So… found footage horror, I think we’re done. I think that at this point in our relationship, we should see other genre motifs. Don’t take it personally, baby. We’ve had some laughs. The sex was terrific, although I still don’t understand why you didn’t just drop the camera when things got really freaky between us. I didn’t hold it against you. It’s hard to see you go, but I love to watch you leave.
You see, baby, I don’t think there’s anything more you can show me. It’s been a wild ride, for certain – you took me places that I’d never thought I’d see, and thrilled me in ways I never knew I could be thrilled. But, as our relationship went on, I noticed things, like that shaky thing you kept doing, which was nice, you know? Especially when you were on top. But sometimes, I just wanted you to be fucking still for a second. Sometimes I wanted something a little more practiced and professional. Hey, I like the freaky stuff from time to time. But now that I’m a little older, I’d like to settle down.
What’s this? One last fuck for the road? Sure. V/H/S? Yeah, I’ll give it a shot… oh. Oh man. OH MAN! HOLY SHIT! WOW! BABY, THAT’S AWESOME! I DIDN’T KNOW YOU COULD DO THAT! Wait, waitwaitwaitwaitwaitwaitWAITWA-
Okay. Sorry about that.
The anthology film V/H/S should probably be the last found footage movie ever made, unless these filmmakers (or any filmmakers willing to try the conceit) want to keep making this anthology every year. It uses the conceit perfectly, and delivers very real scares and thrills that leave an audience breathless. There were moments in V/H/S where I gripped the armrests next to me, and I can’t remember doing that for a while now. It’s not perfect – there are strong segments in the anthology, and weak ones - and pushes the limitations of the genre to their breaking point, but when it’s working (and it works a lot) the movie can be absolutely terrifying.
The first seven minutes of V/H/S are rough going – the movie drops you into it with little pretense. A group of vandals and burglars who film everything they do decide to take up a job and break into a house to look for a particular videotape for some quick cash. They find a dead man in a recliner and a wall full of monitors and stacks of videotapes everywhere. They have to watch them to find this particular tape – they’re told, vaguely, “you’ll know it when you find it” – and we see each story unfold as they do.
I particularly admired how each segment dealt with the whole “most people would drop the camera and run when the shit hits the fan” thing, and while some make more sense than others, unlike almost every other found footage movie I’ve ever seen, I didn’t question the validity of what I was seeing. Not to spoil, but these filmmakers didn’t let the limitations of the genre keep them from telling the stories they wanted to tell. We get supernatural stories, slasher stories, and one particular genre is explored through Skype videos and I would be a complete jerk if I told you what it was.
There’s something… filthy about the whole endeavor, and I mean that in a good way. It feels like something that some unsavory person would show you in a back alley or in someone’s basement. I was concerned that each of the segments would all look alike, with the same jerky camera movements and lack of cinematography, but the work of directors like Adam Wingard, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, the short film troupe Radio Silence, Glenn McQuaid, and David Buckner keeps each segment visually distinctive.
Everyone’s going to have a favorite and least favorite segment – mine is David Bruckner’s (THE SIGNAL) opening entry, as some guys go out on the town to get drunk and/or laid and end up having something much worse happen to them, and my least favorite is Glenn McQuaid’s (I SELL THE DEAD) serial killer in the forest stalking pretty college kids turned on its ear segment, which wasn’t original. But even that segment featured an incredibly creepy killer, portrayed on the camera as simply erratic pixels that were scary as all hell. Joe Swanberg’s (HANNAH TAKES THE STAIRS) is probably the most originally shot segment, done through Skype and definitely low-fi filmmaking at its best. Radio Silence’s spook house finale worked (even with some dodgy CGI) and puts the audience through the haunted house ringer. Ti West's honeymooners on a road trip segment is the most predictable, but it does get a moment that made our midnight audience squirm quite a bit. The bumper segment that sets the story up, Adam Wingard’s (YOU’RE NEXT), does its job but not much else, but it keeps all the other horror segments in line. But those first seven minutes feel very sloppy. I get why – this is a found footage anthology, after all, and you either roll with what you’re watching or get the fuck out – but it’s damn near incoherent at some moments. But eventually everything calms down and the story begins in earnest.
At its high points, V/H/S is scary in a way that very few horror films ever achieve, and an incredibly fun ride for horror fans. I’m not exactly sure what the film says thematically, but who cares – sometimes you just want the shit scared out of you, and V/H/S does that incredibly well. It’s a movie to have friends over, you bring out a brown, tattered paper bag, a DVD with no label on it (or even better yet, a VHS tape), hit play, and wait for the screams to start. It’s the first time since THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT that a found footage horror film has knocked me for a loop and made me feel genuinely scared, and horror fans will absolutely eat this movie up. If it doesn’t eat you first.