By Ohad Amram Staff Writer
V/H/S, which initially premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January of 2012, made its limited theatrical debut in the United States last Friday, Oct. 5 2012. The American anthology horror film is the collaborative effort of directors Adam Wingard (“You’re Next”, “A Horrible Way to Die”), Ti West (“The Innkeepers”, “The House of the Devil”), David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, and a production quartet known as Radio Silence. Released theatrically by Magnolia Pictures, the film’s premise centers around a rambunctious group who terrorize, taunt, and vandalize, all while filming their mischievous actions. When the group is offered money by an unknown and unmentioned someone to retrieve a VHS tape from a certain house, they do so willingly, although not exactly sure what VHS tape they’re looking for. This is when the audience is introduced to six short films; five films of which are on the VHS tape that the group is viewing, and the sixth film is the wrap-around film. This last short film essentially intertwines the other five films while telling the story behind this wild group.
Conceptually, V/H/S had the potential to be a new and fresh horror film with an engaging plotline that follows the lives of these people, possibly even explaining why they act the way they do. The film could have even delved into the background of the VHS in question. The sixth and final wrap-around story in the film could have been a landmark in modern horror; however, all three possibilities mentioned were poorly executed. The plotline simply trails off. The wrap-around story, what wrap-around story? At the film’s conclusion the audience is still unaware of what they had just watched, or better yet, why they watched it. The films, as they progressed, grew weaker and weaker in storyline; the first being most memorable, despite being the first in the series. The second film, which had high anticipation since it was directed by Ti West, deemed by fans as an up and coming horror master, disappointed. By the third and fourth films in this anthology, the films began to lose their shock value and didn’t retain the viewers’ interest. Rather than relying on manipulation and implementing suggestive horror, often the best horror, these directors began to rely heavily on blood and guts, not separating themselves from the majority of the films released currently in the genre.
That said, the film was not completely flawed as it did consist of many factors that worked in its favor, such as production and budget. For a low budget independent film, the production value was all together decent. The effective usage of found footage video both helped and harmed the film. It helped in that it guided the viewer along this realistic joyride that at times would seem rather believable, very reminiscent of other found footage films such as the “Paranormal Activity” series or “The Blair Witch Project”. However, this feature also drastically harmed the film because some viewers will be reluctant to continue past the first 15 minutes of the film, as it may cause motion sickness. Unlike “Paranormal Activity”, which is by no means a good horror film, or “The Blair Witch Project”, which by comparison is a significantly better, V/H/S does not present this found footage video quality to its viewer in a tactful manner. It’s full of drastic camera shake and lengthy uninteresting footage that is disengaging to the viewer and does no justice to the film. The nearly two hour running time of V/H/S could easily have been cut to a decent hour and a half of pure horror had these directors gone about the film differently, perhaps enabling the film to have a clear and concise plot that maintains its story from beginning to end.
Lastly, the acting throughout the film varies among the six shorts, however, in the majority of this anthology the acting dissipates from sub-par to mediocre to downright as horrific as some of the scary elements exhibited within the film. Again, this isn’t to say that the film has absolutely no good qualities because it was, after all, a Sundance Film Festival selection. Some viewers will most likely screen the film and find themselves leaving halfway, while others will likely screen it a second time in self-assurance that they didn’t miss whatever was deemed so spectacular about it. Overall, it’s a real shame that a such a conceptually promising premise, directed by horror directors of such stature as Ti West and Adam Wingard, fall face flat. V/H/S is yet another testament proving our generation cannot produce tasteful horror.