SXSW 2012 Review: V/H/S
Review by Britt Hayes
If The Cabin in the Woods is a love letter to the horror we’ve all grown to love (and, at times, have become complacent toward), V/H/S is an anarchic assault on the found footage genre. Directors Adam Wingard, Ti West, Simon Barrett, David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, and Joe Swanberg join forces to marry the anthology concept to found footage in a non-stop barrage of terror. And sure, it’s sort of a love letter to the VHS tapes that introduced so many of us to horror in the first place.
Wingard directs the wraparound segment — a story about a few aspiring criminals and total lowlife jerks who are tasked with retrieving a VHS tape from an old house in exchange for some cash. The men find and watch VHS tapes that showcase various horrors.
Bruckner’s “Amateur Night” tells the story of a Bros Night Out gone horrifically wrong when the young, disarmingly beautiful and strange woman they pick up at the bar turns out to be more woman than they bargained for. The segment sets the tone for much of the film, which relies and dotes on technology, embracing the changing technological landscape. Not only does it show us how we can abuse this technology, but it utilizes every means of recording possible to deliver the narratives. In “Amateur Night,” for instance, the means of recording is a pair of glasses with a camera built-in.
Aside from Joe Swanberg’s incredibly effective and horrifying “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Young,” the films all have this theme of Bros Gone Wild, but where Project X — another film that features bros behaving badly in a mock-doc atmosphere — has its young men largely getting away with their less than savory shenanigans, V/H/S sees nearly every misogynistic, deplorable man getting their comeuppance. The filmmakers practically acknowledge the notion that technology is most dangerous in the hands of man, sort of a play on the Prometheus concept, where fire cannot be trusted to mortal man.
Swanberg’s entry is by far the best of the anthology — a visceral mixture of old-fashioned ghost story and body horror, with the added twist of a series of Skype calls between a woman and her boyfriend. It’s a squirm-inducing little story, pumped full of dreadful intensity. West’s segment, “Second Honeymoon,” co-stars Swanberg as one half of a couple on a trip to the Grand Canyon. When a young woman knocks on the door late at night looking for a ride, things start to get a little weird. In true West fashion, the story is a slow-burn — a feat, no doubt, considering the time constraint.
McQuaid’s piece is a take on the teens in the woods genre, with a janky psycho killer on the loose. The editing in this segment is of particular note, but it doesn’t seem to instill the same fear as the “Emily” and “Second Honeymoon” segments, which rely heavily on atmosphere. “Tuesday the 17th” is more blunt in its delivery.
And finally, the film collective Radio Silence ends the anthology with “10/31/98,” a haunted house tale flipped on its ass when a few friends go to a house for a party and find something incredibly sinister afoot in the attic. The build-up is filled with humor, but the pay-off is nothing short of brilliant, mixing some clever effects work with the even more clever idea of a guy dressed as a “nanny cam,” with a camera built into his costume. When shit hits the fan, it hits full-tilt.
The genesis of the V/H/S concept comes courtesy of Bloody-Disgusting’s Brad Miska, who corralled a fantastic group of directors who are currently invigorating the horror genre with films like Ti West’s The Innkeepers and Wingard’s You’re Next, which premiered to feverish adoration at last year’s Fantastic Fest. V/H/S continues this group’s innovative approach to horror. It’s a fresh approach from a fresh generation. These are our filmmakers, and they’re not just speaking for us — they’re screaming in our faces.