V/H/S Review

Film Still
  • V/H/S film still

A scarily good retro horror compendium which showcases new work from the likes of Ti West and Joe Swanberg.

If two words above all others can be guaranteed to inspire trepidation in the minds of cinema audiences and marketeers alike, then they must surely be 'horror anthology'. A subgenre beset by half-arsedness and failure, its ill reputation is rivalled only by the equally undependable filmmaking disciplines of found footage and mumblecore.

In which case, spare a thought for the box office ambitions of Sundance sensation V/H/S which subscribes to all three of these cursed classifications. The film’s opening minutes set the tone for what’s to come, as a gang of uniformly hateable, casually misogynistic young men take a break from their day job as producers of online 'sharking porn', in which they forcefully expose vulnerable young women in secluded public spaces, to become burglars-for-hire.

Their mission — to break into an abandoned house and recover a single videotape for a mysterious and anonymous benefactor — seems simple enough. But things soon take a turn for the horrific (and anthological) as they begin to trawl through some of the other tapes that litter the property, each of which documents a tale of hubristic excess and gruesome comeuppance, shot with the same rough-and-ready handheld aesthetic as the gang’s own morally dubious output.

Remarkably, given the premise, only one of the five short segments that make up V/H/S is an outright failure. The others — from such US indie darlings as House Of The Devil director Ti West, mumblecore luminary Joe Swanberg and fledgling YouTube collective Radio Silence — share an experimental bent, a knack for well-timed twists and they don’t pander to the squeamish. It puts these spooky miniatures head and shoulders above the bulk of this year’s featurelength horror fare.

One particularly unique spin on the creature-feature genre, from little-known commercials director David Bruckner, packs more genuine innovation into its 20 minutes that the Paranormal Activity sequels have managed in a cumulative five hours.

With few restraints in place and a collective thirst for originality, it’s hardly surprising that the directors occasionally lapse into indulgence and there isn’t a film in the bunch that wouldn’t benefit from having a few minutes shaved off its runtime. Pacing, too, often takes a backseat to the demands of the film’s more laboured lights of fancy. The devil is in these details and others, not least the film’s decidedly lacklustre performances which — judging by the Blair Witchian avalanche of F-bombs that litter the dialogue — appear to have been partly, and uninspiringly, improvised.

V/H/S’s quintet of horror upstarts seem unlikely to lose much sleep over these minor quibbles, more concerned as they are with the big ideas at the core of their wildly idiosyncratic creations. Forever chasing scares both cerebral and visceral, the filmmakers leave little space for cynicism and plenty for admiration — an invaluable accomplishment in a film form that’s so susceptible to weak spots.

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