V/H/S – Review

V/H/S – Review

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:

REC

Trick r’ treat

Ringu

Peeping Tom

About Filmfella Darren
Film critic, writer and long-time cinema appreciator. I write about cinema matters, because cinema matters. Like your clothes and your laptops, my articles were made in Taiwan.

7 Responses to V/H/S – Review

  1. filmfellajames says:

    Nice review bruv. I have missed you. Yo

  2. Hunter says:

    Thank you for taking the time to review VHS, Darren. I went online yesterday and rented it to my Hopper DVR before leaving my office at DISH. It had downloaded to my DVR, ready to watch, by the time I walked in my door. I thought it was a good film, however, I feel that many of the plot holes you mentioned could have been filled with a little more explanation or back story on the tape collection itself. Seeing a Skype conversation on a VHS tape made little sense, but if I knew how the collection came into existence, that digital format may not stand out so much. Some of the vignettes are stronger than others but the movie was pretty good as a whole. I am hoping for a more fully flushed out sequel next year.

    • Filmfella Darren says:

      Thanks for the message Hunter – it’s great to get the opinion of someone else who has watched the film. You make some interesting points in the post above. I too thought it was suspect to have a Skype conversation captured on VHS, but I decided to go with it as it was a genuinely edgy scene, and because of how elaborate the scene was to get the girl into the Skype conversation, it did seem reasonable that the guy would take the trouble to record his despicable plan somehow, but surely that one should be on a DVD. It seems demented to link a computer to a video recorder to record a Skype conversation, but then again, not nearly as demented as what the guy did to the girl in the actual scene. I do think you’ve found a plot hole there though I think the reason why some of the vignettes are stronger than others is due to the fact the film is really a number of short horror films, made by eight different directors. I too would welcome a sequel – I think there is still plenty of life – or death in the idea. .

  3. Filmfella Lozz says:

    Hey man, indeed a nice review. So much so, that I decided to watch V/H/S. Being a rather big sceptic when it comes to found footage movies, I found myself pleasantly surprised with this movie. It was horrific in places, and kept me on the edge of my seat. I felt that the first story (tape they view) was by far the best one, and should’ve been kept until the end. One of the other stories featuring the night intruder I felt could’ve been cut out entirely as that type of horror is not my bag. But in its entirety, V/H/S was interesting with a fair bit of originality dotted about; especially considering the ways in which the fottage was actually filmed; some fresh ideas here. I would’ve given it a higher rating; probably a 7.2 or something.

    • Filmfella Darren says:

      Thanks for the comment Lozz, it pleases me that you took the time to find and watch the film after reading my thoughts. Getting people intrigued enough to watch a film I wrote about was absolutely the reason why I started writing reviews in the first place. I miss the days when I talked animatedly to you about a film I’d seen and then you went to find said film. I’m pleased you found it horrific – it shocked and scared me a number of times. I liked the intruder in the night scene, because, I never suspected – spoiler alert – that the guy’s wife was plotting his murder, Just look how composed she is. She even drops little verbal hints that its going to happen. It’s pretty cold-blooded and the fact she seemed like your average girl and the murderer was presumably never found, did disturb me. Like you, I think it was full of good ideas, but I was a little harsh on it, because I thought they used the idea that they are all just random videos as a way of masking bad story-telling. It was frightening in places and maddening in others. There is an appetite for hand-held horror out there. I think there is a bit of a bandwagon for it, mainstream audiences do seem to get scared by them, hence the inexplicable popularity of the Paranormal activity sequels. This for my money pisses all over those films. So I sort of hope this is a hit. Is it coming out in UK cinemas for Halloween? I googled UK release dates, and it seems to scheduled for a January 2013 release. Surely the best time for this to come out in the UK is now?

      • Filmfella Lozz says:

        Apparently, there IS a V/H/S2! Unsure whether the two are at all connected yet. I’ll keep you posted.

  4. Adrian says:

    Hi Darren.
    In the back of your review me and Soph decided V/H/S would be out halloween night film. I’m not exactly sure what to make of it, I think as it was in essence a collection of shorts it is hard to come to an overall decision. The back story although giving it the opportunity to jump through genres was very fluffy and predictable. Although there was always the watching for the empty chair element. I think each short was well produced adding all the idiosyncrasies of each format. This did give more realism to the tapes. They have to be applauded for finding that many different reasons why you would record your day to day life. There chosen format although leaving lots of plot holes did give the advantage of jumping right to the action keeping us gripped to the screen the whole film.
    As a side note. I think they can be forgiven for having everything on VHS rather than DVD this was obviously the old mans preference and how he came to acquire them could explain their format.

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