Someone adjust the tracking already!
Directed by: Adam Wingard (“Tape 56”), David Bruckner (“Amatuer Night”), Ti West (“Second Honeymoon”), Glenn McQuaid (“Tuesday the 17th”), Joe Swanberg (“The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger”), and Radio Silence (“10/31/98”)
Stars: Calvin Reeder, Hannah Fierman, Joe Swanberg, Norma C. Quinones, Helen Rogers, and Tyler Gillett
MPAA Rating: R
In the past few years, several filmmakers in the independent horror scene have come to the fore and made a name for themselves with such films as A Horrible Way To Die, The Innkeepers, The Signal, and I Sell The Dead. Some of them have even contributed to each other’s productions in writing or acting capacities, which helps in developing a sense of community amongst themselves and confidence with horror fans . Now, these filmmakers have been brought together to deliver a found footage anthology horror film unlike any other called V/H/S.
V/H/S delivers six dramatically different horror tales of people recording their various exploits, including a trio of guys out on the town, a group of kids staying out in the woods, and a simple webcam chat between a long-distance couple. Unfortunately, they will all fall prey to dark forces before the end of their respective tapes. Some forces natural, others supernatural.
In the interest of fairness, seeing as how each story is made by a different group of filmmakers and starring a different group of actors, each tape will be reviewed separately with a concluding paragraph at the end summarizing the film as a whole.
This segment serves as the wrap-around for the entire film. It is clever in how it sets up the characters to view the other tapes in the movie. However, as a story unto itself, it lacks substance. There’s a bevy of superfluous exposition that never pays off, and the actual payoff in the end is deeply unsatisfying. It seems like no care was given to give it an identity of it’s own. The actors in this segment turn in decent performances, though only the lead, played by Calvin Reeder, makes an impression. Overall, the quality of this one is too uneven to be gratifying in any way.
This segment is entertaining from beginning to end. The characters come across as very natural and realistic. Much credit should go to the writing as well as the terrific performances. However, it is Hannah Fierman’s turn as Lily that is the standout. She manages to be vulnerable, intense, and haunting in equal measures, always keeping the audience completely engrossed and fascinated. The story is very well-told and well-paced, from it’s comedic beginnings to it’s intense finalé. “Amateur Night” is one of the highlights of the entire film.
This segment is very well-written, well-directed, and has great performances. On the other hand, “Second Honeymoon” feels truncated. It seems like it is missing a crucial story beat that stops it from being completely effective. Just as we are expecting the tension and the suspense to really kick in, we receive the final moments and the story is over. It feels like the film equivalent of reading a newspaper headline instead of experiencing a fully-formed horror tale. Regrettably, this one misses the mark, even if only by inches.
“Tuesday the 17th”
This is easily the weakest segment in the film. The story has an abundance of logical inconsistencies. The dialogue is pretty terrible for the most part. The actors seem to do their best, but they still do not come off very well. There are some cool shots and some interesting ideas, especially in regards to the nature of the primary threat, yet they get bogged down in the mess of a story.
“The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger”
This is another terrific segment. The story is set up very well, and pays off in unexpected ways. Both of the main characters are terrific and played marvelously by the actors, yet special mention must be given to Helen Rogers’ performance as Emily. She knocks it out of the park, delivering one of the best performances in the entire film. She manages to be quirky and generate a lot of sympathy for the character, but without ever becoming annoying. As a result, her predicament becomes more intense and disturbing.
This segment is the finalé, and it is most assuredly an outstanding showstopper. Radio Silence has filled this installment with the coolest imagery in the movie, and given new life to some well-worn story elements. The acting from everyone is terrific. The special effects are eye-popping, even in some of the quieter moments. The filmmakers and producers were wise in putting this one at the end of the film, as it will surely be the favorite amongst most viewers.
It is a challenge to quantify the quality of V/H/S as a whole. Three of the stories are enormously successful, and worth catching at any cost. One of the others completely misses the mark, while the remaining two miss it by a relatively tiny margin. The film probably will not go on to become a horror classic, but it is one of the better horror films to to be released this year. As long as the viewer goes in with reasonable expectations, there should be no reason they cannot derive at least some satisfaction from the film.
V/H/S is now available via Video on Demand, iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, PS3, and Xbox Live. It will play in select theaters starting October 5, 2012. It comes fairly recommended by this critic.
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