Smith’s Verdict: ***
Reviewed by Tanner Smith
The “found-footage horror” genre is very hit-and-miss. It’s an excuse for filmmakers to turn out a product with a shoestring budget. Some of them do it well, bringing viewers into the hyper-realism style of execution. Others do it horribly, just using it as an attempt to cover up that they have very little to offer in terms of story, characters, or even scares. “V/H/S” is a found-footage horror anthology that is very hit-and-miss, in that some chapters in the saga are effective while some are…well, not as much.
“V/H/S” tells six stories (each told from a different director), neither of which ties in at all to anything except for the wraparound story which is mostly composed of people watching the other segments anyway. (That’s a clumsy tie-in, but whatever.) The wraparound story (or “Tape 56,” director by Adam Wingard, whose film “The Guest” I really enjoyed) involves a criminal gang (who film their activities for some reason—not a smart idea, guys) as they break into a house in search of a special videotape. While searching, they find a body seated in front of a TV set with a VCR and many unlabeled tapes. So they watch the tapes…
The first tape (“Amateur Night,” directed by David Bruckner) shows three guys out on the town, one of whom has a hidden camera on his glasses with which they hope to make an amateur porn video. They manage to pick up a particularly strange young woman who turns out to be a succubus with a taste for human blood. This is one of the two most effective segments in the series, as well as the most fun. Its ability to hold the action in one shot (from the POV of the character wearing the camera-glasses) is impressive, the ultimate make-up on the succubus in monster/humanoid form is well-done, and the gore was enough to make me wince/cringe (that’s no small feat).
Side-note: This isn’t really an actor’s movie, but the casting for the succubus was very effective. The actress, Hannah Fierman, has a great blend of adorableness and uneasiness (and her wide-eyed stare is unsettling as well).
The next tape (“Second Honeymoon,” from one of this generation’s most promising horror filmmakers, Ti West) shows a couple on their second honeymoon. They film themselves doing silly things, but things get creepy when someone breaks into their hotel room (in a genuinely disturbing scene). This segment is one of the weakest, as it leads to an unsatisfying payoff. A disappointment from West. (OK, not “Cabin Fever 2”-disappointing, but still disappointing.)
The third tape (“Tuesday the 17th,” by Glenn McQuaid) has an interesting idea but isn’t portrayed in an interesting-enough way. It features a group of obnoxious teens exploring some woods which supposedly have a horrific history to them, when it turns out the killer is only able to attack when there’s a camera on him. One girl knows about it and tries to prove it by…filming her friends being killed by this digital slasher. (Not a great plan.) I like the idea of the killer only being seen through the interference in the camera’s viewfinder, but it’s just not enough to be exciting or scary.
The fourth tape (“The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger,” by mumblecore-protégé Joe Swanberg) is my favorite. It’s told entirely through Skype, as a scared woman believes her house is haunted and tries to convince her boyfriend of what’s going on. I won’t reveal the twists here, but I found them chilling and even fascinating.
Finally, we get the final entry (“10/31/98,” by Radio Silence), in which four guys in search of a Halloween party find themselves in a haunted house, where a Satanist ritual seems to be happening. When they realize it’s not a joke and they’re at the wrong party, they find themselves in a terrifying situation. To put it in the best, most positive way, the ending of this segment is the film’s mike-drop.
The wraparound story has its chilling little touches when the film cuts back to it, such as things that weren’t there before but are suddenly there or the other way around. But unfortunately, its resolution is weak at best. In fact, I would barely even call it a “resolution.”
As a whole, “V/H/S” is half-intriguing and half-annoying. Three segments are unnerving and enjoyable in their way, while the other three have their scary moments at times while each of them don’t necessarily satisfy as its own piece. They all barely connect. They just have one thing in common—they were made by promising horror filmmakers who pride themselves in visceral shocks and scares. Not that I would say these short segments show the best of their craftsmanship, but I appreciate the effort given with their limitations of the “found-footage” genre. So, in a way, I would recommend “V/H/S” as a fun thrill ride if you and your friends are bored and feel like checking out an ambitious horror film with good scares to offer. That’s about as high a recommendation as I can give without necessarily letting it slide with a “mixed review.”