V/H/S – Review
October 25, 2012 7 Comments
Review by FilmFellaDarren – 6.5/ 10
Imagine you discover an old desolate house, door slightly ajar. You decide to investigate. You discover a collection of VHS tapes hidden in the basement– you put one of the tapes in the video player. What would you find? Well, the chances are you would find something as boring as long lost recordings of old television reruns or some inane home footage. But what if you didn’t? What if there was something deeply dark and disturbing lurking on those tapes? That’s the intriguing premise behind this latest found footage DIY filmmaker style horror film. Actually, that’s not quite the premise as the characters trapped in the celluloid nightmare here do not just discover an abandoned house, but are instead loathsome delinquents who are paid money to burglarize the property of an old man, and retrieve a VHS tape that their employer wants. But when they arrive, they discover the man is dead – and the tapes are there for the taking.
The first twenty minutes are maddeningly hard work as the characters are absolutely hateful. You wish bad things to befall them. You want them to discover Hideo Nakata’s old Ringu tape so that that hideous Japanese ghost girl Sadako could crawl out and give them the slow, torturous death they deserve. That doesn’t happen. However, they do find things buried on those tapes that are arguably as demented and definitely as supernatural as Sadako.
Think of how many basements and attics there are out there with old VHS tapes gathering dust. VHS tapes have now been rendered relics by their all-conqueror cousin the DVD; so as the format becomes a thing of history, there is something kind of creepy about them. Nakata knew that – he did well at adding an aura of menace around a tape, and now a collection of directors attempt, not unsuccessfully, to make VHS cassettes, or rather what someone might find on them, foreboding and scary.
Post-Blair Witch Project, we’ve had 12 years of filmmakers trying to ground primal fears in a reality people recognise with countless found footage films. Some have been more successful than others – REC being an obvious genre success. To be fair to the filmmakers here, they were onto something with this idea as prior to this film the found footage was always found off screen, with some opening caption proclaiming that these people disappeared and this was the footage that was found. The neat twist on the idea here is the found footage is found during the film, making this the most literal film in the sub-genre yet. The filmmakers have discovered a neat way of opening up a new Halloween horror franchise since they are not exactly going to run out of tape in a house full of abandoned tapes. The horrors they uncover are really just a sample of the sinister threats that may lurk within the tapes that are left unseen come the end of the film.
The idea has potential, although the execution is far from perfect. The plot device used to get the characters into the house in the first place is weak and as it feels like a plot device the thin veneer of realism is peeled away to reveal the mechanics of the filmmaker. Despite the filmmakers – far too many to mention as there are eight in total as essentially the film is a collection on shorts tied together with a neat concept – attempts to pull off that sense of reality – every minute of the film screams faux filmmaker. The filmmakers though reach for a sense of menace and mystery that they do at times achieve. But you will find your head will be rattling with unanswered questions come the end of the film(s), which will leave you more than slightly annoyed that there are obviously no answers to the questions as due to the style of the film, the filmmakers didn’t have to think of the narrative in too much depth since we are only seeing snippets of stories that unfolded some time ago, featuring figures whose disappearances (conveniently) never needed, or cannot be fully explained. Because the central idea of the film is found footage – the footage can run out at any minute, often at the moment that you are most interested, leaving you agonisingly in the dark about what the bloody hell is going on in each discovered tape. One man’s sense of mystery is another man’s poor story telling; you might find most people think this film falls in the latter of those two options as to say the filmmaking is loose is an understatement.
There are advantages to the filmmaker style too however. The unique twist V/H/S has on the found footage format allows the filmmakers to leap across genres without the film seeming ludicrous. Most horror films have to stick to one genre: they are either a ghost story, or a vampire film; a haunted house film or a film about a demented psycho. There aren’t many horror films that have successfully found a convincing way to blend the supernatural genres together, Cabin in the woods did it earlier this year and now V/H/S does it somewhat successfully. It’s really a collection of short little horror films tied together. At times it feels like a less polished version of one of the most underrated horror films in recent times, that being Trick r’ Treat. To reveal which particular horror genres the film explores would be to risk giving away some of the surprises hidden within the film. It’s absolutely better to see V/H/S having no idea what is going to happen – you quickly get the sense that something supernatural is happening so part of the fun is guessing which dark horror path the filmmakers are going to tread down next. If you want to have some idea of which genres this horror film tries to leap across – just think of ten horror genres off the top of your head and I can guarantee that this film has tried to reinvent at least five of them. So after this review, don’t read any more articles about V/H/S – you can guarantee some thoughtless critic will reveal the surprises thus take away the films bite – ignore the trailer too as, as with most trailers, it should come with a spoiler alert disclaimer.
Ultimately, you can spot the flaws, and gaping plot holes a mile away, but for every notable flaw in V/H/S, there is a moment of disturbing horror creativity. The film does have more than its fair share of fleeting moments of terror, making it good throwaway fun this coming Halloween. For the hordes of Halloween horror film hunters in search of a good fright around October 31st, this film is definitely good value – and will get audiences at multiplexes shifting uneasily in their chairs and at other times collectively leaping out of their seats since it does pack in its fair share of scares. It will definitely work for the individuals who download the film then watch it on their own in a darkened room. The footage, of course deliberately roughed up around the edges, will definitely have the rawness intensified when viewed in this way – particularly the seen that taps into the potential that Skype has for a horror format. Quite what is going on in that scene lingers long after the credits have rolled – and if you’re watching it on a laptop in a darkened room – the chances are you’ll be pausing the film to turn on the light – it’s that weird, warped and frightening.
It’s true that most recent found footage films needed to get lost again as they have been so poor. Although V/H/S is far from a horror masterpiece, it does have an unsettling atmosphere. It’s not nearly as derivative as some recent horror films and you can feel that the filmmakers wanted to at least try to invent something that subverts the old genres. There is enough paranormal activity in V/H/S for it to draw audiences away from the inevitably eventless Paranormal activity sequel that has just raised its ugly head for yet another Halloween cash-in, which has to be a good thing. If your appetite for found footage fright fests has not been quashed by the recent slew of sub-genres duds – you might find V/H/S intrigues, disturbs and unnerves.
If you like V/H/S seek out, or re-watch these:
Trick r’ treat