Directors: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence
Writers: Simon Barrett, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Nicholas Tecosky, Chad Villella, Ti West
Featuring: Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes, Adam Wingard, Hannah Fierman, Mike Donlan, Joe Swanberg
There has been some big excitement around the new film V/H/S since it premiered at Sundance earlier this year, and this recently culminated in the sold-out screening at the Toronto After Dark Summer Screenings.
V/H/S features a series of found-footage shorts written and directed by Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die), David Bruckner (The Signal), Ti West (The Innkeepers), Glenn McQuaid (I Sell the Dead), Joe Swanberg, and the directing quartet Radio Silence (formerly known as Chad, Matt & Rob). The overall result is likely one of the scariest films you’ll see this year.
The idea was the brainchild of Bloody Disgusting's Brad Miska, with a unique mix of two horror subgenres — one on the rise (anthology films) and one generally on the decline (found-footage films) — so it was interesting to see these worlds collide. Like many anthology films, this flick starts off really strong, ends even stronger, but slows down somewhere in the middle.
The long opening sequence has a clever mix of horror and comedy, setting the tone for the stories to follow. V/H/S starts off as a found-footage film of a bunch of young guys going on a crime spree. The flick's framing premise is that they are hired to steal a VHS tape from an abandoned house. While searching for this tape, they each watch a number of the disturbing videotapes, which tell the the film's other stories.
What is neat about old VHS tapes is that when you tape over something, you don't really ever totally wipe out what was there before, so little traces or fragments of what was recorded previously pop up. The filmmakers take full advantage of this, and we are interrupted with these bits throughout the film. Overall, the premise and the execution of the segments are excellent, but I think there could have been more effort on the part of the filmmakers to make the stories a little more diverse. Generally, every story seems to be about young, white 20-something frat guys trying to get girls naked and then getting screwed over themselves. So if they ever plan on doing a second edition of V/H/S, they should look at mixing up the demographics of the storylines and the situations. The other odd thing is the era in which the film is set isn't clear. Everyone seems to be using modern cell phones, so why are they putting everything on VHS tapes? But these are little points, and the overall effect is quite cool.
Our first story has a geeky guy putting a camera in his glasses before he and a couple of his jock friends go clubbing. In their drunken stupor, they bring a couple of women back to their motel room to some unexpected results. This is by far one of the strongest segments of anthology, definitely a tour-de-force.
Things slow down a little in the second segment, which focuses on a couple on vacation at the Grand Canyon. This story does have an unexpected ending, but it takes a little while to get there. The third segment, with four young people who go camping in the woods and start getting picked off one by one by a mysterious monster, is the weakest of the five tales. There are some interesting digital effects to the "creature" in this segment, but overall it comes across a little flat.
The fourth segment is an unexpected favorite of mine. Rather than being footage shot on videotape, the entire sequence is just a couple talking via video Skype. The girlfriend is convinced there is a ghost in the house, and her long-distance boyfriend is trying to reassure her and help her out. This sequence is a nice break from the previous stories and gives the viewer a change from all the shaky cam on display throughout V/H/S. The last story has a group of guys going to a Halloween party, only to find a completely empty house...that is, except in the attic, where they find a strange ritual going on. This ends the film with a big bang, and the digital effects they have mixed with video footage are seamless and quite breathtaking.
Expect a full theatrical release this October, but after that, I guess you'll have to find V/H/S on VHS somewhere.
"Another great thing about being 70,000 light years away from the nearest Starfleet vessel is that once we finally get back to Earth, we can makeup bullshit stories. Off the top of my head: 'We met Amelia Earhart,' 'We singlehandedly eliminated most of the Borg fleet' or 'Paris and I turned into giant pink lizards and mated.'"