V/H/S Review: Uneven Fun, But Fun Nonetheless

Horror anthologies generally live or die as more of a complete experience than as individual stories. And as far as experiences go, V/H/S is a pretty wild one.

rating: 3.5

Anthology movies are a bit tricky to review. It€™s hard to find enough space to go into deep detail on certain segments without running out of room and unintentionally neglecting some of the others. Horror anthologies are a bit easier though, because they generally live or die as more of a complete experience than as individual stories. And as far as experiences go, V/H/S is a pretty wild one. V/H/S has already been building hype since its screening at Sundance earlier this year, much of which was focused on audience members allegedly needing medical attention due to the films intensity. How much of this is actually true is debatable, but the film does well to market itself with disclaimer that it may cause €œextreme reactions€ or €œloss of consciousness€ in certain viewers. The movie starts with a frame story about a group of small time crooks who take a job breaking into an elderly mans house to steal a VHS tape. They haven€™t been told what€™s on the tape, only that they€™ll know it when they see it. So when they stumble onto a large collection of old tapes and a room of crackling static TVs, they have to start watching until they find the right one. What follows is essentially a night of campfire stories told with found footage shorts, each one providing more than its fair share of jumps, twists, and in most cases, heavy gore. It€™s best to know as little as possible heading into it, so I€™ll try to discuss what I can without talking too much about the plot points. One of the benefits of using a collection of unrelated short films instead of a single, long plot arch is that you can get right down to business. And boy, do some of these have business to get to. The level of intensity and suspense in some of these shorts is absolutely gripping, but its the amount of violence that€™s really shocking. Some of the images in these films, especially the first few, are brutal to an almost staggering degree. This is great if you€™re up for being shocked on a visceral level, but it does leave the overall product lacking a little bit of fun that might€™ve made its length - at two hours, it€™s long for horror - a bit easier to take. Of the five shorts, only the middle film feels like a noticeably weak link, a bit uneven and undercooked in its conception. This is a shame, but it€™s quickly forgotten because the last two segments are absolutely phenomenal. Both are variations on the typical haunted house story, but they couldn€™t be more different from one another. Each uses the time they have to create legitimate characters in an engaging scenario, something that can€™t be said for the other shorts. These two are the cream of the crop, and it€™s good that they come last, after some of the cheaper thrills, because they function as a rollicking, elevator-drop-to-hell€™s worth of energy and excitement to finish off the film. As always, the trick with found footage movies is making it seem natural that a camera would be not only be around, but also continuously operated while such bizarre events are unfolding. For the most part, the stories in V/H/S deal with this in functional, and more importantly, natural ways. A few are even ingenious, especially one film that takes place entirely over a Skype-style conversation. Outside of a few exceptionally jerky camera movements and quick edits, the illusion is believable. More than that, certain shorts (Ti West€™s especially) are smart enough to leave certain events off screen, taking away a few cheap scares but creating a much deeper feeling of dread and the uncanny. Directed by Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Joe Swanburg, Glenn McQuaid, and the collective Radio Silence, it€™s obvious that V/H/S is in mostly good hands, even if those hands are a little shaky at times. But this is a film for midnight showings, to be viewed as a roller coaster ride, and more often than not it stands up to that task. It might not have the lasting value of some seminal horror classics, but even if you only break it out once a year for a midnight movie marathon, it€™s better to have it around then to not have it at all. VHS will be released in the UK on January 18th, 2013.
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David Braga lives in Boston, MA, where he watches movies, football, and enjoys a healthy amount of beer. It's a tough life, but someone has to live it.