Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Found Footage Overload in "V/H/S" - a Horror Anthology

A group of thugs is commissioned by a third party to retrieve a VHS tape in an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere. With visions of doing a reality show-styled film, the crew takes the job, documenting their every move. Upon locating the place, they find a dead old man sitting on a chair in front of stacks of old televisions sets - and a number of VHS tapes scattered around the house. Each character soon discovers the  ominous and preternatural content of each tape.

The characters - and the audience - are then treated into a series of unrelated "found footage" films, each one with their own brand of horror. These segments are divided into the following:

"Tape 56", directed by Adam Wingard, connects these unrelated stories together into an anthology of suspenseful stories. Each thug is tasked to watch - and get spooked by - a VHS tape; then they disappear one after the other.

"Amateur Night", directed by David Bruckner, is my favorite among this set. It is also the best realized narrative. A group of young men decide to hook some girls at the bar, take them to their room, then without their knowledge, film their intimate moments through an eyeglass with a built-in camera. One particular catch is a creepy girl, amazingly portrayed by Hannah Fierman, with the most off-tangent affect. Her gaze looks blank, but she seems as "game' as the guys who soon gather round her naked. Then, her true nature unravels. What follows is one of the most malevolent scenes we've scene this year. Short and chilling.

"Second Honeymoon", directed by Ti West, takes us alongside a couple's road trip to celebrate their wedding anniversary. They check-in into dingy motels and avoid rowdy crowds in towns with "bad reputation". One night, they get a visitor who unwittingly trespass their room while they sleep. The stark beauty of an arid landscape contrasts beautifully with the ill-boding situation that they get into. And every single night, the visitor - a young girl - come for an unannounced visit. One night, things happen.

"Tuesday the 17th", by director Glenn McQuaid, has a group of friends joining our female protagonist for a holiday in the desolate woods. As they head deeper into the wilderness, they hear her warning: "You're all going to die here." Then a seemingly invisible creature (his presence is demarcated by a misshaped static form) starts stalking them, killing them one by one - in the most brutal manner. Though the conceit of distorting images - as though a bad video copy - may have initially worked, this strategy soon turns annoying. No one wants to watch a "bad copy", after all.

"The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger", directed by Joe Swamberg, is an interesting piece of narrative. Emily constantly skypes with childhood friend-turned-lover, who's a doctor in Michigan. Apparently, some mysterious presence roam her apartment. She would call him deep in the night and he would be there, patiently accompanying her through her ordeal. When she gets diagnosed as schizoaffective, things turn to worse - she starts picking her bloodied arm with a knife, as though she's just dealing with a pimple. What's going on here? The concluding scenes are unexpectedly gruesome.

"10/31/98", directed by Radio Silence, follows a group of adult friends trick-or-treating at a seemingly abandoned house. As they navigate the bowels of this well-interiored house, they soon realize that a "party" was on-going at the attic. When they check it out, a sadistic ritual is indeed happening. Have they intruded on something they ought to have left alone?

This anthology of suspenseful narratives really take you on a roller coaster ride of thrills and gripping horror. There are a number of original ideas that beautifully work for the genre. However, I feel that the anthology should have concluded with Joe Swamberg's tale. After all, the thugs from "Tape 56" have all had their comeuppance so why continue with Radio Silence's feature? It seems misplaced outside the original concept that pieces these tales together.There is a nagging question while I was watching this. Why VHS tape? Why not the modern video/digital recordings? It would have been more believable or contemporary. Employing the VHS gives the narrative a "vintage" feel, i.e. "grim" or "hair-raising" - but hardly anyone uses VHS recorders anymore - so the probability of finding several "found footages" using the medium becomees a tall order.

Nevertheless, "V/H/S" is an engrossing frightfest. Horror fans shouldn't miss this.

"I like you," says the creepy girl.

She's back in the woods.

"There's someone in my room", says Emily to her boyfriend.

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