Tuesday, September 4, 2012

V/H/S


V/H/S : Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes - (113 min.)

It's safe to say now that the string of found footage horror films are officially a subgenre.  It is no longer a long line of cheap ripoffs riding the coat tails of the Paranormal Activity franchise (or, to go back further, The Blair Witch Project).  These are individual films now with different gimmicks and their own individual identities.  And as it goes with horror subgenres (and all subgenres), there are great ones and there are terrible ones.  Inventiveness must be at the heart of films reliant on a gimmick like found footage.  So, without going too far into my analysis of V/H/S, the Sundance hit and viral darling of the horror world, I must give it credit above anything for delivering this subgenre in a fresh and creative new package.  While it may not completely work, credit must be given for giving found footage a much-needed face lift.

V/H/S is new, but it is also old.  It is an anthology of short films tied together by a narrative vehicle, much like Creepshow and Tales From the Crypt did back in the 80s.  In this case, the thread carrying these short films is a big disappointment.  Three misfit jerks spend their days with cameras, assaulting women for reality porn sites, demolishing empty buildings, and thieving whatever they can.  The defacto leader of the group gets a "job" one day; the trio must break into a home and steal a mysterious vhs tape from an old man.  They don't know what the tape is for or what is on it, they just know they will be compensated well.  This set up, which never goes anywhere, is merely a jumping off point for these goons to find various tapes and watch them while they scour the house for a specific video. 

There are five shorts directed by five unique directors (one, Radio Silence, a group of directors), all of which use the found footage gimmick in different ways.  The first one involves a group of loud and obnoxious college students out to try and film a sexcapade with a random girl.  One of the three men is equipped with a tiny camera hidden in his eyeglasses.  The drunken buffoons find a couple of girls and bring them back to a hotel, and one seems to be... well... off.  I'll say no more.  The result of this first one is intense and ultimately horrifying.  The second short is much calmer and quieter, involving a married couple traveling to the Grand Canyon.  This short creeps under your skin and is much more gradual in its horror. 

Then there is a quartet of friends visiting a spooky lake with a history.  This goriest of the entries is also the shortest.  And it lies somewhere in the middle of the road as far as quality.  The fourth film takes place all on skype, where a boyfriend and girlfriend discuss the strange goings on at the girl's apartment.  This short begins promising but dissolves into a less interesting climax.  The gimmick of skype is interesting, but the scares are deflated by the final twist which is never really explained.  The fifth and final film is a Halloween party at a haunted house which feels more like a traditional film than any of the others.  It is heavier on the effects, and rather exhilarating.

All of these shorts have their merits, either in the uniqueness of their found footage gimmick, or in genuine scares.  Some are more frightening than others, but all are well made.  the biggest issue is with the frame of the story.  Things happen in the house holding the tapes, but it is never explained when an explanation is necessary.  And the opening sequence with these despicable hoods is tough to get through.  But, I will say, fighting through this opening sequence has a payoff in the five shorts.  V/H/S is worth your time if you like scares, gore, and a fresh take on this found footage renaissance.

B+