Sunday, June 23, 2013

30 Days of Nightmares #23: V/H/S (2012)

The Story: An anthology of horror shorts bound together by the (nostalgia-inducing?) gimmick of being shot on crappy VHS cameras.  The brainchild of Bloody Disgusting's Brad Miska. 

Expectations: Following THE THEATER BIZARRE, V/H/S seems to suggest that horror anthologies are making a comeback.  A friend of mine has observed, "They're only coming back because it's a cheap way to make a film -- give a bunch of hungry filmmakers a little bit of money and hope that one of them comes up with something good."  Cynical but astute.  Sometimes, of course, anthologies turn out to be memorable.  Done right, when the stories are bound together by a particularly compelling theme and/or a particularly strong storyteller, it's a fun format.  V/H/S doesn't have a theme, just a gimmick... and the found footage angle will undoubtedly turn some viewers off...

Reaction: First of all, I think wraparound stories are bound to suck.  They have the unenviable distinction of being broken up multiple times, so they have very little chance of engaging the viewer.  Wraparound stories are basically commercial breaks.  Nobody likes commercial breaks.  The best bet is to try to build interludes around a charismatic personality... but V/H/S avoids that lesson.  The wraparound segment, written by Simon Barrett and directed by Adam Wingard, tries to tell its own story... but mostly it seems like a series of commercial breaks.  As for the other stories...

David Brucker's "Amateur Night" kicks things off pretty well.  The shakey camera effect gets old VERY fast, and the characters are that most annoying of horror movie stereotypes (horny frat boys), but the monster is interesting and the finale is well-executed.

Ti West's "Second Honeymoon" takes that momentum and runs with it in a low-key, genuinely creepy second act.  West is consistently good at crafting suspense, but some viewers argue that his payoffs are weak.  I found that to be the case here.... The ending sort of reminds me of that stupid riddle about the kid who's in a car accident with his father.  (When he gets to the hospital, the doctor says, "I can't operate on him because he's my son"...)  Still, I can't argue that West knows his craft.

Glenn McQuaid's "Tuesday the 17th" is, in my opinion, the weakest of the bunch -- and maybe that's why it's the middle entry.  You wouldn't want to start with this, or leave people thinking about it at the end.  The title says it all... Despite some interesting visuals, it's derivative in an obnoxious way. 

Simon Barrett gets his shot at redemption in "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger."  This one updates the VHS gimmick to the 21st century, playing out the action entirely via webcab.  The filmmaker wisely exploits the one thing that is potentially scary about webcams -- the fact that, despite the illusion, you are not physically in the room with the other person.  And Barrett gets bonus points for taking this story in a completely different direction from where I thought it was going.  This is solid storytelling.

"10/31/98," directed by a group of filmmakers under the moniker Radio Silence, returns to that obnoxious frat boy stereotype again.  Were it not for the tiresome characters (and the increasingly tiresome found footage format), I think the ending of this segment would have blown me away.  There's nothing particularly inventive about the story, but the practical effects worked well... and would probably work even better for someone who hasn't seen Polanski's REPULSION. 

All in all, this is a relatively worthwhile experiment.  Obviously I'm not the only one who thinks so.  The sequel is due out in October.

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: I was always creeped out by those "reality"-based long takes in the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies.  Often it's the waiting that draws me in to a horror movie.   Ti West and Simon Barrett craft the same kind of suspense here, utilizing found footage format to its best effect. 

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