Sundance 2012: V/H/S Review

     January 28, 2012

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I’ve written before about how anthology movies get on my nerves, and how they trample my nerves when the overarching narrative relies on coincidence to bring the characters together.  However, I’m not opposed to having a consistent theme running throughout (provided the subtext isn’t “we’re all connected”; I’m looking at you, 360).  The horror anthology V/H/S doesn’t bother with narrative or themes beyond “girls are not to be trusted”, “guys have way too much testosterone”, and “videotaping fun gatherings will inevitably lead to a gruesome death.”  Even the truly shared aspect—that all of the shorts look like they were shot on VHS—is undermined by not doing anything more than cast all of the stories in the found-footage mold.  Despite its lack of depth, the film is a standard mixed bag anthology, but most of the items in V/H/S‘ bag are pretty fun.

The overarching shell story features a group of destructive ass-holes who spend their free time videotaping their miscellaneous antics, which includes smashing up an empty house, and forcibly making a helpless woman flash her breasts at their camera.  One member of the group has lost a sex tape he made with his girlfriend, and so the guys head to a creepy house to try and recover it.  They discover a dead body in a chair, but quickly move on to dig through the videos to find their friends.  Meanwhile, one of the guys sits in the room with the dead body and starts watching some of the tapes.  Each short film was handled by a different director, and the stories range from a monster movie to a haunted house to a killer in the woods.

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Each director (David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, and Adam Wingard) manages to find a somewhat believable excuse to have someone carry around a video recording device, but using modern technology undermines the 80s horror vibe that would fit perfectly with using a VHS camera.  However, some of the shorts manage to justify using digital technology by cleverly making it essential to the story.  The other shorts are simply, “People record themselves when they go out and have fun.  They will pay for this.”  And the cost is usually entertaining.

Most of the shorts also adhere to the rule that we want irritating people to die so it’s okay to make almost everyone as obnoxious and/or irredeemably stupid as humanly possible.  To its credit the film manages to balance the misogyny of some of the shorts by making most of the guys be even worse than the duplicitous women.  It’s one of the few consistencies of all the stories.

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But there needs to be more than simple characterizations that are found in countless other horror films.  The only hard rules for all of the filmmakers is that they’re going to make found-footage movies and there has to be some reason for a character to record everything.  That freedom allowed for different approaches and some intriguing stories, but without something to tie them all together beyond a couple of parameters, V/H/S is an exercise.  It’s an enjoyable exercise with varying levels of creativity and quality storytelling, but its refusal to do anything deeper than allow its directors to churn out a found-footage horror short makes the film a mostly forgettable experience.

Rating: B-

For all of our coverage of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, click here.  Also, here are links to all of my Sundance reviews so far:

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