The Flipside of V/H/S, Gender Roles and Misogyny.

We’re at the tail end of Women In Horror Recognition Month 2013 and there’s just one little thing that I couldn’t leave well enough alone not to write about before it’s all over for another year. There’s a ¬†little anthology film that seems to have provoked quite a bit of gender based debate over the last six months or so and that’s V/H/S. Before I start getting to the heart of what’s been irking me about the whole thing, I want to preface my rant by saying unequivocably that V/H/S is a film that I don’t think warrants, or even deserves this level of debate. And then I’m going to contradict myself by continuing.

The first thing that’s worth mentioning is that V/H/S has been rather unpopular with some female and male reviewers alike, for its representation of gender stereotypes and supposed perpetuation of misogyny. This is the point at which I’d like to step in and play devils advocate and write something in defense of the movie to redress the balance.

Back in August last year I reviewed V/H/S after seeing it at FrightFest in London. I awarded it a pretty high 8 skulls, you can read the review here.¬†Hindsight is a wonderful thing and while I might agree now that 8 out of 10 seems a tad generous and that it doesn’t necessarily hold up tremendously well to repeated viewings, my opinion hasn’t changed that much. I stand by my previous assertion that V/H/S is one of the best of the recent deluge of found footage movies and stands up as a brilliantly entertaining popcorn film.

Sadly, due to its somewhat questionable portrayal of both male and female characters, over time it’s started to garner some negative attention and therein lies the crux of this article. Why? Let’s start by detailing some of the characters, segment by segment. Warning : The following will contain spoilers so if you haven’t seen the film, don’t read on.

Tape 56 : Populated by truly obnoxious, frat boy-type petty criminals. Each character is more vile than the last and represents the worst kind of thoughtless misogynist; a completely negative view of males.

Amateur Night : A story revolving around three drunken idiots/potential rapists and the women they pick up from a bar which turn out to be a ‘whore’ stereotype and a demon/succubus respectively. All but one of the men are represented in a remorseless state of douchebaggery and the women are portrayed equally negatively, with only the misunderstood succubus character escaping being shown completely negatively.

Second Honeymoon : A simple story in which the husband is a cuckolded moron and all women are evil and murderous. No-one comes out looking good.

Tuesday The 17th : A teen-populated tale of a supernatural killer that offs the horny male characters and the bitchy female characters without distinguishing between them. Everyone is unlikeable.

The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger : This segment is entirely made up of Skype conversations between a boyfriend, a girlfriend and some other-worldly children that are along for the ride. The girl is shown to be a naive dolt, while the male is inifinitely more sinister but does appear to show some remorse.

10/31/98 : A story of a group of friends who attend a Halloween party that turns out to actually be the site of a cult ritual/sacrifice. While they’re the usual, somewhat obnoxious group of clowns that we’ve come to expect from found footage, they also appear to be more chivalrous than the average. Arguably the most likable characters in the whole thing.

So, with all that in mind, what exactly is the problem that most people seem to have with V/H/S? Surely, based on that information, the things we should concern ourselves with most are why a Skype conversation is even on a VHS tape in the first place, why Americans still put the month first when writing dates and the fact that, oh my god, we live in an age where a camera in a pair of glasses is a totally plausible thing. Hello, the future!

The sticking point that many, and I hate to generalise but mostly female reviewers, can’t seem to get past is the seemingly unending display of misogny throughout. I think it’s safe to say, reading through my breakdown above, that the female characters in this movie come off just as poorly as the male characters in almost every segment. That’s barely even in question; almost everyone is an inexcusable ignoramus. And that’s the main reason that I don’t understand the backlash. This isn’t the first time a horror movie has been populated almost exclusively by characters that we all love to hate and it definitely won’t be the last. I think what I’m trying to say is that my argument boils down to one thing; just because a movie contains misogynistic characters doesn’t mean it has a misogynist agenda and, because I’m not biased, the same is also true of misandry.

I consider myself to be a feminist, and yet still I defend a movie that contains more misogynistic characters than a whole series of Entourage (which I loved, for the record). I can explain my actions thusly; it’s entertainment. Flippant, I know, but hear me out. Can you really imagine a young, impressionable male watching V/H/S and thinking to themselves “that looks like fun, I think I’ll treat women like disposable fuckholes from now on”, or a young girl watching it and thinking “when I grow up I’m going to get married, then kill my husband on a road trip before legging it with my lesbian lover and living a life of sapphic bliss on the run”? Let’s be realistic here, no, no you don’t. Almost all of V/H/S contains some form of supernatural element which goes some way to separating the stories contained within from the reality that we know. People won’t watch it and expect to be given oral sex by a succubus on their way home from a night out anymore than they’ll assume it’s ok to perpetuate behaviours seen on screen. Know why? Because, in the UK at least, V/H/S was released as an 18 certificate; the highest rating possible before an outright ban. That means that if the people in charge of distributing copies of the film are doing their job properly, no-one impressionable enough to be affected by it should be able to see it anyway. Those of us old enough to watch it are, hopefully, free thinking adults who will be able to seamlessly differentiate between fictional entertainment and real life, without ever confusing the two.

In my mind, and I’m aware that this will go down like a fart in a lift with some people and almost definitely lose me some friends in the horror community, with the knowledge that almost every character is an unrepentant arsehole at some point, or in some small way, why focus on the males? That, to me, almost says more about about the reviewers agenda than the film they are writing about.

So, with that in mind, as both a female horror fan and a fan of V/H/S, I still maintain that most of the bluff and blunder that some reviewers have been writing is, while well argued, mostly untrue and almost certainly unnecessary. All feminists want is equality, right? Well, V/H/S is a perfect example, every character is either morally bankrupt, innately and/or supernaturally evil or mentally deficient. There’s your equality right there. No one gender is portrayed to be any worse than the other, so does that make it anti-human being? Well, no, of course not. To sum up, I’ll repeat myself; V/H/S is the perfect popcorn flick. It’s a flawed film and it’s arguably a throwaway piece of cinema but it’s bloody entertaining. Does it deserve to be called misogynistic? No, I don’t think it does and to do so probably lends the film more weight than it deserves. What’s great though, is that it’s evoked any kind of debate at all, and isn’t that a big part of what being a true film fan is all about?

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