It has become increasingly cliché to discuss “The Blair Witch Project” when reviewing a found footage horror film, but that’s the first place my mind travels when faced with the now painfully overdone horror subgenre. It not only turned the idea of low-budget, high-profit filmmaking on its ear, but, it grew into a pop culture phenomenon and reached a height that contemporary films of the same vein dream of attaining. The fresh subgenre it spawned has now decayed and withered into a cheap, ineffective self-parody of itself. After watching the once mighty George A. Romero tarnish his legacy with the dreadful “Diary of the Dead” and witnessing the unapologetic cash-grab the “Paranormal Activity” franchise has turned into, I swore to never again watch another found footage horror film. Then, through random Internet browsing, I stumbled upon the trailer for “V/H/S”. Just when I thought I was out…they pulled me back in.
Five stories are presented by a group of up-and-coming independent directors and tied together by a frame story. The frame story, “Tape 56”, follows a group of young perverts worthy of scorn friends who accept an offer from an anonymous individual to break into a house and retrieve a VHS tape. The promise of immense monetary compensation only sweetens the deal, and the friends venture into the house in search of the video tape. What they find while inside, among other things, is a plethora of tapes they are forced to sort through in hopes of finding the right one. So, they pop five into the VCR, and the tapes they view form the bulk of the film. As a frame story, it is effective in the aspect that it sets up the anthology, but that’s all. The dialogue is poorly written, and the characters therein will grate on your nerves as they forsake human decency and you beg for their comeuppance.
Those negative aspects are cornerstones of most of the stories presented, which is unfortunate, but at the same time, it’s somewhat understandable. The filmmakers involved know their audience, and give them what they’re hoping to see: blood, gore, nudity and the like. But, in the midst of the typical flaws that keep good horror from becoming great horror, there are actually quite a few enjoyable moments that impressed me. In the tapes “Amateur Night” and “10/31/98” there are decent and original ideas and technologies employed that you wouldn’t normally expect to see in a no-budget horror film. Also, the cinematography fits all of the stories so well, so I doubt filmgoers will succumb to nausea, or what I’ve dubbed FFS (Found Footage Sickness).
I do question the order in which the stories are presented, as the greatest of the five is presented first. I expected “V/H/S” to follow suit with other anthologies and put the weaker parts first, sort of like an opening act, and allow the film to build in quality to the headliner. Instead, what you get is a mixed-bag, wanting to cheer after a few, and feeling let down after others. At two hours of runtime, I couldn’t help but think a weaker segment could’ve been trimmed a bit, or completely left out altogether.
When all is said and done, the filmmakers must be commended for the innovative idea of pairing anthology with found footage. But, at the same time, I have to ask myself, does the good outweigh the bad? Are the stellar “Amateur Night”, the eerie “Second Honeymoon”, and the nifty “10/31/98” worth sitting through the pointless “Tuesday the 13th”, the confusing “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” and the dreadful frame story “Tape 56”? The answer is…surprisingly, yes.
As one entity, “V/H/S” is a lot of fun to watch, especially with a group of friends. It’s great Friday night horror, and it really doesn’t try to be anything more than that.
(“V/H/S” is rated R for bloody violence, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, pervasive language, and some drug use.)
Here is the trailer for your viewing pleasure: