An anthology movie that boasts more than its fair share of genius, V/H/S is disappointingly let down by lazy characterisations and a consistently offensive undercurrent.
This collection of short films is held together by a rather tenuous central story. A group of young men are paid to steal a certain videotape, but after breaking into the house they find the occupant dead in front of a collection of TV screens. As they go through the videocassettes in the house, we get to see the stories one by one, each featuring horrifying and sometimes fantastical imagery. All of the films are pieces of ‘found’ footage, and if you’re easily susceptible to motion sickness, I suggest you sit a long way from the screen, because the cameras are constantly moving.
As you would expect, some of the films are better than others. The first out the gate, ‘Amateur Night’, is the best of the lot with truly monstrous visual and makeup effects. Ti West’s ‘Second Honeymoon’ is up next and like his other films, The Innkeepers and The House of the Devil, it’s brilliantly directed and very disturbing, but in the final analysis also kinda frustrating. ‘Tuesday the 17th’ is ridiculous from start to finish, but boasts some clever ideas. ‘The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger’ makes ingenious use of videophone calls to chronicle a ghost story with a difference. Finally, ’10/31/98′ takes the traditional haunted house scenario and dials it up to 11, with some very tricky visual effects.
It’s a good collection of stories, and whilst the running time is almost two hours, at no point did it drag. Each of the films had me wondering what was going to happen next. The main problem, however, were the two main themes present throughout almost every tale. The first one is that apparently all young men are obsessed with filming naked women against their will. The second is that women are crazy. If this had popped up once or even twice, it would have been fine. But it happens time and time again. I don’t know if it was intentional – or indeed if the directors shared notes – but it sullies the overall experience when the various plots boil down to something so simple as ‘boobs are awesome and bitches be crazy’.
A lot of the publicity material talks about audiences throwing up in the cinema or leaving in disgust but the gore, whilst prominent, isn’t anything that a horror buff won’t have seen before. I wouldn’t be surprised if the handheld footage was what made people feel ill, however, because I spent a good couple of minutes looking away from the screen to try and alleviate my own motion sickness.
As an anthology of horror films, V/H/S features some wonderful work, though it’s disappointing that ‘Tape 56’, the film linking them together, fails to go anywhere interesting. The creativity and skill on show is truly impressive, even if it’s hampered by gauche and/or distasteful themes.Rating: