- Movie Rating -

V/H/S (2012)

| October 5, 2012

V/H/S is the latest in the “found footage” horror genre. Like “The Blair Witch Project” and “Paranormal Activity,” you are suppose to feel as if you are watching newly recovered raw footage that begins as an ordinary home movie but then goes horribly wrong. The chief problem is that the movie leans on a premise that the filmmaker’s never seem able to master and develops plot elements that they are never able to adequately explain. Those other films made you feel as if you were really watching a video that was picked up and put on Play. This one feels like a series of ineptly made (and badly shot) student films, the best of which gets a C-minus.

The difference here is that this film is not a single narrative but an anthology wrapped around a framing device that is never really explained. That device contains a group of thugs who video tape themselves assaulting women in parking garages then smashing up unfinished homes with crow bars. Later we learn that they have been hired to break into a house and find a certain VHS tape. In a run-down house, they find an old man sitting dead in front of a bank of television sets surrounded by hundreds of video cassette tapes. One of the guys sits down to watch the tapes, thereby providing an excuse for each of five separate short stories.

The stories range from interesting to just plain stupid. They all involve ordinary people – mostly slow-learners with disciplinary problems – in an ordinary situation who slowly begin to realize that they are in the middle of something bizarre. One story, called “Amateur Night” involves a group of friends who pick up two women in a bar only to find out that one of the women isn’t human. Another, called “Second Honeymoon”, involves a vacationing couple who are besieged by an intruder who is apparently operating their video camera. And yet another, called “10/31/98”, involves a group of guys who go looking for a party on Halloween Night and end up at a real haunted house.

The best story, directed by Joe Swanberg and written by Simon Barrett, involves a young woman (Helen Rogers) on a video chat with her boyfriend who begins to get the unnerving feeling that her apartment may be haunted. That story does not go where we expect. It is different from the others in that it actually bothers to explain what’s going on.

The worst, called “Tuesday the 17th” (directed by Glenn McQuaid) involves the ancient formula of kids camping in the woods and being picked off one by one by a figure that is obscured by a flaw in the tape. The conclusion of this story is hard to follow because the camera is shaking so badly that we can’t really get a foothold in what is happening.

The biggest problem with “V/H/S” is that the shaky cam is often used to obscure things when we really need clarification. The tape quality sputters and shakes for maximum effect, but after a while it becomes a headache, especially if you’re trying to orient yourself. Since we are suppose to be watching found footage of an actual event, we expect that it would feel like someone simply picked up the camera and started filming. The problem is that the editing is done in such a way that no amateur with a video camera could have pulled it off. That takes us out of the moment.

Then there’s problem of the framing device. After each story, we return to the house that the thugs are rummaging through, but we never get any answers. Who hired them? Which tape are they looking for? Who videotaped all those terrible events? Was this trip really necessary?

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2012) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized