SXSW 2012: ‘V/H/S’ is a mixed bag, as with most horror anthologies

V/H/S
Written by Simon Barrett, David Bruckner, Nicholas Tecosky, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Chad Villella
Directed by Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence
USA, 2011

One of the most anticipated additions to the growing pantheon of “found footage” films this year comes in the form of an anthology. V/H/S brings together some of the hottest names in indie and genre for the project conceived by Brad Miska, founder of the horror news and blog sight BloodyDisgusting.com.

V/H/S starts off with Adam Windgard (A Horrible Way to Die) providing the connective tissue for the film with his short Tape Fifty-Six. In it a group of men film themselves destroying their surroundings and sexually assaulting random women in the park before moving on to a job given to them by a nondescript third party. The objective of the heist it to recover a similarly nondescript videotape from a house. Once they arrive, they find a dead body and a mountain of videotapes. It’s those videos that offer the segue into the various short stories.

The first tape they watch is Amateur Night by David Bruckner (The Signal). This one has a trio of dude-bros cruising the town in a set of spy glasses with hidden cameras, all in an attempt to pick up chicks, get them liquored up and film the results. Bruckner’s segment features the most polished VFX. They’re sparsely used but the result is a horrific chase sequence where the voyeurs are rewarded for their vivaciousness. Sadly, there is no happy ending.

Radio Silence’s 10/31/98 is next. The YouTube collective tells a Halloween story of four friends looking for a party but instead wander into the wrong house interrupting a group of men about to kill a young woman. The haunted house setting works nicely for it and the twist at the end marks 10/31/98 as one of the better segments.

Ti West’s Second Honeymoon is the first real letdown, which is surprising since he is arguably the most hotly-tipped filmmaker on the slate. Sophia Takal and director/actor Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes The Stairs) star. Swamberg also directed the following segment, The Strange Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger. It’s good to see that Swamberg, who is the least well known for horror, has devised the most innovative method of working within the found footage parameters. Occurring over a series of Skype conversations, The Strange Thing is an interesting tweak to the formula. The webcams confine the view to the small space directly behind the two actors, an effect that is extremely creepy and claustrophobic. As a viewer, you’ll want to scream “look out behind you!” The Skype setup is also convenient since it essentially provides a tight single shot of each actor the whole time. It’s almost like Brian De Palma’s use of split screen but updated for the 21st century and, best of all, it eliminates the shaky cam aspect.

Tuesday the 17th by Glenn McQuaid (I Sell the Dead) wraps up the shorts before going back once more to Windgard’s Tape Fifty-Six. McQuaids contribution is the least interesting. The filmmaker seems to be so in love with the effect he’s created for the killer that little thought was given to the storytelling. Granted, it is an interesting effect and it fits well within the lo-fi aesthetic the film is aiming for. Unfortunately for the film as a whole, ending on the experimental piece sucks the momentum out of the final minutes of V/H/S.

Part of the conceit for the project was that the directors developed the pieces independently of each other. That may account in part for the lack of consistency. It would have been nice to see what the collaborators could have come up with had there been more of a framework to work within, if instead of a handful of unrelated shorts we could have had a series of vignettes that grow upon a central narrative. Sadly V/H/S doesn’t break any of the molds we might have liked it to. It’s a mixed bag, as is the case with most anthologies. Heavy on style and packing plenty of street cred, V/H/S will continue to thrill festival audiences ahead of what should be a successful run on DVD and video on demand.

Scott Colquitt

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