Here is the next attempt at the POV style of filmmaking that films like 'The Blair Witch Project' and 'Paranormal Activity' made famous. Over the past few years, we've seen a huge increase in the shaky cam films in other genres than horror. These types of films are slowly but surely oozing their way into the comedy and drama genres. This might be the first attempt at a horror anthology, one that, when done well, makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. However, when it misses the mark, you'll laugh and want to fast forward to the next segment.
All of the ideas in each segment are excellent, but probably due to a shoe-string budget, and literally being filmed on an extremely shaky home video camera, things are not executed as they should be and we miss out on the story development and scares. That's not to say, this film is all bad. On the contrary, there are a bunch of genuine scares and even some decent special effects. If you're a fan of horror films, then 'V/H/S' is an original and terrifying "found footage" film, one that should be in every horror collection.
There are several different segments, with an overall story arc throughout the film. That arc is titled 'Tape 56' and stitches together the individual segments. 'Tape 56', directed by Adam Wingard ('A Horrible Way To Die') centers on a group of very unlikable guys who are not above forcing women to get nude for their own enjoyment on camera or destroying public buildings for their own sadistic fun. Someone has asked this group of guys to break into a house and steal a mysterious VHS tape for a reward. Seeming like an easy score, the guys break in only to find the house pretty much empty with the exception of a basement filled to the brim with clutter and one room upstairs that has several tube televisions that are stacked on top of each other that are glowing with static, along with tons of VHS tapes scattered about the room. In addition to that, there is an old un-kept dead guy lying on a recliner chair in front of the televisions. As the guys explore the house for the mysterious VHS tape, one by one make their way into the television room and watch one of the tapes, which contain the other segments. After each segment appears, the guy who watches it oddly disappears with the dead guy in the chair disappearing and re-appearing in each scene.
The first segment is called 'Amateur Night' and is directed by David Bruckner ('The Signal') and follows three douche-bag college guys whose only goal at this point in their life is to get girls drunk and have their way with them. One of the guys constructs a hidden video camera in his eye glasses so that they can film the night's debauchery. After a night at the bars, the three guys end up bringing two girls back to their hotel room in hopes getting some action. However one of the girls immediately passes out from having had too much to drink, while the other girl, known as Lily, who seems to only utter the words "I like you," is not who she seems to be. She has big, round, black eyeballs and a giant scar in the middle of her forehead. Things go from sexy time to blood bath very quick, with some truly horrific images. However, due to the extreme unlikable characters in this, I couldn't sympathize with them. I think this would have been a little better if the three guys in this segment were somewhat redeeming.
'Second Honeymoon' is the next segment up by director Ti West ('House of the Devil') and comes across more as a murder mystery than a genuine horror film. That being said, West is a master of suspense and slowly builds it till you are on the edge of your seat. This segment centers on Sam (Joe Swanberg) and Stephanie (Sophia Takal), a young newlywed couple who are road tripping it through Arizona and video taping their romantic journey. The seemingly happy couple end up at a small motel where Sam is trying to get his wife naked on camera. At one point, a strange girl knocks on their motel door, asks for a ride the next morning, then leaves. We cut to the camera being turned on at night as the camera shows Stephanie fast asleep in bed. I think, "Finally, Sam will get his wish," only to find the camera then turning to show Sam fast asleep as well. This is the only segment that has a HUGE twist ending, one you won't predict.
Next up is 'Tuesday the 17th', which is clearly a shout out to the 'Friday the 13th' franchise and plays out like a typical slasher film from the 80s. This segment is directed by Glenn McQuaid who is known for his film 'I Sell the Dead.' Here, we get the stereotypical teenagers on a camping trip, but they are not alone in the woods, for there is a paranormal killer on the loose who seems to teleport from place to place and kill off each of them off. This is your basic comedy/horror segment, which is neither scary nor funny, due to the poor dialogue and non-scary villain. This is my least favorite of the segments.
Next up is Joe Swanberg's 'The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger'. Swanberg played Sam in the previous segment 'Second Honeymoon.' I thoroughly enjoyed this segment, mostly due to the way it was filmed. The entire piece is filmed via Skype on two laptops with webcams. We are introduced to Emily (Helen Rogers), a likable and somewhat crazy young woman who talks with her medical student boyfriend James (Daniel Kaufman) who is in another state. Emily starts to tell James that she thinks her place is haunted and brings the laptop with her to investigate the strange noises and paranormal activity going on. Emily thinks she is going crazy and all of these things are just a part of her imagination. A few truly bizarre twists and turns might make us think different. I wish this segment had a bit more time to develop the story, because with the short story we are given, there are more questions than answers that arise and ends up being less scary. Still, this is a good attempt.
The final segment is my favorite. It's titled 10/31/98 and is directed by a group of directors who go by the name Radio Silence. This particular segment has the most special effects in it by far, and fortunately, all the effects look very good and convincing. Here, we center around four friends in their late twenties on Halloween in 1998. One of the guys is wearing a teddy bear costume which doubles as a camera, back when the nanny-cam teddy bears were all the rage. The four friends head out to a supposed Halloween party at a stranger's house. Upon arriving, the large house seems to be empty, although as they're walking around the house looking for people, the thing that goes bump in the night tends to show its ugly head. The four guys make their way up a hidden staircase to the attic where they witness what seems to look like the cult sacrifice a virgin. But when the cult members start getting sucked out through the ceiling, objects are levitated and thrown around, and windows mysteriously disappear, it becomes clear this virgin is not who she seems to be.
Overall, I very much enjoyed 'V/H/S'. There are plenty of scares and suspenseful moments. If you can get past the dialogue, acting, and camera work being sub par, then I recommend 'V/H/S'. You won't be disappointed.
With a film like this, you can't really accurately describe the video quality. These films were shot on low-res cameras, VHS camcorders, and other make shift cameras from 10-15 years ago. Every flaw is present in this film, but that is the whole point. There are crushed shadows, unlimited banding, dirt, image blur, and every other defect you can come up with. It's present throughout the entire film. Not only that, but in post production, the filmmakers used their editing programs to amp up these defects.
'V/H/S' comes with a 1080p transfer and is presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio. That being said, you know it's in HD, but that's about it. the colors are often muted and fuzzy as well as the detail of everything in the picture is very soft. This is made to look like a hand made movie on VHS that you would find in the 80s. And they achieved that look, so while there are tons of constant defects in the picture, the video will get a better rating than any other film, since this was the concept they were trying to convey.
'V/H/S' surprisingly comes with a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix and sounds fairly impressive. Although the segments were filmed on old school style camcorders, none of the audio is mono or even stereo. Every segment has the 5.1 mix, so the audience can get the eerie and spooky sounds from the surrounds to frighten you even more. Much like the video presentation, the audio has its share of imperfections with cracks and hissing here and there. The dialogue isn't always crystal clear because of this, but it's never really hard to understand.
The ambient noises of people in bars, or ghostly sounds do come across nicely in the surrounds, other than that, most everything boasts from the fronts. And there is no music score in the film either, other than some of the music that plays on a car radio as people are talking or when people are at a bar and there is ambient music. Like above, this was the sound the filmmakers were trying to convey, and therefore it will get a higher mark than it should.
I can easily say that I'm now a fan of 'V/H/S', and more notably the talent of Radio Silence. These original stories, along with the creative camerework, produce a lot of genuine scares. I can't wait to turn out the lights, and make my friends watch this film after midnight. I highly recommend this Blu-ray, it makes an excellent addition to any horror fan's collection. I can't wait for the sequel.