V/H/S is the latest found footage horror movie to hit the scene. It gained notoriety after making a splash at the Sundance Film Festival where it was bought by Magnet Releasing in the hallway after the film ended. Made with a low budget, the film has been eagerly anticipated by genre fans all over, and now it is available via all VOD outlets, to be followed by a limited theatrical run starting October 5th. V/H/S is an anthology film from some of the genre’s hottest up-and-comers, including Ti West (House of the Devil), Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way To Die), Glenn McQuaid (I Sell the Dead), David Bruckner (The Signal), Joe Swanberg (Autoerotic), and Radio Silence (the group known for making the Chad, Matt & Rob Interactive Adventures on YouTube).
To explain much about the plot is basically useless, as the plot (or absence of) is ultimately irrelevant to the experience of watching the movie. V/H/S is not your typical anthology, the wrap-around story is nothing like Creepshow where there is an explanation as to what is going on, rather, the wrap-around story only adds to the mystery proposed by each of the segments in the film. The basic plot is a group of immature 20-somethings who enjoy raising hell get hired to steal a VHS tape from a house where an old man lives. As the group makes their way into the house, they begin rifling through the many tapes in the house, and one by one, each of the guys watches a tape to find the one they are supposed to be looking for.
This sets up each of the segments, which only get weirder as the night progresses. Again, to rehash the plot of each one is basically useless, so instead I’ll comment on the style and effectiveness of each segment. The opening segment follows a group of guys as they go out on the town looking for drinks, women, and trouble. As the common theme of the entire film is started, the audience is left to wonder what the segment means.
The second segment is from Ti West, who has become a recent genre favorite, and it stars one of the other co-directors Joe Swanberg as one of the two main characters that are on a road trip. Again, the common theme among all the tapes is touched upon, and again, little explanation is given for why we see what we see, adding on to the mystery. Then the next character comes in to view his tape, a Skype conversation between a man and his girlfriend. We slowly learn that something is going on with her house, and again, we are left with more questions than answers.
The next segment was my personal favorite, a twist on the ‘Killer in the Woods’ genre trope done in a way I can say I’ve never seen before. The last segment is about a group of friends in 1998 that decide to go to a Halloween party, only to learn that they are walking into something completely different than a party.
The most common themes for this anthology are nudity and gore, both of which are featured in nearly every segment, along with the typical found footage style. The twist is the fact that a few of them are actually shot with VHS cameras, and none of the segments really feature any type of professional camera work. This is supposed to lend authenticity (as with most found footage horror films) but instead, it often distracts from trying to discern what is going on in the frame.
Ultimately, it’s a fun ride, but at 2 hours, it’s far too long for a found footage film, and most audiences will probably be turned off by the lack of explanations, not only for each individual segment, but what each one has to do with the other, and ultimately, how they all fit into the plot going on in the wrap-around. We never learn very much (there are some cross-overs between the segments that have gone over a lot of reviewers’ heads) and that is pr0bably my biggest complaint. While each one has its creepy moments, and the final segment has some balls-out horror in it, the fact that very little of it connects into a single narrative thread only hurts the film in the long run.
Most people expect some kind of explanation, especially after watching inter-connecting segments for 2 hours, so this is not one for general audiences. I’m actually surprised at the amount of positive reviews for this film. While I enjoyed quite a few of the segments as visceral experiences in horror filmmaking, the film as a whole is nothing more than that. Honestly, these would have been better presented as individual short films, they would have been more memorable, and the expectation for an explanation would not be as rampant throughout the film.
Still, if you’re looking for something to scare the shit out of your girlfriend this Halloween season, this one will work well. Just don’t go in expecting a story you’ll never forget, because that’s not something you’ll get. If you’re looking for creepy, visceral bursts of balls-out horror, then there are a few segments that will really stick with you. The mystery of it all may even bring you back for a second viewing, or have you shut the movie off in ultimate disgust, unable to forget it fast enough. The one thing I can say about this movie is it will definitely divide audiences. Take that for what you will.