Festival Review: V/H/S (2012)

Seen: At the Egyptian Theater in Seattle, part of the Seattle International Film Festival.

A thing about me is I have a lot of trouble not finishing a movie (or book, for that matter). I have very rarely walked out of a film, and the one or two times I have it’s been because I was feeling nauseous. When most of my companions to V/H/S, a much-talked-about horror anthology playing as a midnight movie at SIFF, decided to leave after the first grisly, disconcerting short, I decided to stay primarily because I wanted to see Ti West’s effort. (Remember how much I loved The Innkeepers? That movie rules, you guys.) With a frame story of a group of assholes breaking into an old guy’s house to steal a mysterious VHS tape, the film features an array of low-res, found-footage shorts as they go through his weird video collection. Each segment is directed by a different up-and-coming male horror filmmaker.

Leaning on the hand-held camera enough to cause motion sickness in some audience members, V/H/S is a love letter to the low-budget, fuzzy horror tapes of its name, relying more on technique, jump scares, and gore than on special effects or character development. The segments vary in quality and scariness, but pretty much all of them feature white assholes and unnecessary nudity (well, that’s what “horror” means right?). The frame story by Adam Wingard is kind of boring and hard to watch because it’s all shot at night with handheld cameras. The first short from David Bruckner is the hardest to watch with its depiction of date rape, but the film as a whole gradually picks up to feature a few shorts I dug. I expect anthologies to be hit and miss, so it’s no surprise, but for me this was more miss. Ti West’s look at a couple on vacation is surprisingly forgettable (though at least it has a decent lady character), while Glenn McQuaid’s slasher-in-the-woods story has an interesting premise (final girl coming back for revenge) but isn’t actually good.

On the positive side are two shorts I thought were very impressive. Joe Swanberg’s was probably my favorite, featuring a series of video chat conversations between a long-distance couple. The young woman (played by the adorable Helen Rogers) believes her new apartment is haunted, and wakes her boyfriend up to calm her fears and show him the ghost of a little boy who keeps knocking on her door. This one’s easier to watch since it’s not shaky, and I actually liked the main character. It’s funny but also legitimately scary, and has a great, weird twist that totally caught me off guard. The final short, from newcomer film collective Radio Silence, is considered by many viewers to be the best, and it’s certainly the creepiest. A group of idiot dude-bros find themselves stuck in a haunted house with a bunch of devil worshipers, and it’s tense and eerie as hell.

So I liked two out of the six shorts here, not a great showing in total. Admittedly horror isn’t my favorite genre, and the ones I do like are usually more thriller-y/character-based, and the stories on display here are more gory and jump-scare-based. And while I’m fine with VHS-quality for some things, combined with shaky-cam and a big screen it’s sort of hard to deal with over a long period of time. I will say I’m proud of myself for handling this movie pretty well, though. I rarely looked away and I wasn’t grossed out by the gore like I usually am. After hearing about people fainting and getting sick and stuff from other screenings of V/H/S, I kind of feel like a badass.


Pair This Movie With: Well since I was an little shaken by the end I wanted a palette cleanser, something light-hearted and funny and not scary at all! In the past I’ve gone with The Importance of Being Earnest. Alternatively, I would say to skip this movie and watch The Innkeepers.

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