Sunday, 13 April 2014


An obsolete media format may seem like an odd subject for a horror film but 2012 saw the release of V/H/S all the same. Rather than being a monster movie based around The Mighty Boosh’s BetaMax Bandit, V/H/S is a portmanteau film consisting of found footage shorts by a collection of modern horror directors.
Such a cinematic pick ‘n’ mix leads to the boringly inevitable conclusion; the quality varies from vignette to vignette. In general there is a spark of ingenuity that runs through every episode, even underneath the crushing weight of found footage dogmatism, but try as I might seems unfair to summarise the piece as a whole, each director deserves their due. So here they are:

1. So for the start it feels necessary to talk about the end, start, and several middles; the framing device comes from an August Underground style self-filmed crime wave, the tapes of which the gang sells online as ‘reality porn’. The rag tag bunch of hipster moustache-sporting petty criminals jump into their Mystery Machine and head to a house they have been contracted to  burgle, and jinkies if they don’t stumble upon a dead body sat in front of a collection of static engulfed television screens and a pile of video tapes. The watching of said tapes becomes the medium through which we get to view the contributed nuggets of horror. This obviously all needs to be taken with a pinch of salt with so many holes in feasibility that it feels more like a narrative string vest than a trench coat draped over some blood thirsty creatures. Why the hell does the man need so many screens at once? Why did they need to be on VHS when every single short is definitely shot on digital and you know… computers? As a film in itself though there are a few good moments that punctuate the boredom, helped by the fact it is split across the whole two hours. It still does suffers from the Paranormal Activity syndrome of “extreme boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror”... well, mild shock. 

Hannah Fierman
B. David Bruckner brings the first intact film in the form of Amateur Night and immediately deflects the “why are they filming this?” bullet by bringing us a pride of alpha male frat boy dicks that are as unlikeable as they are loud and have set themselves the task of filming an amateur undercover porn film. This is done using an unsuspecting female victim and a hidden camera in the glasses of the token skinny nerd, whose inclusion is screaming “YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO LIKE THIS GUY” in the audiences faces. Quite predictably things turn in to a satisfyingly cathartic blood bath as the unsuspecting victim ends up to be more predatory then the whole group of college douche bags put together. A lot of the credit has to go to Hannah Fierman who plays the films main focus. Her face is haunting and she maintains a creepy and innocent demeanour, even throughout her violent outburst. Most satisfyingly David Bruckner doesn’t keep things down on the ground (literally) and rises above the found-footage cliché by taking a wonderfully over the top supernatural turn. It can’t be said to be truly scary, but it is a lot of fun and it doesn’t hold back. Also it’s nice to see some equality of nudity. I always find myself disappointed in a film maker who is willing to show tits whenever possible but hasn’t got the balls to show…balls (even if they aren’t necessarily attached to someones body). It is a good solid short that does deal with the found footage problem well and is filled with personality and heart.

III. Second Honeymoon comes excitingly from Ti West, a director who divides horror fans with his trademark slow pacing. The story line is pretty much non-existent other than a married couple on holiday with a tiny touch of impending doom with a mystery documentarian turning the camera secretly back on to them both in their sleep. This minimalist style suited The House of the Devil, setting an eerie atmosphere and tone but here leaves you wanting it to, in the words of Rizzle Kicks, skip to the good bit. The early reference to Big is fun but also alludes to an otherwise non-existent supernatural presence. It really is a struggle to find much to talk about. It is the most generic modern found footage plot and pace I can think of with a twist that is predictable in as much as there is obviously a twist coming and when it happens you are by no means blown away. It tries to deal with concepts conquered by David Lynch and Maichael Haneke and doesn’t come close to the depth of either.

• Picture the scene if you can… Opening shot, a group of teenagers are in a car heading through the woods, there is a happy couple hoping to get some forest freaky time, a slutty girl with tits that contain more silicon than Bill Gate’s recycling bin, and the horny geek hoping to score with said walking Barbie doll. They arrive at a lake and all seems like a lot of fun until a mysterious character turns up and starts gruesomely hacking his way through teenage flesh. It’s a story so over-told it takes a really special idea to pump unexpected life into its cold rotting corpse and Glen McQuaid is most definitely not the man holding the defibrillator paddles. I don’t know if he thought he was genuinely adding a new twist or was just content to be harking back to the old days when Jason Vorhees was happily cavorting his way around Crystal Lake. So with ‘Tuesday the 17th’ Glenn… hang on a minute… Friday 13th, Saturday 14th, Sunday, Monday… The only scary part of this is the news that the latest Friday 13th  installment is being considered as a found-footage film, let’s just hope for Mrs. Voorhees’ sake it’s not anything like this pile of balls.

Stick-man toddler
So resetting my eyeballs after having rolled them far enough into my sockets to view my own brain, they were set on what seemed to be a pretty original concept. The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger is framed completely as a video call. With the eponymous Emily centre screen, she guides her absent boyfriend through her haunted apartment. It moves along at a pace that full length ghost stories could only wish for without ever sacrificing tension. There is little that isn’t admirable as a short film, even the young child ghost that seems to move like the brilliant ‘stick-man toddler’ doesn’t really detract from the mood. The final reveal was ultimately disappointing in its execution although the idea is commendable. Overall a nicely done modern ghost story in its simplicity that twists into themes of manipulation and misplaced trust in a modern technological age. A similar idea has been tried before in the commendably bad The Collingswood Story, a film that had an ambition that was farther ahead than the technology it was trying to utilise. Joe Swanberg gives the concept the modern setting it deserves.

Capping V/H/S off is 10/31/98 by directing collective Radio Silence. Harking back to the previous entry Amateur Night we have another group of men, this time more mature and infinitely less idiotic, on the way to a house party for Halloween. Not only does it follow a similar group of characters but it also deals with the central found-footage dilemma in a similar way by strapping the camera, peep show style, to the head of one of the party members. The group reach the address of a supposed party only to discover an empty house. They find a way in regardless and take part in what they think is a pretty impressive haunted house experience. Things soon take a darker turn as the spooky goings on are apparently more real than they first appear. This short is another one that is satisfying by just how over the top it is willing to go and when the scares start to kick in the self-filmed aspect really does seem to add something to the creepiness. Hands literally reach from the walls and floors as the group, acting with good intentions to free a girl from the house, make their escape. The shots never linger too long on the scares and really do add to the impression of panic and fear as they run through the house. It looks like the best haunted house ride in the world and that’s the main thing it left me wanting for, a haunted house experience as fun as this one looks. It’s playful and interesting and is by no means taking itself too seriously and is most definitely a breath of fresh air with which to finish the whole collection.
V/H/S is good on the whole but at times seems surprisingly scared to walk new ground. It’s becoming harder and harder to defend found-footage as a commendable film style in its own right. Restrictions to film making can work in the hands of art-house auteurs but if there is any life left in the found-footage novelty there are only a few faint breaths of it here.  

No comments:

Post a Comment