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Toronto After Dark Summer Screening: ‘V/H/S’ is essentially the macabre kin of America’s Funniest Home Videos

Toronto After Dark Summer Screening: ‘V/H/S’ is essentially the macabre kin of America’s Funniest Home Videos


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

Written by Simon Barrett, David Bruckner, Nicholas Tecosky, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, and Chad Villella

USA, 2011

Imagine you went trick-or-treating. Knowing the area, you take a big empty bag. You go to six different houses, the ones with all the spooky decorations and lighted jack-o-lanterns. The ones where you know the owners love Halloween.

At the first house, the proprietor takes out a huge bag of candy, and as your eyes widen with gleeful expectation, they pull out one lousy piece, and drop it into your bag with a hollow thud.

As you go to the next five houses, this event repeats itself, and at the end of the night, your bag is dreadfully light; with only six small pieces from contributors that could’ve and should’ve given you much more.

When you get home, you empty out your soupçon of candy and start to eat them. But as you unwrap each piece one by one, you find them to be empty, duped out of the confectionary you were promised.

If this ever happened to you, don’t go see the found footage horror anthology, V/H/S, because it will only happen again.

Although directed by six horror film veterans, each takes a turn in passing the buck, creating gripping but pointless individual segments that ultimately disappoints. Neither relevant nor holistic, V/H/S is a disjointed excuse to see people getting killed.

The story kicks off with a group of petty criminals, ones that are foolish and audacious enough to record all their crimes and misdemeanors. Seeking more money, they accept a job from a mysterious third party, which requires them to retrieve a particular piece of footage.

Directed to go to a rundown house in the middle of nowhere, the group find, in one of the rooms, an ominous wall of televisions, along with stacks of VHS tapes. In the basement, they find even more, and as they sift through them all to find the one containing the footage, they are unceremoniously treated to an onslaught of horrifying videos.

Without reservations, all of the different sequences are amazingly well crafted, and although they may lilt in terms of quality, each has moments that are genuinely scary.

Filmed in various first-person point-of-views, the movie exists on an extremely visceral level, putting the viewer directly in the shoes of the person taking the original video, and of the criminals watching.

But where the film ultimately fails is in giving us a reason to care, particularly ‘whom’. In each segment, we are introduced to a group of people, and as we follow them and their respective ventures, we get a vague sense of whom they are.

We may or may not grow to like them during their brief appearances in the film, but when each segment concludes, they are immediately forgotten and never brought up again.

Investing in six different scenarios is emotional taxing, and by the second or third sequence, when it’s evident that all the investment was for nought, we find ourselves emotionally spent.

This also extends to their respective stories, some of which involve stalkers, aliens, haunted houses, and paranormal activity. More than once, we will be engrossed into a particular story and its mythos only to have it end abruptly.

There are more than a few instances where we want to know what happens next or why everything happened at all, only for the film to move on to the next video.

As parts, the film is very disappointing, but as a whole, it’s extremely so. The disparate videos never tie or collaborate with each other in any way, nor does it ever factor into the fate of the criminals watching them.

We are left asking why the events in the film even happen and why should we even care. Without a clear motivation or any attempt to tie things together, the film actually feels like a laboured excuse to watch people getting killed in a grotesque fashion, and to watch plenty of women get naked.

But for anyone that’s seen Cabin in the Woods and understood its underlying message, or to anyone who likes their films to make sense in totality, V/H/S and its intentions are disabused and anachronistic, amounting to what is essentially the macabre kin of America’s Funniest Home Videos.

– Justin Li

Please visit the website for Toronto After Dark