By Daniel Rutledge
Anthology horror movies are a rare treat, especially on the big screen. Recent examples Trick 'r Treat and Chillerama both didn’t make it to silver screens in New Zealand so the addition of V/H/S to this year’s festival programme made Kiwi horror fans very happy.
Being comprised of 'found footage' horror shorts aroused concern among genre fans tired with the format, but others were confident V/H/S would deliver due to the filmmaking talent behind it - somewhat of an A-list of the modern indie scene. I’m happy to report that while it does suffer flaws, V/H/S most certainly delivers. It’s scary as hell.
The film kicks off with a very VHS look and feel, reminiscent of Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers. That familiar shade of blue filling the screen, the huge pixilated letters spelling ‘play’, the grey lines of worn magnetic tape, it’s all here. The look changes throughout the various segments to imitate different formats, but the VHS aesthetic tying it all together is loaded with nostalgia for anyone who watched a lot of movies on that crappy old format. There's also perhaps a closer association to reality with VHS than there is with film.
We as an audience are immediately assaulted with a disgusting act carried out by the main characters, witnessing it through through the lens of their video camera. I won’t say what it is – or give away much about the film at all – but it was shocking and a good introduction to the grubbiness of V/H/S, which is a bit more vulgar than I was expecting.
The guys committed this first crime to sell the video for quick cash. Lured by the promise of a much bigger payday, they break into a house to steal a video tape for an unknown client. Finding a huge collection of video tapes at the house, they start watching them one by one, and we as an audience watch each as a short film from a different director.
V/H/S is very deserving of its R18 rating. There is a lot of nudity, including full frontal female and male, and the violence is extreme. While it’s not a horror movie of the ultra-gory variety, there are moments of violence that are pretty shocking.
All found footage horror films have the nagging question of "Why are they still filming?" when the horrific stuff occurs, but V/H/S has an even more perplexing question. As the segments play within the main over-arching storyline, we as the audience are watching them with characters in that storyline... which frequently had me asking myself "Why aren't they fast-forwarding?". It’s disbelief that is easy to suspend, but the question did distract me.
Like any anthology, there are segments that aren't as good as the others and V/H/S does have moments of bad acting and bad scripting. But of course, there’s never very long to wait until the next segment, and for indie horror with low-budget sensibilities such as this it never gets unacceptably bad.
Using fake video defects to help with the effects budget or create scariness wears a little thin at times, but the same gimmick also works wonders at others. One killer is presented itself as a video defect very effectively.
As a horror movie, V/H/S definitely works, but so do many generic Hollywood fight flicks. This one is different in that as well as being genuinely scary it's particularly dirty, nasty and often unsettling, in a way that horror fans very rarely get to experience in a cinema. There are classic horror elements for sure, but there’s also a lot of freshness here that makes me excited about a potential new wave of American horror.
:: Directors: Adam Wingard, Ti West, David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg
:: Starring: Joe Swanberg, Calvin Reeder, Adam Wingard, Sophia Takal, Kate Lyn Sheil, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Chad Villella, Tyler Gillett
:: Running Time: 115 mins
:: Rating: R18- horror, violence, sex scenes, offensive language
:: More information: Click here