For a genre that thrives on gimmickry, horror is a natural fit for the ubiquitous found-footage method of filmmaking. Movies like the Paranormal Activity or [REC] series that have the camera and/or cameraman exist in the reality of their stories draw a direct line to the viewers and make them feel more like a part of the scary action.
The various makers of V/H/S have revisited the found-footage well and have layered on a bit of technological nostalgia for effect, using the outdated video format as the inspiration for this anthology. In the film, a group of frat-boy thugs gets hired to break into some weird old guy’s house and steal a particular VHS tape. What they find is the old man dead in his chair in front of several TVs, all of which are on and showing snow, and a rather large collection of tapes throughout the house. As they search for the one tape they need, they pop in some of the others, each of which contains a different horrible story.
With different directors, writers, and cast for each of the individual sequences, there’s a little something for every horror fan in V/H/S, from a haunted house to a vicious monster to a mysterious crime tale. This is both the strength and weakness of the film, and of anthologies in general. All the sequences are pretty well made, but for this reviewer the very first one, “Amateur Night,” is the creepiest and most fear-inducing. It therefore sets up an expectation the rest of the film doesn’t meet. Whether the experience will be different for anyone else is hard to say, but, regardless, everyone will likely prefer some sequences to others, which means an uneven sense of progression.
The crackling distortions and rainbow tracking lines of ye olde magnetic format do conjure up a sense of distance and otherness that dovetails very well with the overall feeling of discomfort, but it’s really only used for the frat-boy framing sequences and doesn’t figure into any of the other stories at all. (One of them is actually told entirely through a computer video chat, which has no reason to be on any type of antiquated medium.) As a result, the analog filming is almost entirely inessential plot-wise, and very little would have changed if it were just shot in digital. But I guess as a title, Flash Drive doesn’t hold quite the same punch.
Despite the pacing issues inherent to the structure, V/H/S delivers a healthy dose of atmospheric chills and scares, exhibiting a sense of style that raises it above most of the run-of-the-mill slasher sequels and retreads that pass for horror these days.
Directors: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence
Writers: Simon Barrett; David Bruckner & Nicholas Tecosky; Ti West; Glenn McQuaid; Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez & Chad Villella
Starring: Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes, Kentucker Audley, Adam Wingard, Hannah Fierman, Mike Donlan, Joe Sykes, Drew Sawyer, Joe Swanberg, Sophia Takal, Norma C. Quinones, Drew Moerlein, Jeannine Yoder, Jason Yachanin, Helen Rogers, Daniel Kaufman, Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Paul Natonek
Release Date: Oct. 5, 2012 (limited) (Available now on VOD)