Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 05/01/12 14:22:10

"First-person, third-rate."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2012: "V/H/S" is an anthology film with six segments (including the spine), each of which is the product of up-and-coming independent [horror] directors, and each of which makes an attempt to do something interesting with the "found footage" conceit. For a horror movie, it's pretty long, at almost two hours. There should be a lot to say about it, but I find that my thoughts keep getting boiled down to two words: "not scary".

That's not necessarily completely damning; it is on occasion many of the other fine things this sort of movie can be: Funny, gory, surprising, weird, and even exciting. After all, there is a fair amount of talent working on the movie, so it's not likely to be a bore all the way through. Still, what every good horror story has at its center is something genuinely unsettling, and none of the segments have much to offer besides a fairly well-worn story being told using a device that is by now well-worn and which actually obscures the good stuff.

Take Ti West's "Second Honeymoon"; West is pretty great at doing a slow burn with characters whom the audience can get behind, and having Joe Swanberg and Sophia Takal in front of the camera is a great boon for that sort of picture. They're tremendously undercut by the format, though - the found-footage conceit means that things stop recording just as it's getting exciting, and that climactic moment is blurry and hard to follow. It's a lot of build-up for nothing. "Tuesday the 17th" by Glenn McQuaid is similar; it's got an amiable cast In Jason Yachanin, Normal Carroll, Jeannie Yoder, and Drew Moerlein, but even though McQuaid does his damnedest to put a distinct spin on the monster in the woods, it's so familiar that most will just acknowledge the quality of its gore effects without being much shaken by them.

Those bits at least have something going for them; two others are just close to unwatchable. Joe Swanberg's "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger" extends the gimmick to Skype-ish video conferencing, which doesn't prove any less awkward than when The Collingswood Story tried it seven years ago. It's also got two of the most annoyingly idiotic main characters in recent memory and a finale that just doesn't work as scares or laughs. The wrap-around, Adam Wingard's "Tape Fifty-Six", is just ugly, with a bunch of interchangeably unpleasant guys breaking into an old house to steal a mysterious VHS tape and dying or disappearing or who cares as they watch each segment. It's an idea without a single interesting detail.

The characters in David Bruckner's "Amateur Night" are similarly unpleasant - the movie has more than enough groups of young male jackasses - but Bruckner at times seems to be on to something. His story about guys trying to shoot some amateur porn with unknowing co-stars drags at times, but Hannah Fierman is certainly memorable as the wide-eyed, otherworldly girl who winds up being something else entirely, and while many scenes are too shaky and chaotic to follow, there's one or two shots that do remind the audience that, in good hands, this technique can produce something like Cloverfield or Chronicle. The last segment, Radio Silence's "10/31/98", has the same feel - the story is thin to the point of non-existent, and the very end is dumb, but when they let things rip with one crazy thing after another happening and the impossible things happening in an aesthetic meant to emphasize realism, it is a lot of fun. Not really that scary, or even filled with a lot of great jumps, but at least exciting, which is the best last impression that the movie can leave.

"V/H/S" has its moments, certainly, but the structure does more to bury them then let them shine. Horror has had plenty of success with faux found footage and anthologies, but combining the two highlights the worst qualities of each, even if everybody involved is bringing their A game.

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