The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.
V/H/S

Reviewed by John Bleasdale.

Director Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence
Length 115 mins
Certificate R / TBC
Rating *******---
Filmmaking: 4  Personal enjoyment: 3

Photo from the article Trailer.

Ever since Dead of Night (1945) portmanteau horror films have had a certain appeal. As with the comedy-sketch show, horror lends itself to the short form structure - exposition, execution, punch-line (or slash-line or stab-line etc) - delivering thrills with the minimum of fuss. Tales from the Crypt (1972), Creep Show (1982) and The Twilight Zone (1983) all took the horror anthology form, and the latter two also used it as an opportunity to give different directors a crack of the whip. Similarly, V/H/S showcases the work of five individual directors: David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Adam Wingard, along with the directors' collective ‘Radio Silence’.

The central conceit sees a trio of despicable jackasses who, in a break from making money via gonzo-like sex tapes, are hired to break into a house and steal a video cassette. Once inside the house, however, they find a dead body and shelves of video cassettes. As they search the house one of their number sits down to watch the cassettes and thus each separate segment is introduced. Every story is seen from a found footage point of view and part of the bravura of the film is in making each particular segment convincing and original despite the fact that the found footage genre has been not so much exhaustively mined of late as fracked; this year’s Rec 3 even abandoned the series’ defining modus operandi a third of the way through - one surmises, out of sheer boredom.

The individuality of each segment is maintained despite the shared format, primarily by creating several very different entries; and so one film relates to a succubus, another to a slasher story, and so on. It is interesting how the oldest premises in the horror playbook still create some of the most effective shocks - the walk in the woods and the haunted house, which both get an outing here. Although there will unavoidably be an unevenness, given the structure of the film, there are no out-and-out howlers here. Equally, though, by making the stories diverse, the overarching narrative of the thieves stealing the tapes makes very little sense at all. Indeed, even the V/H/S nod to an older technology is slyly jettisoned at times. Perhaps the sequel can be Pen Drive, or Memory Stick.

As a box of beers and bag of friends film, this deserves ten out of ten, but a little bit of sober refelction might reveal something disturbing lurking in the corners of the horror. The misogyny of the film straddles, if not splays, the line between portraying misogyny and being straightforwardly misogynistic. Although unashamedly exploitative at times, the film lurches in some nasty directions, which I explore further in the Alternate Take.

This review was published on October 09, 2012.

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