By Don Simpson | March 4, 2012
Directors: David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Adam Wingard
Writers: David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Ti West, Simon Barrett, Justin Martinez, Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Nicholas Tecosky
Starring: Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes, Adam Wingard, Hannah Fierman, Mike Donlan, Joe Sykes, Drew Sawyer, Jas Sams, Joe Swanberg, Sophia Takal, Kate Lyn Sheil, Drew Moerlein, Jason Yachanin, Helen Rogers, Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Paul Natonek, Nicholas Tecosky, Nicole Erb, John Walcutt, Bilal Mir, Damion Stephens, Koz McRae, Eric Curtis, Nicole Boccumini, Lisa Marie Thomas, Melinda Fleming, Rob Mosca
Okay, I admit it, of all of the films screening at True/False 2012, I was most excited about V/H/S. I should also clarify that it is extremely rare that I get too excited about found footage films nowadays, but I had a sneaky suspicion that V/H/S would end up being one of the better films in the genre.
V/H/S is an anthology horror film with segments directed by David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, and Adam Wingard. The premise is that a group of guys are sent on a job to steal a VHS tape from an old man’s house. It sounds like an easy enough gig. An old man living alone in the country; he will most likely be asleep, but if worse comes to worst the young guys can certainly handle an old man. When they arrive at the house they find the old man stone cold dead, sitting in front of a haphazard stack of television monitors. Then, down in the basement, they discover a treasure trove of VHS tapes. Uncertain of which tape is the tape, they alternate watching the footage to see what is on each one. Surely they’ll know the correct tape when they see it. Oh, and lucky for us, they have brought a few low quality video cameras to record the entire endeavor.
As you have probably guessed by now, on each tape is a brutal murder (or murders); some of the killings are supernatural, while others are grounded in a sick and twisted reality. The segments touch upon different sub-genres of horror films, giving novel twists on each one. Most importantly, the events are studiously documented on video in the first person, sometimes by the victim and other times by the assailant.
One of the reasons the found footage narrative devise works so well in horror films is the forced perspective, and in V/H/S the directors utilize the first person perspective to their advantage. We are never quite sure what is lurking just outside of the frame — or inside the frame, for that matter, thanks to the gritty VHS format which purposefully limits what the audience sees and blurs the falsities of the special effects and gore. (For example, the haunted house sequence by Radio Silence might have looked hokey and fake if the segment was shot in HD video, but the dilapidated video quality heightens the reality of the images.) Ah, yes, the special effects! It is worth noting that V/H/S relies mostly upon prosthetics and models rather than CGI. This, along with the film’s unabashed attitude towards nudity, lends V/H/S a vintage 1980s horror feel… Yeah, and of course the low-grade VHS quality accentuates the 80s aesthetic as well.
When it comes to found footage films, I can be quite nitpicky. The found footage approach typically falls prey to compromises that lure the film away from the first person perspective in favor of more traditional narrative conventions. In V/H/S, I discovered one major flaw. When the narrative transitions between the warp-around footage shot in the old man’s house and the footage on the various VHS tapes, we are jolted from one perspective to the next. The continuity of reality is shattered when we jump into each of these videos. The end result feels as if we are watching a horror anthology — ala Tales From the Crypt — rather than a single, cohesive story. For whatever reason, the lack in continuity does not bug me too much; maybe because V/H/S is an incredibly entertaining film that succeeds in being humorous, sexy, gross and scary as fuck.
Also check out our SXSW 2012 Video Interview with the filmmakers behind V/H/S.