Let us here at PoP! guide you through a minefield of projects that seem full of win from the word go, but which once you delve into them have you shouting… It’s a Trap!
Directed by Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, and
While I’ve never been the world’s biggest fan of horror cinema, I have always been fond of horror anthology movies such as Creepshow and Trick R’Treat. These films tend to feature a wider variety of stories and scares than their single-story brethren. Last year, a horror anthology film entitled V/H/S was released that featured five original stories from five different filmmakers, each filmed on what appeared to be VHS videotape. This seemed like an interesting entry in this particular horror subgenre, but after finally catching up with it on Netflix, I’m sorry to report thatV/H/S is a shallow and uninteresting movie full of pointless stories about unappealing people being killed in uninspired ways.
One of the biggest disappointments of V/H/S is the lack of variety in the way each of the five stories are filmed. Even though each segment is shot by a different filmmaker, they are all told with the same “found-footage” style that is all the rage these days. These segments are tied together by an insipid frame story that follows a group of dirtbags who have been hired to steal an unmarked VHS tape from an abandoned house. They break into the house and find a room that contains several TV sets and VCRs, all facing a chair that contains a dead body. Instead of grabbing the tapes and watching them later, which is what any intelligent person would do, these dolts decide to stick around and watch the tapes, hoping to find the one they were told to take. This is the lead-in to all five vignettes shown in the film.
The first segment, entitled “Amateur Night,” follows a trio of obnoxious frat buddies going out to a bar in order to get hammered and chase tail. One of these three douchebags dons a pair of glasses with a hidden camera attached in order to film any conquests they may have at the end of the night. Somehow, they manage to get two young ladies up to their hotel room, and one of them turns out to be much more fierce and dangerous than they thought, which leads to a painful and gory surprise for them. The other vignettes feature a married couple filming their road trip together and discovering that they are being followed, a college camping trip gone horribly wrong, a rather disturbing Skype conversation, and a Halloween visit to a haunted house. All of these segments try to find some reason for one of the characters to be holding a camera, with varying degrees of success, but none of them manage to show us anything original that would set it apart from the many other found-footage movies we’ve seen in the past.
I was surprised to discover that one of the filmmakers involved in this movie is the talented horror director Ti West, whose 2011 film The Innkeepers was an effective and entertaining ghost story. All the charm and suspense of that previous film are completely missing from his segment entitled “Second Honeymoon,” which deals with the married couple on vacation and features a twist ending that intends to be shocking but is so clumsily filmed that it looks more like a student film than the work of an established director. The final segment, entitled “10/31/98” and directed by a filmmaking collective known as Radio Silence, is the best-made of all the vignettes and actually uses the found-footage style in an interesting and inventive way, but after nearly an hour and a half of boring, half-baked horror tales, it can’t redeem the film as a whole. It also doesn’t help that the original frame narrative is predictably wrapped up in the most unoriginal way possible and doesn’t even attempt to tell us why these guys were hired to find this tape in the first place.
Pretty much every story told in V/H/S seems like a first-draft of a script that the writers never bothered to revise or improve upon. They feature characters that we never get a chance to really get to know or don’t even want to know because they are so unappealing. This was more than likely the intent of the filmmakers, who tried to capture the “slice-of-life” feel from actual home movies, but when used in an actual narrative feature film, the effect is greatly unsatisfying, and when these characters do meet their bloody end, the audience doesn’t care because they never got a chance to really know these characters or never liked them in the first place. The frame story is the worst of all of them, since it begins with these guys assaulting a young woman in an abandoned parking lot and filming it. By revealing early on that we’re going to spend this film with such rancid people, V/H/S establishes a scuzzy, unpleasant mood that permeates throughout the entire film and prevents the viewer from connecting to anyone involved. This prevents us from even sympathizing with the protagonist from Joe Swanberg’s segment “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger,” which shows a Skype conversation between the frightened title character and her boyfriend as she tries to get to the bottom of the strange noises she’s hearing in her house. This segment had the potential to be the most frightening part of the entire movie, but by this time, the audience is so numb from the previous segments that it can’t even bring itself to feel for her when her fate is revealed.
Despite its many narrative and stylistic flaws, V/H/S apparently did well enough in theaters and on VOD to warrant a sequel. The not-so-creatively-titled V/H/S 2 has been making the rounds on the film festival circuit and will be released theatrically and on VOD this July. Reports from the festivals have stated that the sequel is a great improvement over the original V/H/S, with segments directed by a much more talented group of filmmakers, including Gareth Evans, who directed last year’s awesome action flick The Raid: Redemption. Even though I was bored to tears with the original, I still remain optimistic for the sequel, which should be coming to Netflix by the end of the year. My expectations, however, are considerably low after watching V/H/S, which hopefully will result in a pleasant surprise once I finally watch the sequel. V/H/S gets 1.5 out of 5 Hatchets Out of Nowhere.