So here it is — this is what happens when you give a couple of horror dudes some iPhones and various other video capturing devices, send them on their way for a few hours and have them return to edit their offerings into a full length film.
V/H/S, the latest addition to the found footage genre, is a horror anthology with a handful of stories, all by different directors, all shot at different times. That said, I was expecting to watch Jackass, and I did for the first few minutes. But it was worth it because it was just a cushy beginning for a pretty good scary movie, one that I’ll be thinking about for a long time.
Things start off with a prologue called Tape 56 [Adam Wingard], about a group of misfit guys [yes, your Jackass moment] hired to break into an old man’s house and find a VHS tape. Once they get in, not only do they find the old man dead in front of the glowing screen of a TV, they also find a whole slew of unmarked tapes, each with their own 15 – 20 minute long gruesome story:
The Signal (David Bruckner) A night out on the town for a couple of guys looking for fun turns into an unforgettable nightmare.
Second Honeymoon (Ti West) A young couple, on a road trip to the Grand Canyon, run into a mysterious stranger.
Tuesday the 17th (Glenn McQuaid) College kids on a day trip in the woods bear the brunt of several murders that happened years prior to their visit.
The Strange Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Young (Joe Swanberg) A young woman is terrorized by something in her apartment while her boyfriend, away at medical school, watches from Skype.
10/31/98 (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin) Friends get lost on their way to a Halloween party and find themselves arriving at the wrong house at the very wrong time.
Yes, some are better than others. Second Honeymoon lacked an appropriate ending to support its dull story line and Tuesday the 17th felt forced, unorganized and was littered with acting far too bad to be an ironic throwback to a classic slasher film. The found footage format worked best for 10/31/98, shot from the perspective of the dorky guy in the group who just won’t put the damned camera down (think Cloverfield), and The Strange Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Young, which is from the perspective of a Skype conversation. I found myself bobbing and weaving trying to SEE what was going on behind the conversation, which really made the experience all too realistic and exciting.
And yes, there are plenty of found footage wobbly camera moments, enough to make your stomach turn. The Signal (my personal favorite) was the big offender, being shot with a camera inside a pair of glasses worn by one of the actors. As his head moves back and forth during a conversation, you can’t help but focus on the one thing that isn’t moving in the background, which happens to be a creepy-looking doe-eyed girl whispering something that you can’t quite understand but you know will be relevant to the story line, and oh my god is it scary. In retrospect, this was probably on purpose. Well done, Bruckner.
But in the end, V/H/S helped to negate the bad/dull story line reputation found footage films have built up over time with me. This is a very good horror film, definitely one of the best of 2012.