out of Five
Running time: 116
Entertaining horror anthology with strong performances, decent special effects and a handful of nice ideas, though some of the stories work better than others and the film is let down by a weak linking segment.
What's it all about?
Directed by six different directors (including The Innkeepers' Ti West and mumblecore maestro Joe Swanberg), V/H/S is a found footage horror anthology with five separate horror films linked together by a segment (Adam Wingard's Tape 56) in which a group of burglars discover a pile of VHS tapes next to a corpse in a mysterious house, with the tapes forming the five films.
In David Bruckner's Amateur Night, a group of would-be amateur pornographers (Drew Sawyer, Mike Donlan and Joe Sykes) get more than they bargained for when they attempt to lure two drunk girls back to their hotel for secretly filmed sex using glasses-mounted cameras. In Ti West's Second Honeymoon, a couple (Joe Swanberg and Sophia Takal) on a second honeymoon are stalked by a mysterious intruder (Kate Lyn Sheil) who films them while they sleep. In Glenn McQuaid's Tuesday the 17th, a terrifying presence (that only appears on screen as a glitch) picks off a group of teenagers camping in the woods. In Joe Swanberg's The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger, a would-be doctor (Daniel Kaufman) attempts to reassure his increasingly disturbed girlfriend (Helen Rogers) via a series of Skype calls; and in Radio Silence's 10/31/98, a group of partygoers unwittingly enter a haunted house on Halloween.
Needless to say, some of the segments work much better than others. The strongest shorts are Amateur Night (which uses some impressive special effects), Second Honeymoon (genuinely creepy) and The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger, which generates an impressive amount of tension through its simple set-up and pulls off the film's most unexpected finale. Cleverly, each of V/H/S's five found-footage films falls into a different genre of horror film, so you have a creature feature, a ghost story, a serial killer thriller, a haunted house movie and a possession film.
On top of that, a couple of the films attempt to subtly critique and subvert the misogyny that's often rampant within the horror genre (there's male nudity in Amateur Night, for example), though how successful they are in that respect is open to debate.
The film's biggest disappointment is the linking segment, which is both poorly conceived and badly written and never really convinces; it doesn't help that the characters are indistinguishable, a problem that also occurs in 10/31/98. It's also fair to say that the film isn't exactly consistent throughout, how did a modern-day Skype conversation end up on a VHS tape, for example?
While not entirely successful, V/H/S does at least deliver a decent number of shocks and scares and is ultimately worth seeing.