It really does take a lot to make me nauseous when it comes to motion. I've ridden tons of motion simulators and roller coasters. I've seen plenty of films that confuse shaky cam with some sort of aesthetic style, and yet the only things that have ever gotten me feeling sick are the Gravitron and riding in the backseat of a car for some reason. Well, now I can add the film V/H/S to that short list of things that have left me feeling dizzy and sick to my stomach, and that is hardly a good thing.
The horror anthology takes a series of found-footage shorts and loosely threads them together under the premise of a group of criminals taking a job to break into an empty house in order to steal one particular VHS tape. What's on the tape? They have no idea, but they've been told they'll know it when they see it, and, for a group that gets off on vandalism and sexual assault, that's a solid enough reason to go in on it. Once they're in the house and find a collection of tapes, V/H/S proceeds with showing you five different videos that make up some of the strange visuals they stumble upon.
V/H/S is a mixed bag with only a pair of its shorts truly standing out - "Second Honeymoon" by Ti West, which should be no surprising considering the good work he's already churned out with THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL and THE INNKEEPERS lately, and Radio Silence's "10/31/98." West's take on the material easily has the most character development of the lot, and, even in a short time, you get the feeling that you know who these characters are and how they operate from the basic familiarity West instills upon them. As a result, there's something to the dangerous situation they find themselves in as they're being followed during their road trip by a mysterious girl who's supposedly just looking for a ride. There's an underlying creepiness to West's execution here, which leads you to actually wanting to know what's going to happen next, a crucial element for some successful but, more importantly, unpredictable horror. Radio Silence's approach to a haunted house story winds up working, because, for once, V/H/S isn't using a panic-stricken cameraperson to try to invoke fear in the audience, it actually has some impressive visuals to make it gel. The simplicity of having a few guys showing up for a Halloween party only to find an abandoned house and a surprise lurking inside gets elevated by some well-used and well-timed special effects. The extra budget put into "10/31/98" just makes the short look like it's in an entirely different league as the rest of the material that precedes it, and, with as rudimentary a concept as the rest of V/H/S, it's the frills that help separate it from the rest of the pack.
But V/H/S has a major problem to overcome at all turns, which is the worst use of found-footage I've experienced to this point. I have no problem with the sub-genre of found-footage, as long as they're making the gimmick work in the context of the film. I've give credit to V/H/S in its ambition, trying to concoct an entire movie around the discovery of these shorts, but the execution is all a mistake. Sitting for two hours trying to keep your meal down as your eyes tire, trying to follow the action taking place on-screen is an experience one shouldn't have to suffer through. Even something as shaky as THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT had the common sense and decency to put the camera in someone's hands who could keep it steady every once in awhile, allowing your brain time process what it is that you were looking at and follow accordingly. V/H/S does no such thing, leaving you concentrating more on not throwing up than on figuring out who's who is the neverending swish of camera movement. V/H/S looks amateurish and consequently feels amateurish. If I wanted to watch a bunch of people incompetently shoot footage with camcorders, I'd... nope, nevermind. I never want to see that, and I doubt you do either, which is why i suggest passing on V/H/S.
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