V/H/S—What’s Playing?

By Casey Campbell

In the scope of recent horror cinema, I’m hard pressed to name more than a couple found footage movies that are actually worth a watch (examples include the claustrophobic As Above, So Below, surprisingly effective Lake Mungo, and always atmospheric REC). While never rising to the heights presented in the aforementioned movies, V/H/S is notable for offering bits and pieces of effective horror and gore whilst regrettably being hampered by pacing issues, excessive sex, and varying levels of competency between all the shorts.

A gang of shiftless thugs wreak havoc via destruction and sexual assault as they try to make money. Already, the movie proves to be dealing in the exploitation subgenre of horror, and that’s about the only throughline it offers. The group of extremely unlikable and frankly unknown characters (both in terms of their motivations and mental stability) are then hired by another unknown person to break into an old man’s house and steal a V/H/S tape. Once inside the house, they are met with a corpse, a slew of TV’s showing static, and many V/H/S tapes. They begin to watch the tapes, as creepy stuff starts happening within the house.

V/H/S was a pretty cool concept back in 2012. Anthology found footage horror was and still is a niche in the genre, and the way the filmmakers go about this project certainly alludes to it’s overall quality. They basically had the wraparound story settled before any of the shorts were pitched. Traditionally the shorts are the bulk of the story, thus they tend to have a thematic resonance. There isn’t much of a connection between the tapes shown in the movie, and it doesn’t really matter because I can’t imagine horror fans are going to watch this with an eye for critical seriousness. And that’s by no means a dig at either the film nor the audience. The best thing V/H/S offers is a clear reverence for the genre and that’s seen in the creative liberties taken by each director.

With the wraparound story included, there are six parts to this anthology.

  • Excluding the wraparound, the first tale is called “Amateur Night” and it follows a group of young men as they prepare to have a night on the town with the goal of finding someone to secretly film while they have sex. A running theme in this entire film is sexual depravity as the lone character trait of the placeholder characters. Rather than offer something nuanced, the filmmakers tend towards the easier route of using sexual violence as a way to make the audience hate the characters. A cooler way to deal with something like that would be to make the audience actually care about the characters, and then feel at the very least something when they’re inevitably killed. Anyway, they take home a woman who isn’t at all what they expected. The best aspects of “Amateur Night” are the lead actress Hannah Fierman, who’s animalistic portrayal absolutely stole the show, and the end, when things actually happen. The entire opening sequence of, dare I say exposition?, went absolutely nowhere and just never seemed to end.
  • The following short, “Second Honeymoon,” follows a young couple on a road trip interspersed with similar awkward and blunt character work as the first short, and a decidedly fun and earned twist end.
  • “Tuesday the 17th” opens like a traditional slasher but manages to run away with a compelling enough diversion that I still can’t decide whether or not I like it. They utilize a glitch effect on screen that is a fun use of the titular technology on display, while also being a little underwhelming.
  • “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” is a refreshing and incredibly atmospheric ghost story told through Skype-like conversations with some truly great scares. Like the other shorts, it manages to present a story that you’ve probably seen before in a new-enough engaging way.
  • Finally, “10/31/98” is a spectacular concluding short with characters that aren’t all utter assholes. So, ultimately, you root for them and feel for them as they enter a house that may or may not be haunted.

It’s clear the filmmakers tried with V/H/S. For the most part, the effort is clear and is able to outshine the more lazy and exploitative elements. Thankfully, the sequel is similar enough in nature while upping the quality of the stories and trimming a lot of the fat.

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