Tuesday, January 1, 2013

my initial thoughts on.... 'V/H/S'

I'm calling this my initial review, as I feel that upon further viewing of this movie, I may change my rating.

Found footage. A sub-genre that has people who love it or hate it. There seems to be no real in-between. I, personally, am a fan and have been since 1999. That was the year that Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez introduced the world to 'The Blair Witch Project'. I still put this film in my top 50 films of all time and will stand by that statement. The marketing, the use of viral videos and the sheer brilliance of using the internet, made this film a world wide phenomenon. After that, there were several imitators, but Oren Peli turned it into a franchise-able concept with the 'Paranormal Activity' films. Smooshed in-between those two trendsetters, Fred Vogel gave us the ultimate series found footage films to date.... 'August Underground'. His home video style horror films, brought the whole sub-genre into a new world of realism. I believe he did it more out of the lack of funds, than to out do his predecessors. But his cinema-verte style of film making created something so horrifying that I still place this trilogy as one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen. He's never had the distribution that the other found footage flicks have had, but that makes his films even more legendary. It takes work to track them down and you really have to want to see them, if you want to find them. Granted, the internet has made it much easier, but if you're curious.... start digging now. You will question why you ever wanted to see them and if they're really just a movie. They are that realistic and disturbing. Anyway.... the point is, there have been so many takes on this sub-genre and so many hits and misses.... that there really isn't much more to be said. However, 'V/H/S' wanted to try.

In this review, I'm going to dissect the movie as a whole and go through each individual segment. This way, I can tell you what I thought about each part and then sum them up at the end. The logic here, is that each part is directed by someone different and therefore, each segment should be treated as it's own individual movie. 'V/H/S' is presented as a single piece or work, but it is a patchwork of ideas and executions. I'll provide you with a screen cap from each segment, who directed it and a previous movie to reference for them. I've also included the standard trailer for 'V/H/S', to give you a chance to see what you think. I was honestly stoked after seeing the trailer and it's a big reason that I was eager to see it. The trailer may also be part of the reason I had overly high expectations. That is the power of the trailer. I also am a fan of a few of the directors represented here and wanted to see what they could do with the material. Not to mention that the reviewers of this movie seemed to endlessly heap praises on it. This movie was EVERYWHERE. Any horror film site you went to, prior to its release, had tons of things to say about it. You would have thought this was the expected second coming of horror itself. Despite all of that, I kept the flood of information to a minimum and when I finally saw it.... I had no idea what to expect. The only thing I knew was that the stories were loosely tied together. So, before we get into the meat of this review, I will warn you that there may be *SPOILERS* ahead. I hate to be one of those types of reviewers, but I feel that it's almost necessary here. That being said.... here we go!

*SPOILERS!*

'Tape 56/frame narrative' by Adam Wingard ('Home Sick')

This mini-movie was designed to be the common thread to all of the mini-movies. It was done by Adam Wingard, who most people may recognize from his movie 'Home Sick'. I've seen 'Home Sick' and there were quite a few good things about it, but it seemed like Adam was still trying to find his voice. 'Tape 56' is a simple story about several "questionable" characters who've stepped up from amateur porn into the world of burglary. From the minimal information provided in ALL of the movies, this one leads us to believe they're hired to steal a VHS tape from an old mans house. Upon entering the home, they find that it's basically empty and that the man is dead. After a search of the home, they find a stash of VHS tapes. However, once they find the tapes, strange things start happening. They see a figure moving about the house. The old man in the chair, who's dead, keeps disappearing and reappearing. It all ends up in a big bloody mess, when the old man kills everyone.

Now, you'd think that this story would run throughout the entire movie, but it only goes 85% of the way. It actually ends before the last story does. It is actually kind of a let down. If this is to be the tie that binds, then why does it fray at the end? Again, perhaps it was meant to be ironic? I don't know. Overall, my biggest problem with 'V/H/S' is that each of the stories is basically stringing together tidbits from other movies that used the same ideas. By putting them together out of sequence and using the VHS tape ploy, it's intended to create something new. To me, it just created a mess. This was a good example of that. Granted, I've never seen a group of thieves trying to steal a single VHS tape and being killed by a zombie/ghost/killer guy, but I've seen thieves going to steal something and being killed by something other than each other. (BTW: I took a quick second to hop around the internet to check out some other reviews, to see if I'm alone in my initial distaste for this movie. I'm kind of alone in my thinking.) Anyway.... on to the mini-movie:

*SPOILERS!*

'Amateur Night' by David Bruckner ('The Signal')

This is the first VHS tape that the thieves watch. It's done by David Bruckner, who made the awesome film 'The Signal'. It was a low budget film that went way above and beyond it's budget. I loved 'The Signal' and was excited to see that he was involved with this project. 'Amateur Night' tells the story of 3 guys out on the town, trying to get laid. The catch is, one of the guys is wearing spy glasses. Glasses that have a camera in them, so they can video him having sex with an unsuspecting woman. It's a simple plan, but it goes terribly wrong. They find two women at the bar that are willing to go back to their hotel room. One of them is rather strange and keeps telling our "hero" that she likes him. Her eyes are huge and creepy, but it doesn't stop the three boys from going back with the girls. The first girl passes out, before one of the guys has sex with her. He isn't happy with that, but has some morals and won't date rape the girl. His solution? To have sex with the weird girl his friend brought home. When things start to get hot and heavy, she attacks him and starts to eat him. She then attacks the second friend. Out "hero" escapes and falls down some stairs. With his wrist broken, the girl catches up to him. She still tries to establish a relationship with him, but he wants nothing to do with her. In the end, she grows bat wings and carries him away.

This is probably the most interesting of the bunch, primarily for the lead actress Hannah Fierman. She plays 'Lily' and she is hypnotizing. She reminds me of Angela Bettis, back around the era of 'May'. Despite Ms. Fierman, this mini-movie still feels stunted. We've seen something like this before and the end flight sequence is very b-grade. It honestly reminded me of the special effects from 'Evil Dead 2'. I'm guessing it was supposed to be the crown jewel at the end of the movie, but it ended up just blowing the whole mystique for me. In hindsight, I'm doubtful this could be a full length movie.... but if I was to compare it to a full length movie that's already been made, I would say it's kind of similar to 'Splice'. Moving on....

*SPOILERS!*

'Second Honeymoon' by Ti West ('The House Of The Devil')

This was the only reason I was originally drawn to this movie. Ti West is one of the more interesting horror directors working today. I won't say he's the best, but he seems to have an interesting take on things. Granted, he is the one that made 'Cabin Fever 2', but that wasn't entirely his fault. This installment in 'V/H/S' is also the one that most of the reviewers talk about as well. It seems to stand out for a lot of people and I can see why. When I watched this movie, I made sure not to check out who made which mini-movie. I really didn't want to bias my opinion ahead of time.

The basic plot line here, is simple. A couple is on the road. They stop at a hotel. A young girl comes to the door and asks for a ride, they deny her. She's seen outside their room, but eventually leaves. During the night, the camera is turned on, but it's not either of the couple filming. Soon, a switchblade is seen and things get a little tense. Ultimately, it ends with the cameraman putting a toothbrush in the toilet and stealing some cash. The next day, the man is wondering where his cash has gone. They spend the day out and then come back to the hotel. That night, we again see someone filming the man while he sleeps. Soon, the switchblade appears and instead of nothing happening.... he's stabbed in the neck until he's dead. The next shot is of the masked killer, a woman, kissing the other member of the original couple.... also a woman. She then asks if the tape has been erased. That's it.

This one was well done. No supernatural here, just a simple and almost 'Hitchcockian' style story. When I first saw this, I didn't catch the fact that the two people in the end were both women. Not that it really changed the overall feel of the mini-movie, but it was a detail that was missed. I think that the main reason this story works, is how simple it is. All of the other stories in this anthology are not overly complicated, but this one is cut and dry. That to me makes it stand out and I don't think it needed much more time than it had in the movie. It was the right length for what it was. Simple.

*SPOILERS!*

'Tuesday the 17th' by Glenn McQuaid ('I Sell The Dead')

Okay, let's take a minute now to talk about this one. This mini-movie is probably the least original story line of the bunch. However, the killer is the hook here. I believe that every horror fan out there is looking for that next Freddy or Jason. We all want an iconic character that we can latch onto and make them our own. At this point in horror, it's become more and more difficult to do something new. You can change their mask and you can change their weapon, but you can't make them have that spark. That little bit of magic that makes them go beyond the screen. What Glenn McQuaid has done here, is take the typical stupid kids in the forest idea and threw a new wrench into the story. Not unlike 'Tucker and Dale vs. Evil', this one is trying to provide a breath of fresh air in a stale and worn out world. Glenn did a great job with his previous film, 'I Sell The Dead', in giving us an original and fun story line. This mini-movie was lacking the humor, but it still had the originality. (It also starred Jason Yachanin, of 'Poultrygeist' fame!) But let's talk plot real quick:

Alright, stop me if you heard this one before. 4 young people go into a secluded spot in the woods. They talk about sex, do some drugs and one of them brings up a mythical killer in the woods. One of the other friends starts going on and on about some scary stuff too and soon.... people start dying. The differences are two fold: 1) The main girl in the story confesses that she's brought them all back into the woods as bait. It would seem that she escaped he killer before and came back to prove he was real and to kill him. 2) The killer itself. He appears to be some kind of walking and breathing "glitch". What I mean is, he looks like the tracking on your VCR isn't working properly. It's like a cross between the stealth mode 'Predator' and some TV static. It's kind of bizarre and yet it works. Even stranger still, when he gets close to the camera, you can make out some details in his body, but never anything specific. Ultimately, she fails at her goal and everyone dies. The End.

Now, all that being said, I feel like this installment could use a bit more exposition about the killer. He may not be the 'iconic' Freddy or Jason, but it could fill out a well done horror film nicely. This mini-movie was like an appetizer before a really big meal. Sadly, the big meal never happened. I would hope that they would take the time and sit down, in order to create a smart and interesting 'one off' film. It doesn't need to be a franchise, just something great. My biggest problem with this installment, was the acting. It felt so cardboard and bad that it actually hurt the overall mini-movie. Not that this needed Oscar worthy performances, but a little more realism wouldn't have hurt. Overall, a fairly decent entry.

*SPOILERS!*

'The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger' by Joe Swanberg ('Silver Bullets')

So, this movie is called 'V/H/S', right? The whole premise is based on out of date tapes that have middle to low grade quality. This installment is all, basically, footage from a series of Skype type webcam calls. Does that make sense? Taking that as it is, this really wasn't terrible. My biggest problem with this one, was the payoff. It started out so strong and actually had some scares to it, that it gave me some really high hopes for something more. That never happened. For this installment, I think the mini-movie anthology concept hurt more than it helped.

The story revolves around a couple talking over their computer webcams. The girl is concerned that her apartment is haunted. Over the course of several conversations, things get weirder and weirder. Eventually, it leads up to her confronting her 'ghosts'. Then, while she's knocked out, her boyfriend enters the room. He's been close by the whole time, but she never knew it. She's surrounded by children of various ages and he then cuts her open, pulls out some kind of fetus thing and hands it to one of the kids. There is a one sided conversation about alien type things and how she's been used as a 'host' by this guy for a long time. Cut to another conversation with the couple and the girl is all beat up and said she's been to the doctor and diagnosed with some psychological issues. Their conversation ends and the man switches to another conversation with another woman and things seem to be identical with her. That's all we get.

For me, I felt cheated and didn't like this one at all. Perhaps it was the fact that I missed the alien part? Perhaps it was too subtle or perhaps I just wasn't paying attention? Either way, it was just kind of a lame finale. Nothing about this one seemed to make sense with the overall anthology. Sure, it had some initial scares, but who really cared at the end of it all?

Oddly, the man behind this one.... Joe Swanberg,was the star of Ti West's 'Second Honeymoon'. Yup, he was the guy that got stabbed in the neck.

*SPOILERS!*

'10/31/98' by Radio Silence aka Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Justin Martinez, Tyler Gillett and Chad Villella ('Interactive Adventures')

By this point in the movie, you've made your way through all but one story line. Some people say they saved the best for last, others say they blew their load on the first story. I'm probably more in the camp that they didn't save the best for last. I won't say this was the worst, but it felt really cliched. I have to admit that the first 2 acts of this story were well done and actually kind of creepy. It, sadly, fell apart in the 3rd act and just ended like a student film.... in my opinion. Again, this one didn't explain too much and I'm not sure if that ultimately helped the overall story line. What really was going on in the attic? I think that the guys behind this one have some potential, either in the found footage sub-genre or with a normal horror film. Perhaps with a little more flushing out, this one could have been the crown jewel of the series. I'll look forward to seeing what they do next.

In this final story, 4 guys head out for a Halloween party at a big, scary old house. Upon entering, it's strangely empty and things are not looking to positive. Regardless of that, they begin wandering around looking for the party inside. As they spend more and more time inside, strange things begin to happen. Soon, the guys end up in the attic.... where some men are holding some sort of ritual with a woman who's tied to the rafters. As the confused friends survey the situation, they quickly decide to rescue the girl. When they do, all hell breaks loose. The men performing the ritual begin to get sucked into the roof and the whole house seems to begin to attack the friends. They rush to get the girl out as the house starts to seal up. Eventually, they get to the basement and escape through the cellar doors. They get the girl to the car and speed away. Soon, the car dies and the woman disappears. She re-appears in front of the car, screams and is gone. Then the friends realize they are on the train tracks.... with a train coming right at them. The doors are locked and the car is dead. As the train is about to hit, credits roll.

Does that sound a bit recycled? I do. This 'cute' little ending took something that was fairly frightening and made it feel like we were all kind of cheated. And because the story that tied all the stories together has already ended, this is what we get for a nail in the coffin.... so to speak.

There is an alternate ending to this story and the movie, which shows the friends escaping the car at the last minute and walk away talking about how great a Halloween night it was. Would that have been better? What say you?

That's it. That's what 'V/H/S' turned out to be. IT wasn't quite what I expected, but it also wasn't terrible. It had some really good stuff, but it still left a bad taste in my mouth. I really wanted something so much more and I think that all of the previous reviewers kind of ruined it for me. They hyped it up so much to be the second coming of horror and the re-birth of the found footage sub-genre that there was no way it could ever live up to the hype. It also suffered from a bit of a bloated running time. Perhaps one less story would have made the overall movie stronger? Even with that being done, the stories themselves felt like they were a bit slap dashed. Kind of like when you get a bunch of friends together and you come up with a great idea. You hash out the details, but for what ever reason, you never bring the idea to fruition. In this case, those guys sitting around, had the time, money and motivation to finish what they started. The only issue was, they didn't take the proper time to go beyond the brainstorming stage. Just because an idea sounds cool on paper, doesn't mean it'll translate to the screen. Maybe it was better on the page? Who knows? Maybe I'm just so jaded by the sheer amount of films I've seen in my lifetime, that I'm being overly critical. Whatever the case may be, this movie rubbed me the wrong way and I'm being honest about that fact. On the flip side of that, I have a rule. If a movie sticks with me and won't leave my mind after I've seen it, then there is something more going on that I need to explore. 'V/H/S' is a prime example of that. The minute after I turned it off, I started replaying it all in my head. I kept going over and over what I saw.... dissecting it and analyzing it. It's like I was trying to pick it apart, either to love it or hate it. This doesn't happen too often, but when it does.... I end up loving the movie I've seen. That's why I started this review by saying that it was only my initial review. I have a gut feeling that this movie will eventually either live to become a part of my collection or a part of my list of movies I hate.

Okay, with all of that aside, something else was bugging me about this movie.... even before it ended. I don't understand why all of these stories, take place in modern day, however all of the people are still using VHS tapes and cameras. So, either the movie was intended to be anachronistic.... or I'm missing something. It was confusing and I kind of doubt they were trying be 'ironic', as there was a huge lack of Pabst Blue Ribbon and handlebar mustaches. If someone can explain this little oddity to me, I would appreciate it. And just so you don't think I'm not paying attention, check out the cars used, the fact that cell phones are being utilized and that one whole story is based on a Skype type internet chat. Is that even really considered VHS? Anyway.... I've already covered that earlier.

In the end, I will give this 2 out of 5 stars. I'm being a little harsh, but something really bugged me about it overall. Keep your eyes peeled though, I may re-write this whole thing in the near future. I'm funny like that. I mean, look how long this review is and how much time I spent on it.

This movie really has no peer, but for anthologies or found footage movies, I'd recommend: 'Creepshow', 'The Blair Witch Project', 'Trick r' Treat' and 'Paranormal Activity'

2 comments:

  1. re: use of VHS cameras:

    while it makes sense to shoot a movie called "v/h/s" on vhs tape, the real reason might be more of a financial one:

    you can currently purchase professional VHS cameras that at one time cost thousands of dollars for under $15 on ebay these days. i have four of them myself.

    if i were going to find the most cost effective solution for a multi-camera shoot, vhs would be it

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