THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Anthology movies are, by nature, hit or miss, with some stories outshining others. The new found footage horror anthology V/H/S - now in theaters and on VOD – is mostly miss. Despite bringing some of the most notable independent genre directors together, the film, with one exception, fails to generate any real scares. Actually, it largely inspired boredom in me. And the last thing a fright flick should be is boring.
A framing device (directed by A Horrible Way to Die's Adam Wingard) finds a bunch of criminals hired to break into a remote house and steal a videotape. Once inside, they find what appears to be a surveillance room with a bank of televisions and a dead body in a chair. The guys pop in a few tapes, and we see what they're watching. The first story (directed by The Signal's David Bruckner) shows a bunch of d-bags going to a club and picking up the wrong women while their buddy tapes the proceedings via camera glasses. The second story (from House of the Devil's Ti West) is about a couple on a road trip being spooked by a mysterious motel intruder. Segment three (directed by I Sell the Dead's Glenn McQuaid) depicts four young people going into the woods, where they are terrorized by an evil force that shows up on their video camera as a distorted, digitized blur. The fourth story (from noted mumblecore filmmaker and amateur pugilist Joe Swanberg) is presented as a video chat between a young woman in a haunted apartment and the boyfriend who tries to give her advice from another city. This brings us to the final segment (created by the collective known as Radio Silence), in which a group of buddies show up to what is supposed to be a Halloween party, only to discover that the house is literally alive.
The problem with most of these shorts is that they generally exemplify everything that's bad about the found footage format. You not only get shaky camerawork, but also a lot of simulated technical glitches (VHS dropouts, digital camera hiccups, video streaming lag time, etc.) that become incredibly irritating to watch. The plotting is weak too. A really good feature-length found footage chiller, like Paranormal Activity, has time to build dread and, if we're lucky, develop the characters a little bit. Given only about 20 minutes apiece, the directors of V/H/S have time to do nothing more than deliver shaggy-dog stories. You get 15 minutes of dull faux home-video nonsense, and then an abrupt bit of violence or shock horror. Nothing amounts to anything, which makes the overall film feel like a pointless stunt. The credibility gaps, while the least of the movie's problems, are distracting as well. Why would someone take a video chat or a digital video and transfer to it VHS? Whose tapes are these? What purpose do they serve?
V/H/S largely got on my nerves for these reasons. A few mildly bright spots can be found. The visual effects in Glenn McQuaid's story are cool, and Swanberg's idea of someone watching another person's torment via Skype is original. (Too bad his ending is so confusing.) Only the last story, with the guys in the haunted house, worked for me. Although it too suffers from being a tad inconsequential, it is nevertheless highlighted by terrific visual effects and a sense of pacing that moves seamlessly from frivolity to sheer creepiness.
V/H/S has a total of five stories, but only one of them is even remotely worth watching. Those are not good odds. If I owned this movie on a real VHS tape, I'd record over it.
( 1/2 out of four)
V/H/S is rated R for bloody violence, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, pervasive language and some drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 56 minutes.
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