentary, and other narrative gimmicks to support the narrative.

Anthology horror films are a tricky beast. The rule of thumb is, usually only half of the segments are generally satisfying while the remainder leave a lot to be desired (save for the few successes such as Asylum, Creepshow, and Trick ‘r Treat).

When compared to the pristine picture quality of high definition that modern day audiences are now accustomed to, the VHS format is an antiquated, dilapidated format – an artifact from the past that may hold sentimental value to those who grew up in the 80’s but is generally frowned down upon by everyone else.

So on paper V/H/S shouldn’t work. The idea of integrating the above concepts and conceits all into one feature length film spells disaster. But thankfully V/H/S is smarter than the average horror film and while not all six segments work – each chapter of the anthology has something different to offer horror fans. Helmed by a who’s-who of current genre filmmakers, V/H/S is delivered with a good sense of playfulness, while still finding time to effectively deliver the thrills and scares.

The predominant theme in V/H/S is subverting the male gaze through the use of modern technology, while you, the voyeur viewer, are morally questioned for taking pleasure in the horrific events that unfold. Set in the age of the Internet, portable cams and I Phones, the movie becomes a video within a video within a video; a film so effective in turning voyeurism into horror – it’s perhaps deserving of a future cult status.

V/H/S features five stories plus a wraparound tale all presented in the “found footage” style:

“Tape 56”

Directed by Adam Wingard

The segments are loosely tied together by a frame story directed by Adam Wingard, and the frame story is by far the weakest link. In this case, the wraparound tells the story of a group of delinquents who are hired to steal a mysterious videotape from a spooky, rundown house. Upon arrival, they discover a dead body and a slew of VHS cassettes of which they begin to watch one at a time, and it’s from those that the five segments are born. While the idea of this tie-in is intriguing, it becomes a strain on the viewers mostly because the main characters are unbearably unlikable. Even worse, the wraparound segment is traditionally meant to bookend an anthology, but here, it finishes before the last segment of the movie – leaving audiences to wonder why it was included in the first place?

“Amateur Night”

Directed by David Bruckner

“Amateur Night” has two advantages. First, the perspective of the short is seen through a secret spy-cam in the main character’s specs and secondly, it features some excellent practical effects work. The segment may start slow but it eventually accelerates to a fever pitch of complete and utter terror and hysteria.

“Second Honeymoon”

Directed by Ty West

“Second Honeymoon” features a young couple video documenting their vacation through the Southwest. Unbeknownst to them, a mysterious figure is secretly stalking their every move and videotapes them in their sleep. Apart from one minor chill “Second Honeymoon” is the weakest segment of the bunch culminating with a terribly unsatisfying twist.

“Tuesday the 17th”

Directed by Glenn McQuaid

Director Glenn McQuaid (I Sell The Dead) puts his own spin on 80s slasher films. With a fairly simple audio-visual trick up his sleeve, he has the killer manifest as a digitally staggered look – much like steadily increasing tracking flaws in a worn out VHS cassette.

“The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Young”

Directed by Joe Swanberg

The Fourth segment and perhaps the second best of the group is easily the most original. Created entirely using Skype video calls, a woman named Emily calls her boyfriend late at night when concerned that her apartment may be haunted. This tale of a long-distance relationship sees the couple investigating her apartment via webcam, over a period of several nights. Of the entire lot, this one manages to not only be a great parody of the found footage genre, but also offers a couple of surprising plot twists and several genuine scares.

“10/31/98″

Directed by Radio Silence (a short-film collective comprised of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, and Chad Villella)

The final of the five segments, serves as a genuinely creepy, satirical devilish delight. “10/31/98″ is a balls out Scooby Doo chase through a haunted house – up to the attic, amidst an exorcism, down to the cellar, and through long corridors complete with spooky peripheral occurrences that give way to levitating objects, vampire bats, and disembodied hands that merge from walls (think Repulsion). Que a possessed virgin, a car chase and even more increased special effects, and this collage of pop up horror, spectacular weirdness, and fantastic imagery is a marvel for its invention and fury.

– Ricky D

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