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Film Review: V/H/S
As far as low-budget, whacked out experimental horror films go, this offbeat collection of shorts hangs together reasonably well. Especially, if you like your footage found and grainy, your women fiercely attractive and oft-nude, and your entrails bloody and fully exposed, this might be just the thing.
The mass of writers and directors, including indie-horror icon Ti West and mumblecore stalwart Joe Swanberg, have divvied up the duties for the individual sections, all held together by the not-entirely-convincing frame of a group of young vandals breaking into a house to steal a video tape someone has hired them to acquire. Once in the creepy house, which features a dead body slumped in an easy chair in front of a bank of static-lit TVs, they conveniently keep finding tapes to pop in and check out.
In this way, the film works almost like the dreaded clip shows that sit-coms have been serving up for years as a way of avoiding writing/producing full episodes, with many of the same sorts of inherent weaknesses in the form.
The individual stories on these found tapes go something like this: a group of frat boys (Mike Donlan, Joe Sykes and Drew Sawyer), one of whom wired up with a pair of video spy glasses, attempt to pick up some chicks at a local bar in order to film them having sex, but instead end up with a blood-lovin’ succubus (Hannah Fierman) who wants nothing more than to tear them to pieces; a young married couple (Swanberg and Sophia Takal) go on a road trip to the Southwest together, but after the husband refuses a young woman a ride, she keeps breaking into their hotel room at night to film them sleeping; four college students (Drew Morlein, Jason Yachanin, Jeannine Yoder and Norma C. Quinones) go off for a weekend at a remote woodsy cabin, but once there, encounter a peculiar shimmering apparition that wants very much to stab them in the head; a young woman (Helen Rogers) in a long-term distance relationship with man (Daniel Kaufman) she’s known most of her life, tries to show him — ingeniously via a Skype chat — the haunting child ghosts that are plaguing her; a group of young revelers (Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, and Paul Natonek) attend a Halloween party, but find instead a house filled with ghosty goings-on and a woman (Nicole Erb), tied upstairs in the attic with a group of cultists.
Each piece has its own resonant feel within the strict context of the whole, surprisingly difficult to pull off in an anthology piece, but each also suffers from the same limitations: It’s pretty damn hard to really sink into an atmosphere, no matter how well conceived, when we only get fifteen minute increments. A few of the pieces work more effectively than the others — David Bruckner’s “Amateur Night” manages to cram just enough hateful details about it’s brutish male protagonists to make the succubus’ revenge on them feel sweetly satisfying (even if one of them appears to have a bit more of a conscience than the others); Ti West’s “Second Honeymoon” allows just enough give with his couple to add an element of eerie normalcy before things go to hell; and Swanberg’s “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” effectively uses it’s Rear Window-like set up to give us a technologically updated take on Hitchcock’s most enduring thriller.
As a plus, the film’s adoration of gore, violence and nudity are nearly as impressive as the production values are lovingly shabby. Even if it doesn’t entirely fire on all cylinders, it’s a worthy effort, one you can surely expect to find at many a retro-midnight movie screening for years to come.