Sunday, October 2, 2016

31 Days of Horror: V/H/S (2012)

Welcome horror fans, to Day 2 of the 31 DAYS OF HORROR! We are back in our lead up to Halloween with an experimental found-footage horror anthology film that takes a lot of risks and pays off with some interesting horror shorts. We present to you...V/H/S. Enjoy!

V/H/S is a found-footage horror anthology film that incorporates one part of connective tissue that includes five smaller stories within. The main narrative (called Tape 56/frame narrative) is directed by Adam Wingard. The sub-narratives are titled and directed as follows: 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; and 10/31/98 – Radio Silence (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, and Chad Villella). As a whole, V/H/S is an interesting experiment in horror storytelling that worked out in some respects even though it definitely stumbled in many of them. This review will discuss the various narratives in turn as it is hard to discuss the positives and negatives with the film as a whole because of how disjunctive it is.


The main narrative in V/H/S follows a group of guys who film their exploits as they commit a variety of crimes culminating in breaking into a house and trying to find a particular V/H/S tape to steal. This serves as the mechanic for jumping into the other stories although there is a horror-suspense element to the main narrative as well. Adam Wingard directs this part of the film well. He finds ways to build suspense and keep you intrigued even though you know you’re in the periods between the anthology stories presented in the film. That said, the story involved in this main narrative really isn’t that interesting, I had trouble getting involved with the characters, and it really wasn’t the draw of the film. It felt like it was there for the purpose it was there: to take us in a narrative way from one horror short to another.


Amateur Night is a horror short that shows a bunch of guys who go out to a bar to pick up girls to bring back and film them as they have sex. Certain things don’t turn out as they expect and terror ensues. The real strength of this part is the general tone of creepiness that runs through it. You feel the underbelly of tension growing and when things start to happen it is powerfully frightening. This has some really great scares and is a definitely gory and sexually graphic segment. It really doesn’t hide away from anything which is admirable in a sense. That said, this has some cheap jump scares and it ends extremely strangely that left me feeling less scared than I should have left an otherwise interesting story. The performances are also pretty over the top and uninteresting for the most part.


Second Honeymoon is a horror short that follows a couple as they visit the Grand Canyon and stay in a motel in rural Arizona. The two encounter a woman who asks for some help and things quietly begin to enter the realm of horror. This short is super quiet and a definite contrast to the first short that was much more graphic and showy. The unnerving nature of this portion of the anthology is in the almost mundaneness of everything that goes on in it. I thought the performances by the couple (Joe Swanberg and Sophia Takal) were effective and believable and I thought the use of quiet really made this short intriguing to watch. I thought the shot composition in this could have been a lot better, however, and I found it kind of slow in that it would fail if it occupied any more time than it did in this film.


A group of young adults go out to camp in the woods together when one of the individuals casually mentions some horrible things that happened to friends of hers in these woods. Horrific things begin to happen and people start to die brutal deaths. This was a cool short because of how it used V/H/S filming and tracking to reveal certain things. I also thought that it really evoked some of that classic found-footage scares that forerunners like The Blair Witch Project developed and using some more modern elements to develop a more overt type of scare. The real weakness in this short were the performances and characters. They try to give them intrigue and back story and relatability but a lot of it boils down to really wanting to have sex and not much more. Moreover, none of them felt quite real. The performances were kind of wooden and didn’t land as well as they might have. Overall, the strength of the horror makes this short a positive viewing experience.


This short is shown as found-footage through video chat screens (much like the recent film Unfriended). This shows a girl talking to her boyfriend over video chat as she believes her college apartment is being haunted. This short brings in certain elements that are unsettling and overwhelmingly question raising. This kind of found-footage filmmaking is pretty innovative and the story itself is intriguing. I felt really creeped out at the end of this short and it did exactly what I thought it needed to do to be effective. The performances were fairly drab however and I thought that this had a lot of room to improve the quality of its scares with more due consideration and overall filmmaking quality.


The final short in this anthology follows a group of friends as they go to an abandoned house they believed to be the location of a party where they run into some frightening ritual. This plays on more supernatural horror and some really good haunted house elements. I thought that the kind of explosiveness of this conclusion really made this an excellent end cap to this anthology. Generally the characterization was not well developed (although the decision-making under the circumstances definitely was well developed). This, in most contexts, would be a decent horror piece at best. It works really well in this context however as it brings together a lot of great elements into one fairly satisfying conclusion.

Overall, V/H/S isn’t a masterpiece but it is kind of a fun experimental piece with some interesting shorts comprising a lot of horror elements throughout. If anything, this film is a good horror ride to explore the genre through found-footage over a two-hour window. Just don’t go in expecting greatness in any capacity.

Ryan’s Score: 5/10

Be sure to stay tuned throughout the rest of the month! We’re posting a new horror review every day all throughout October, both old and new! Check back to see what movie we’ll have you covering your eyes from next!

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