Review: V/H/S (2012)

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Directed by: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Chad Villella, Ti West, Adam Wingard, Radio Silence | 112 minutes | horror | Actors: Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes, Adam Wingard, Hannah Fierman, Mike Donlan, Jas Sams, Joe Swanberg, Sophia Takal, Kate Lyn Sheil, Drew Moerlein, Jason Yachanin, Helen Rogers, Chad Villella

“V / H / S” is a so-called found-footage film in terms of genre technology. The premise of the print is clear: a group of crooks are hired by an unknown client for a burglary. The scene is a dilapidated house in a desolate no man’s land. The aim of the assignment is to find and steal an old videotape. In the abandoned house, the burglars find, in addition to a lot of junk, a body and a fairly extensive collection of old video tapes. On closer inspection, however, the tapes contain gruesome scenes that are far beyond the imagination of the burglars …

The screening of “V / H / S” at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival provoked quite a stir among some attendees to the event. A woman passed out, a male viewer even had a light fit and his girlfriend vomited the room. While it is likely that the aforementioned persons are not regular consumers of heavy horror films, the incidents do say something about the quite uncompromising nature of “V / H / S”. The makers (different directors signed for various segments) are little hesitant when it comes to showing the horrors that take place in this print. For example, slit throats, open bellies and bulging intestines are not very tasty scenes presented to the viewer. Still, the horrors for the seasoned horror fanatic are all not too bad. The heavier scenes are nicely dosed (so that the gore rarely comes across as excessive or forced), while the choppy home video quality of the images leaves plenty of room for suggestion.

The otherwise not very interesting storyline around the burglars actually serves mainly as the cement between the five separate stories that are told in just under two hours. Since the individual mini films all have their own thematic approach and were made by different directors, the quality sometimes varies a bit. For example, the opening story “Amateur Night”, in which a night out for a group of friends takes a twist as bizarre as it is gruesome, is a little gem. Precisely because of the wobbly images and the use of gadgets and mini-cameras, this piece of film art is a beautiful combination of horror, suggestion and the more plastic-tinged horror work. The end of this work is ingenious, daringly filmed and very original. The capstone “10/31/98” is a fine example of hallucinatory haunted house horror, while the short films “Second Honeymoon” and “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” link tension, subcutaneous threat and character development with surprising disconnections. Only the somewhat confused “Tuesday the 17th” is a bit out of place. Here the use of wobbly images and disturbances is counterproductive. Moreover, it is a story that does not attract much attention in terms of originality and is (too) emphatically borrowing from, among others, ‘The Blair Witch Project’ and ‘Friday the 13th’.

But on the whole, “V / H / S” is just a skilfully crafted horror film that adds quite a bit to the genre. The format of the short film is generally well utilized and has produced some exciting and surprising stories with well-fleshed out characters. So chapeau.

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