DIRECTOR Matt Bettinelli-Olpin; David Bruckner; Tyler Gillett; Justin Martinez; Glenn McQuaid; Joe Swanberg; Chad Villella; Ti West; Adam Wingard WRITER Brad Miska (concept); Simon Barrett; David Bruckner; Nicholas Tecosky; Ti West; Glenn McQuaid; Simon Barrett; Radio Silence; Matt Bettinelli-Olpin; Tyler Gillett; Justin Martinez; Chad Villella STARS Calvin Reeder; Lane Hughes; Adam Wingard CINEMA 24 August
Some deviation from the self-restriction of found-footage is most welcome; enter V/H/S, which breathes some fresh life into the subgenre by merging it with an anthology format.
Thus, we have six unrelated vignettes, one of which serves as initial concept:
“Tape 56” – Adam Wingard; “Amateur Night” – David Bruckner; “Second Honeymoon” – Ti West; “Tuesday the 17th” – Glenn McQuaid; “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” – Joe Swanberg; “10/31/98” – Radio Silence.
That initial concept is courtesy of Wingard’s effort, which sees a group of hoodlums break into a house in search of a presumably valuable VHS tape, that will apparently be clear to them. What they find is a man who has been sitting dead for several days in front of a stack of snowy televisions, and hundreds of tapes. It is the poring through these that provides raison d’être for the film’s format, each episode giving way to revisiting this original group, who are part of their own found-footage story.
Despite assumptions from the title, a variety of techniques are employed. “Amateur Night” makes use of a cam-equipped pair of glasses, while Swanberg’s contribution is told via webcam interaction. These were smart moves which elevate the overall pacing; had each short comprised of hand-held POV, V/H/S would likely have a harder time holding attention, despite the individual stories differing greatly. As such, each vignette is anticipated as having something different to say, which is entirely refreshing. Really, there is something for everyone here: viscera; haunted house; possession; succubus; and good old-fashioned murder.
Naturally there is variance in quality, and some old ground is covered; viewers will sigh when West’s contribution opens with a couple on a roadtrip, and McQuaid’s teenagers wandering around woodland is the weakest by far. Regardless, the latter attempts a twist on the slasher-in-the-woods trope by opting for a supernatural antagonist, and West’s conclusion is ultimately the one least satisfying. It is also a shame that, even here, we cannot escape the unlikeable characters out for a good time.
What is V/H/S‘ overall strength, however, is that of few solid conclusions, the concept itself ultimately hazy; are these tapes part of a mere mortal’s impressive snuff collection, or are darker forces at play to a larger degree than within the tapes themselves? Overall, an exhilarating experience that brings pleasure back to found-footage.