Happy Friday the 13th everyone! To celebrate, I have a review of perhaps the most anticipated horror film of 2012, the new anthology V/H/S. I was very fortunate to get into the sold out show that was part of Toronto After Dark's summer screening series. The second part of a double-bill with Detention (review), the buzz around V/H/S was enough to pack The Bloor on a Wednesday night.
A group of petty criminals are hired to steal a particular VHS tape from an old house. Finding many when they arrive, they start playing them and discover the horrors within.
So yeah, V/H/S was a good time. It didn't knock my socks off, but I didn't dislike any of the segments, which is kind of a rarity when it comes to horror anthologies. The wraparound story by Adam Wingard was functional, but I feel he could've done more with it. It started to fall apart toward the end, but it's forgivable because the meat of the project was the short films.
I liked the first short, “Amateur Night” by David Bruckner, quite a bit. This cautionary tale should be made required viewing at frat houses everywhere. The make up effects work was a big highlight and the story thankfully goes further than the jump scare spoiled in the trailer. Hannah Fierman (pictured below) is the standout here. Not since Angela Bettis in May have I seen a better portrayal of the “quiet & weird” type.
Glenn McQuaid's story “Tuesday the 17th” clearly the weakest of the bunch. This is a shame because I'm a huge supporter of his 2008 debut I Sell The Dead and was really looking forward to seeing something new from him. This slasher-in-the-woods yarn had a very intriguing concept, but it was unfortunately populated by the most grating characters of the entire project, so giving two shits about what happened to them was a little hard. Even the gore seemed a little empty in this one.
“Second Honeymoon” was the easiest to identify with its director. With its mix of dialogue and atmosphere, its style is fundamentally Ti West. A lot of people I saw it with were not happy with how it ended, but that shouldn't be surprising, as finales have never been his strong suit. I didn't have a problem with it myself.
In fact, it was Joe Swanberg's bit that had an ending I wasn't fond of. As the trailer sets up, “The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Young” begins as a solid creepfrest with two characters talking over Skype. Then, just when this “ghost” story hits its fever pitch, it goes for the gross out and pretty much negates all it had built.
And therein lies my only real beef with V/H/S. It lathers on the gore at almost every opportunity, which is fine - I love blood & guts as much as the next guy - but that is not how the hype machine had pitched this movie to me. It was billed as scary, and it rarely was. The aesthetic is very similar to that of the shower-inducing Poughkeepsie Tapes, but V/H/S never gets anywhere near as disturbing. It may not be a fair comparison because one is a feature and one is vignettes, but I just wanted to point out that it can be done.
Lastly, there's the segment from Radio Silence entitled “10/31/98”. Who would've thought that put up against all these indie horror darlings, this practically unknown filmmaker collective from L.A. would come up with the best short. The group of drunken buffoons in this short are not nearly as annoying as the ones in Bruckner's, and I had fun watching them goof off as they walked around this seemingly abandoned haunted house. This short featured some genuine freak-out moments with wonderfully implemented visual effects. This was the perfect short to end on because by this point, the movie was getting a little long in the tooth.
V/H/S is not the saviour of horror that some are hailing it as, but it's certainly entertaining. If producer Brad Miska & company were to cull together some more filmmakers to make a V/H/S 2, I would definitely be onboard, as this analog conceit fits the anthology medium very well.