Available On: Netflix, Amazon Prime
VHS tapes have gone the way of the Betamax. The Laserdisc. The 8-Track and the Cassette Tape, (save for the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack – baller.) But they’re still around, and can hold some of the worst secrets known to man.
V/H/S is a found footage collection of shorts, each developed by a different creative team, tied together by a main short film that has been divided into interstitial pieces between stories. This story begins with a group of reprobates trying to make a quick buck using a Girls-Gone-Wild format, getting women to perform sex acts on camera and then selling the videos online. Looking to expand their enterprise, they take the offer from an unknown third party to break into a house and steal a videotape. Inside the house, however, they find a dead body and hundreds of VHS tapes, unsure as to which is the right one. As most of the group of burglars begin gathering up all the tapes, one of them continues to investigate the house. They discover one VHS tape already in the player, and begin to watch the many unexplained videos that hold terrible consequences as unexplained phenomena take place around them.
Released in 2012, this movie contains six stories by six directors and found distribution at the Sundance Film Festival. Many of those now bored or uninterested in found footage formats have responded positively to the film, stating that the balance and quality combined with innovative concepts make this movie succeed. It received a limited theatrical release, but has really found its audience on VOD and streaming formats.
What is enjoyable about this collection is the diversity of it, and the questions left unanswered. In “Amateur Night,” directed by David Bruckner, we see a group of friends looking to make their own amateur porn but instead bring own something far more deadly than a venereal disease. Because of the time frame provided, Bruckner nor any of the directors have the luxury of setting up exposition or backstory. We need to get the whole experience of a well-told tale in a short span of time. The result, especially with “Amateur Night,” is that you are left with way more questions than answers. But rather than feel unfulfilled, you feel invigorated and curious, your imagination taking over with the fate of all involved.
The second offering, aptly titled “Second Honeymoon,” brings us back down to earth and reminds us that not all the monsters out there are in created in our mind. There are monsters out there as real as you and me. Stranger danger is not a new concept, but it sure is a real threat to this day. You’re told all your life don’t accept things from people you don’t know, lock your doors, be ready to defend yourself. But when you are asleep and at your most vulnerable, there are a number of things that can happen that you are completely unaware of. You never know what is going on when you’re deep in dreamland, man. “Second Honeymoon” plays with the fears of an unknown landscape. You never quite know if there is a threat near you, or what you can do to stop it. Sometimes, there is no stopping it.
“Tuesday the 17th” gives us a take on the classic lost-in-the-woods concept with a little digital twist. Revenge will drive a person to go to great lengths and make incredible sacrifices. Sometimes, it takes an immense amount of preparation, practice, and training. You have to be one step ahead at all times, and when it is a presence that almost can’t help getting the drop on you, that becomes a problem. You must be on your guard. You must be willing to leave things, people, behind. You just need to be ready to fail.
It is easy enough to say that “V/H/S” is very reminiscent of movies like “ABC’s of Death” due to its short formats and terrifying execution (pun intended.) But the beauty of this film is that although it is still short-form, and seems to be a scenario where writers and directors are given free creative reign, it can really delve into the concept of what scares you in each of the pieces a little more than you ever could in a micro-piece such as the 26 features in “ABC’s.” You can play more with tone, and tension, and tell a bit more of a story. And with “Tuesday the 17th” you see both a film that could have possibly been sliced to an enjoyable micro-shot of scares, but benefits from a little more insight as well.
The next film, “The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger,” directed by Joe Swanberg, may be my favorite out of the six stories. The paranoia and build with this one is really stellar, and once again we are confronted with the concept of modern technology and what all it exactly is capable of. It also poses the question that what we don’t know may be very well able to hurt us. You never know what the actions of the past have to do with your present, or even your future. And by all means, if you aren’t sure about a diagnosis, for god’s sake get a second opinion. The act of the unknown, being helpless to another’s opinion and expertise, is at its heart a frightening revelation. We can’t know everything. That’s why people choose their professions, the problem with that is when you need something out of your area of expertise, you have to seek help and put your trust in the hands of another. And sometimes you can make the wrong decision.
V/H/S wraps up with something created by a group called “Radio Silence,” comprised of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez & Chad Villella entitled 10/31/98. What begins as a traditional Halloween-gone-wrong story takes a nice turn into old urban legend territory, and makes for a comfortable and satisfying end to the collection. There’s always something satisfying about dumb college kids getting f$cked up, right? A group of friends are headed to a Halloween party and end up arriving at a seemingly empty house. What they find once they reach attic, though, is a strange ritual that they take as a staged Halloween prank, but once they join in get a rude awakening from both those involved in the act and the house itself. What is most disturbing about this one is the rawness of what they discover, as is their complacent attitude they have at stumbling upon it. No matter if it was a Halloween joke or not, it seems to me that if I saw a chick chained to a ceiling I’d either make trails or try to get her out, not start chanting along. But the truth of the matter is not everyone would, and sometimes it’s better to just go with the flow of something, and not get involved.
Directors include Ti West, (The Innkeepers,) Glenn McQuaid, (I Sell The Dead,) and Adam Wingard, (You’re Next,) and each short film balances the disturbing tales on a knife’s edge. They also offer a broad range of styles, ensuring a little something for everyone. From the supernatural to the slasher, aliens and demonic entities, if you like horror, you will find something that you will definitely enjoy.
NAILS IN THE COFFIN: 8/10
The found footage genre is rapidly getting tired, limping along with a few quality films from time to time. V/H/S is one of them. With the continuation of the series with a sequel and the upcoming V/H/S: Viral, there are many more stories to tell as well, and the sign this franchise is possibly here to stay is the simple formula of quality, fresh filmmakers making their way up the food chain and the intelligent and timely use of the VOD format. V/H/S came to us at the ripest of times in this avenue, reinvigorated by the likes of Netflix and on-demand, and has so far been one of the films leading the way in the market. A perfect movie for you to watch with your peeps to see what freaks out who to later be used to your advantage, or to just watch on your own.