Thirteen years ago, the "found footage" horror phenomenon was created with The Blair Witch Project being filmed on a handheld camera. This style of filmmaking proved to be very effective with audiences, although the handheld camera can be a bit distracting at times. There are moments when the picture can get so shaky that it's difficult to see what's going on. Now that so many filmmakers have utilized this method of making movies, it has become stale. Despite this, many directors with small budgets decide to go this route. Embracing this method of capturing the footage, V/H/S is a horror anthology that intends to scare, disturb, and entertain.
Apart from the main plot line, the film is split into five stories. The main arc follows a group of misfits who are hired by an unknown party to break into a desolate house to steal a rare VHS tape. Once they enter the dark residence, they find a dead old man sitting in a chair in front of television sets. They begin to look through the house for the desired item and find a large quantity of VHS tapes. The group decides to go through them, with each tape being more disturbing than the last.
Amateur Night is the first tape to be shown, which displays the night of a few horny men who go out for a night of partying and ultimately taking a couple girls back to their hotel room. However, one of the girls is pushed too far. This section is shot through a hidden camera in the eyeglasses of one of the men. The second story, Second Honeymoon, features a young couple taking a road trip with a hitchhiker stalking and playing with them. Tuesday the 17th takes place in the woods with an evil murderer killing a group of friends one by one. The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger is shown entirely through a video chat program. A young woman, Emily, and her distant boyfriend have a series of chats regarding the haunting that she's been enduring. She must find a solution to stop the hauntings before it's too late. The final scenario is called 10/31/98. Four friends head to a Halloween party and find themselves in the wrong house. They must scramble around the terrifying house in order to find a way out.
The central story with the criminals is my least favorite portion of the movie. None of the characters are explored at all, which makes it difficult to identify them as individuals. Viewers are left without very much knowledge of either the roles or the actual story itself. It leaves so many questions with almost no answers. This part of the movie isn't very interesting to watch. The videotapes are engaging, but there isn't much of a connection drawn between the two. Even though Amateur Night isn't the best that V/H/S has to offer, it's a good way to start it off. It's complete with a beginning, middle, and end with each phase being executed fairly well with some awesome brutality mixed in. The insanity towards the end of this short sets you up for what to expect from the remainder of the running time. Second Honeymoon has an entirely different approach. While Amateur Night isn't afraid to be bold and in your face, this one is much more subtle. This is the most realistic of all of the occurrences, as the young couple are being followed by a creepy hitchhiker. Ti West's stylistic markings cover this segment from start to finish. Tuesday the 17th is very similar to the sequels of Friday the 13th. The killer is cool with a bit of a tweak made to the stereotypical cookie-cutter. It would be interesting to get more information on the character of the slasher. The plot itself is very familiar, but it's a fun genre picture that's successful as a short. If this was to be made into a full feature, it would most likely wear out its welcome.
Skype finally gets to chance to be incorporated in a horror film in The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger. After you watch this for the first time, you'll be confused, but once you have the chance to process what happened, you'll understand it. This section of the feature is extremely strange, but it still fits the atmosphere of the overall film. Unfortunately, this is one of my least favorite sections. It had the potential to be extremely creepy, but it only contains a few cool moments with nothing else to piece this together and make it actually scary. There are some cool ideas here, but they aren't used to their full potential. My personal favorite video of the entire movie is the last one, which is called 10/31/98. The friends in this video aren't the brightest, but the overall presentation is enough to send chills up and down viewers' spines. There are so many eerie subtleties hidden throughout the house that I advise audiences to look closely for some of the creepy sightings in the backgrounds. There's so much stuff that happens within this short period of time and it manages to pack a punch to the audience without feeling like it tried to fit too much into one section. The ending has a decent twist, which is well incorporated into the story. Immediately after seeing this segment, I knew that this would be my favorite.
The cast isn't meant to be recognizable, so there are a bunch of actors here viewers won't know. This works to the film's advantage since it makes it feel much more authentic. The quality of the acting varies between each segment. There are different directors handling each individual story, so the changes in direction are noticeable. Most of the videotapes feature acting that is perfectly acceptable. However, a couple of the performances are outright bad. The two most notable are James (Daniel Kaufmann) from the Skype call and Samantha from the trip to the woods. Whenever these two actors speak dialogue, the scene suffers.
Even though this is a modern film, don't expect to be blown away by great visuals. The entire movie was shot on handheld cameras with a very low resolution. While I'm not a big fan of "found footage" flicks, V/H/S frequently changes how the recordings are being captured in order to provide new perspectives. Each segment features its own unique style, which keeps the movie from feeling visually stale. However, the problems that many viewers have with handheld cameras are still present. The camera work is still extremely shaky at times, making it difficult to see what's happening. Even though it isn't meant to be a high-definition masterpiece, the video and audio styles are still crucial to the movie experience. The sound mixing doesn't disappoint. The dialogue is easy to understand and a lot of the active scenes get muffled and distorted, but it adds to the atmosphere of watching a recorded VHS tape. The video and audio are both suitable for this type of movie.
After finally getting the chance to see V/H/S, I can confidently say that it's a solid horror film. It doesn't live up to the hype some viewers created, but it's better than a lot of the "found footage" flicks that have been being dumped from some of the film studios. The conception that some stories are better than others in anthologies holds true here. 10/31/98 and Second Honeymoon are the two best segments. Both of these pieces could have been expanded into a full feature film, if executed correctly. Even with the short time slot given, they're well-done. The rest operate simply as decent horror shorts. The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger is perhaps the biggest letdown here. It could have been an extremely creepy supernatural story, but ended up being a disappointment. The same holds for the main story arc that revolves around the discovery of the videotapes. A lot of this portion of the movie makes too little sense, leaving a lot of unanswered questions. Regardless, I enjoy the overall film. V/H/S comes recommended as an effective horror anthology, despite its flaws. Go check it out now On-Demand or see it in theaters starting October 5th.