V/H/S (2012)

Directed By: Misc
Written By: Misc
Starring: Calvin Reeder
  Lane Hughes
  Adam Wingard
  Hannah Fierman

V/H/S is one of the most hotly anticipated films of 2012. It’s a found footage portmanteau featuring the directorial efforts of a number of up and comers including Joe Swanberg, Glenn McQuaid, Adam Wingard and Ti West, and has been garnering rave reviews. I was fortunate enough to see this on its UK premiere at FrightFest in Leicester Sqare and, surrounded by likeminded individuals and peers, I can’t think of a better way to have watched it.

Anthology movies have a checkered history but V/H/S is up there with some of the best. As with anything of this nature, some segments are better than others but all are solid efforts and work well within the construct.

There’s a flimsy opening section that serves solely to tenuously tie all the segments together, involving a group of utterly loathsome amateur criminals who are tasked with going to a house and retrieving a VHS tape with the promise of financial reward. Initially it’s disconcerting as the characters all talk over one another making it difficult to decipher exactly what’s going on, but this serves to set the breakneck pace and anarchic attitude that  each subsequent story maintains. Fans of found footage will wholeheartedly embrace this set up but others may find it too “in-your-face”, some may even find it induces motion sickness as the POV cameras used throughout are never still for more than a few seconds at a time.

Despite the whole affair being filmed in the first person using an array of inventive camera gimmickery, each story is very different. Possession, the supernatural, psychotic stalkers, vampirism, hauntings, aliens and zombies are all themes that are touched on at some point. It sounds like an exhaustive list but the miscellaneous themes are all explored well considering the time restraints and never feel like they’ve been shoehorned in.

Don’t go into this thinking it’s just another worthwhile addition to the found footage sub-genre, V/H/S is its own beast entirely. Most of the segments contain at least one good jump scare and they’re all expertly pulled off, but it’s also full of wry humour, clever homages and knowing dialogue.

It’s easy to write off the grainy footage, intended to look like a genuine VHS tape, as nothing but a cheap gambit, used to distance the movie from all the other films of a similar vein but to do that would be to do the film a disservice. Despite the unrelenting, ADHD feel of the piece, it’s more intelligent than that. Even a cursory glance makes it obvious that this is a film made by a group of people with not only a shared knowledge of horror, and the VHS era, but a love of it too.

All that being said, V/H/S is not a perfect film. It’ll take most people a few minutes to adjust to the unfamiliarly poor quality of the footage and the disorienting aspect of an always moving camera but once you do, it becomes normal and the running time whizzes by. There are a few discrepancies regarding the time-frame, the year in which the tapes might have been recorded and the technology available vs. the likelihood it would even still be on a VHS tape, but this is a small complaint of an otherwise entertaining movie. My only other real criticism is that taken on a level that allows for exploration of morality within each piece, it seems to veer wildly between misogny and misandry and it’s not clear whether that might ever have been the intent. Boiled down though this isn’t really a ‘message’ movie so any potential meaning is mostly irrelevant

There’s a lot crammed into a two hour film but the pacing is consistent and there’s absolutely no time to become bored. V/H/S is an assault on the senses, it’s ridiculously entertaining and serves as a remarkably competent love letter/footnote to the current found footage trend. Put the shaky cam away, folks, the genre has peaked.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

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