Excited for that new found footage horror movie? If you’re one of the few people who still answers yes to that question, then boy oh boy, are you in for a treat: V/H/S isn’t just one found footage horror movie, it’s six. And each one of them contains all the incomprehensible camera-work, dodgy acting, repetitious pacing, lazy jump scares and low-resolution boobies that your undiscerning heart could possibly desire.
The conceit of the film is as follows: a group of reprobate hoodlums break into a house to steal a rare and valuable VHS tape. Inside the house, they find dozens of tapes, and on each of them, a different “real life” tale of self-captured terror. Each segment is directed by a different indie horror director, including Ti West (The Innkeepers), David Bruckner (The Signal) and a quartet of filmmakers known as Radio Silence.
An ugly film in both sentiment and aesthetic, V/H/S operates under the assumption that the only thing its audience cares more about that watching people bleed is a nice pair of tits. The male characters are almost invariably perverts or idiots (usually both), who inevitably fall victim to a female baddy before she reveals herself as a psycho, ghost or weird scaly bat creature… thing.
There are good examples of how the found footage conceit can be used effectively, namely The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield and REC. But especially now that the market has been saturated in the wake of Paranormal Activity, the gimmick is just that: a gimmick – one that’s lazily and haphazardly employed by filmmakers trying desperately to mask their obvious lack of talent. Only one segment – the one made by Ti West – really incorporates the camera into the scare, but while it’s easily the best short the movie has to offer, it’s still a far cry from resembling the best of West’s work.
Another segment, made by mumblecore luminary Joe Swanberg, has the most interesting premise: a series of Skype conversations between a college girl convinced that her apartment is haunted, and her helpless boyfriend on the other side of the country. Unfortunately, the ludicrous notion that the footage would end up on a video cassette tape (does anyone still use videos?) pokes a hole in proceedings that’s simply impossible to ignore. Then again, it’s marginally less annoying than the (purposefully) crumby visual and audio quality in the rest of the film, enforced so persistently that it’s liable to give audience members a migraine.
But the biggest problem of all is an obvious one: V/H/S just ain’t scary. Sure, like all horror films, there are some tense or surprisingly moments here or there, but for the most part, the movie is just plain boring – lumbering along through mundane conversations between unlikable characters as we wait for the next creature to pop predictably into the frame. After that it’s all fake looking gore effects and static. If the film ever makes it to a general release, it wouldn’t surprise me if one or even two of the segments are exorcised for length. In fact, they’d be better off erasing the tapes entirely.