Please Rewind Tape Before Returning To Your Video Store
Ah, the anthology film. An uneven beast by its very nature. V/H/S, not surprisingly, is as inconsistent as its multi-director forefathers. It's also a member of the much maligned 'found footage' genre, although with a few small tricks up its sleeve. It has been greeted with both excitement (the saviour of horror!) and vitriol (Worst. Film. Ever.). The truth, as ever, lies somewhere in between.
V/H/S, I should point out, is never more than the sum of its parts. It's very much a film of individual pieces, with each of the six segments achieving various levels of success. With this in mind, I'm going to break this analysis down into mini-reviews, because the film makes few attempts to convince the audience that it is a consistent whole.
Amateur Night (directed by David Bruckner)
A gruesome little tale that's an awful lot of fun. Three male friends - including one donning 'camera glasses' with which events are filmed in a suitably jerky, digital manner - head out to pick up girls, and bring two back to their hotel room. One is acting peculiarly, and things aren't going to end well for our desperate trio. It builds up to a beautifully demented conclusion. The effects can be a tad iffy during its more fantastical moments, but this is overall a thoroughly enjoyable and blackly comic short.
Second Honeymoon (directed by Ti West)
A couple embark on a road trip, but things take a horrific turn when they have a late night caller to their hotel room. When I was watching the film, I assumed this was the Joe Swanberg directed section since he's the male lead of Second Honeymoon. It's only afterwards that I discovered that Ti West (a director whose House of the Devil and The Innkeepers I'm very fond of) was responsible. That's disappointing. Second Honeymoon certainly handles it's mundanely slow build-up well, which is somewhat of a West trademark at this point. The pay-off, however, is unsatisfying and unconvincing - a shame considering the director has shown himself capable of truly intense finales. There's one great and playful sequence in the middle involving a toothbrush, but overall this takes a long time to build-up to nothing in particular.
Tuesday the 17th (directed by Glenn McQuaid)
The title and tone of this segment suggest it's going to be a deconstruction of the old 'teens in the woods' genre. Alas, this mostly fails as both a satire and traditional horror. Four friends visit a lakehouse for the weekend, although it quickly becomes evident that one of them has invited the rest with ulterior motives. They're soon pursued by a mysterious entity. Said entity is realised through an imaginatively glitchy special effect, but there's not much to Tuesday the 17th on the whole. It's silly and contrived, and the weakest segment of the anthology.
The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger (directed by Joe Swanberg)
Swanberg's directorial effort shares his usual concerns about Internet technology (previously examined in his second feature LOL). Filmed entirely as a conversation on webcam, The Sick Thing... follows Emily experiencing paranoia and hauntings as her long-distance boyfriend watches on over Skype. It's a fun setup, and perhaps the funniest and most traditionally scary of the bunch, taking more than a few cues from J-horror and Paranormal Activity. One near-constant in V/H/S is that the endings of the shorts tend to disappoint, and alas the final stretch of Swanberg's entry loses momentum with a bizarre twist, although at least remains consistently amusing throughout.
10/31/98 (directed by Radio Silence)
Leaving the best 'til last, ey guys? V/H/S' final segment is easily its strongest. It's not particularly original - a group of lads get together to go to a Halloween party, but they get lost and end up in what quickly transpires to be the wrong house. The quartet who directed the piece conjure up a convincingly fucked-up haunted house situation, and it all pays off with some absolutely fantastic special effects work as the house comes alive. It's short, it's sweet, it's weird, it's intense. The ending is a bit cheap, but it makes sense within the context of the short. Maybe I just didn't want to see it end - 10/31/98 is a genuinely wonderful short horror.
Main Arc (directed by Adam Wingard)
The other shorts are broken up by scenes of a group of guys breaking into a seemingly abandoned house to rob some apparently valuable VHS tapes. They find a dead body, yet still decide to sit down and watch the tapes in question (the shorts above being what they discover). A resounding 'Meh' here - given the mixed format of the shorts, the main arc makes little sense, and bar a few laughs as the footage is interrupted with one of the guy's failed sex tape, you just kind of want the film to move on to the next short.
On the whole, V/H/S is overlong and inconsistent. Some segments fall flat, others soar. The first and last shorts are definitely worth the price of admission. Again, V/H/S is not more than the sum of its parts - are any anthology films? - but there are a few scares and a few laughs to be savoured. Presented in the aesthetics of a long redundant home video format, V/H/S may not be made for the big screen, but you could certainly do worse when stuck in a dark room for two hours. You could also do better, too, but hey, whatever.