V/H/S ★★★★

"I like you."
-Lily (Hannah Fierman)

FrightFest the 13th Double Bill

The second film I checked out at this year’s FrightFest was V/H/S, the experimental 'found footage' horror anthology from ten acclaimed directors, including the likes of Ti West, Glenn McQuaid and Adam Wingard.
Right so I’m going to play it tactfully and try not to reveal too much in this review, instead I’ll give you a run-down of each segment and anything else that deserves a mention. There are six stories in all, five of them short tales of the macabre on VCR tapes, the other a wraparound story of those watching them. I’ll provide a rating for each individual one. Oh, and by the way, this will likely be a looong review…

Tape 56
Directed by: Adam Wingard

Tape 56 is the wraparound story of the anthology tales, and is directed by Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die). We follow a gang of dislikeable, small-time crooks whom are employed by a mysterious collector to locate a certain V/H/S Tape and steal it from its current owner. Upon searching the house, the thieves are confronted with a dead body, a hub of old televisions and an endless supply of cryptic footage, each video stranger than the last. As they watch more, strange events begin to happen outside the tapes too.
Whilst Wingard’s entry isn’t terrible, it is certainly one of the weaker ones, which is a real pity considering it’s the glue holding the others together. There are a fair few creepy moments throughout, but the four criminals are unlikable and so the audience has no one to root for. Very little is explained, and the ending is unsatisfactory.

1. Amateur Night
Directed by: David Bruckner

This was probably my favourite of all the segments. Directed by David Bruckner (Best known for The Signal (2007)), this short sees a group of mates head over to a bar to pick up women, armed with a pair of camera glasses. There they meet a couple of ladies, but there may be more to one than meets the eye. This tale, though simple, is my undoubted favourite. The acting is good and believable, especially from said lady, and the plot is paced well. The effects are really wonderful too, but it all builds to a truly terrifying and terrifically done finale. I can’t really say much more or it would spoil the effect. Just pure awesomeness.

2. Second Honeymoon
Directed by: Ti West

Ti West’s (Famed in the genre for House of the Devil (2009) and The Innkeepers (2011)) outing is very simple and easy to follow. It also happens to be the most realistic of all the segments, which definitely improves the suspense. Second Honeymoon is just as it says; the second honeymoon of a couple whose relationship is on the rocks. The two take a romantic road trip to rekindle their love for one another, but things go very wrong.
This section is actually written rather well, with moral ambiguity rife between both protagonists. One is likely to make assumptions (I did), but it is an unpredictable little story, with an excellent twist at its conclusion.

3. Tuesday the 17th
Directed by: Glenn McQuaid
The segment Tuesday the 17th is directed by Glenn McQuaid (known for 2008’s I Sell the Dead) and, despite the renowned director, was the weakest in my eyes. The tale follows your average, boring and generally dislikeable college kids whom are terrorised by a mythical murderer at a vacation in the woods. As a deconstruction of the slasher archetype, it’s quite good, and the effects are nice, but this entry is dragged down by horrible camerawork (even by Found Footage standards) and awful acting.

4. The Strange Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger
Directed by: Joe Swanberg

The fourth segment by actor/director Joe Swanberg (who actually appears in West’s Second Honeymoon) is a bit of an odd one. The whole thing comprises of a girl talking over webcam to her boyfriend, after a number of bizarre, apparently supernatural encounters. It has numerous scenes that are quite hilarious, as well as those that are fairly terrifying. It’s a very strange blend but works rather well, and is easily one of the better segments. However, the premise is very muddled, and for all its bells and whistles I couldn’t for the life of me make out what was going on. Nonetheless good simplistic horror. And fun too.

5. 10/31/98
Directed by: Radio Silence

The fifth and final tale of terror is from the collective directorial group titled Radio Silence (Comprising of Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett and Justin Martinez), and it follows a group of four friends heading out to a Halloween party. When they arrive, though, it’s not the sort of event they had in mind. To say any more would really ruin one of the best stories, and one that rounds off the anthology with a nice conclusion. An excellent old-fashioned haunted house tale, and a fitting finale.

So there’s a breakdown of each segment without spoiling anything. Obviously the cinematography sometimes makes you want to claw your eyeballs out, but that’s usually the case with this sub-genre. The acting is varied, ranging from pretty good to abysmal, and the script follows in much the same way. The film has some scenes that are (intentionally or not) very funny, so much so that some parts had the entire audience at the screening in stiches. Whether or not it was meant to is another story, but the blend of genuine terror and funny moments worked for me.

VERDICT; It doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It won’t do anything to convince the adamant protestors against ‘found footage’. Yet V/H/S makes up for all its shortcomings with sterling execution. Although clichéd, it’s meticulously crafted, varied, sincerely frightening and just great, crazy fun. Probably my favourite ‘found footage’ film of all time.
4/5 or 8/10

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