Only rarely do modern horror films floor me like V/H/S did.
I’ve written at length about how the genre has, unfortunately, been taken over by a mass of talentless filmmakers and film ideas that only have a quick buck in mind. Sure, we’ve had our exceptions: Ti West has created two of the decade’s better titles in The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. And earlier this year, one of the best horror films in years was finally unleashed when Cabin in the Woods had its debut.
The genre was never dead; it only had consistency problems. The great films were struggling to stay relevant among the terrible ones that were cheaply produced and profitable. The found footage genre, which has been existent long before Paranormal Activity decided it was going to rule box offices, gave the genre a (sometimes unneeded) boost.
V/H/S was done by a team of accomplished and mostly unknown directors, writers and actors. But it’s clear that all of their hearts are in the right places. It is a found footage film, which raises flags for some horror enthusiasts (it has been bled to death in recent times). But, funny enough, the creative team turns the modern standby subgenre of found footage on its head by employing one of the older tricks in the horror books: the anthology.
Each segment is only connected by a group of small-time criminals and ruffians who take on the job of breaking into a house to steal back a videotape. When they arrive, it isn’t the easy job they thought it would be. One by one, the team of criminals watch a video on a television in front of the house owner who was dead on arrival. This is where the terror begins.
It wouldn’t be worth my time to really explain any of the five anthology shorts packed into this two hour film. It would only hurt the surprise and brilliant execution each has. The quality across the film is consistent with some leaving your jaw dropped more and your wits scared more. But there is a defining quality the entire film shares: its tenaciously creeping gonzo point of view.
The filmmakers behind this joint project (David Bruckner, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Adam Wingard, Glenn McQuaid and Radio Silence) clearly agreed on a common theme for the five anthologies. It is an in-your-face and overly pervasive perspective. This only does wonders for the actual scare factor the film carries. Each short carries a similar feeling and a similar atmosphere of dread that is established quickly after the first segment is played back. Because of this, the viewer is kept waiting (and knowing in some part of their mind) that doom is shortly upon them. That’s the benefit of having five more brief pieces compared to one long found footage film. Each segment is set up in a succinct fashion and explodes in an even quicker way.
V/H/S might not always have the most surprising story outcomes (there’s some you can see coming a mile away), but I found that it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that you could guess what was going to happen. It was still absolutely terrifying in the way it was shown. The gonzo point of view is too involved and too close to the victims of the film to not be on the edge of your seat or have chills sent down your spine. This is a title that collectively tries to freak out its viewers. It doesn’t stop pushing, it doesn’t stop trying. The succinctness of each segment allows it to be five quick impulses of horror that actually will mess with you.
Even more a part of the film’s success are the unique concepts that let it break common and tired horror conventions often found in the modern era, especially among found footage films. Each segment has at least one idea to its name that is way outside of the box. Whether it’s technical glitches in the camera, webcam conversation or its peeping tom qualities, V/H/S keeps you impressed with its actual creative nature.
All of this helps to make V/H/S an impressive and actually worthwhile addition to the found footage subgenre that has at times both benefited and hurt the genre as a whole. The last thing us horror fanatics want is an actually unique and creative way of doing things to be taken over the lazy and unwilling crowd. Found footage has become that recently, but V/H/S and its team have done a fantastic job at furthering the genre. It is safe to say actually terrifying and intersting horror films are back, baby.