“V/H/S” is a brilliant horror anthology premise. A group of a-hole punks, who video tape their crimes of vandalism and harassment, are hired to pilfer a VHS tape from an old man. Through grainy, found footage we watch their late night break in as if we’re right there with them. What should be a straightforward task immediately turns complicated however, once they find piles of tapes scattered all over the house. Not knowing which one is their intended prize, they are forced to watch them individually in the hope of figuring it out.
So five screwed up vignettes by nine different horror directors play as if they’ve been recorded on these VHS tapes. Because video itself is inherently voyeuristic, it becomes the perfect medium for these deranged tales to unfold in. To add some flavor, some are shot to seem like they were made with devices other than your standard camcorder like a camera embedded in a pair of glasses and a webcam, complete with dual screens of characters conversing.
Any novelty that these recordings might add to the film though is instantly killed by typical clichés used in found footage movies. There is enough use of shaky cam perspective, to make the average viewer queasy at points. You expect a certain amount of shaky behavior when people are frantically running for their lives with a camera, but not all the time like you get in “V/H/S.” The directors also muck up the tapes with tons of jump cuts, static, distortion, bleeps, and bloops in an effort to show you how the recordings were damaged. Again, they take this to the extreme, over-relying on it for effect.
Stylistic annoyances aside, “V/H/S” contains entertaining horror shorts which are so unhinged that they make you feel dirty just for watching. A couple of them are predictable and tedious in their setup, but all of them contain twisted paranormal elements and plenty of nasty gore. Some vignettes make perfect sense, while others leave you scratching your head. However what’s amusing about the ones that confuse you is that the film doesn’t bother to explain them. It forces you to accept a certain amount of mystery, instead of fleshing out every little detail, which is much more fun.
As horror aficionados might expect, there is tons of female nudity in “V/H/S,” but it also delivers something rarer in the genre: male exposure, including full-frontal (ladies take note). The male characters in the shorts are misogynist dude-bros who make you feel really uncomfortable with the degrading way they treat women. Although their sexist deeds make their comeuppance sweeter since you don’t ever feel sorry for them when they become victims.
Even though “V/H/S” presents an engaging horror anthology concept, the goal of effectively squeezing six stories (hoodlums included) into 93 minutes is tough to accomplish. At points the characters feel a bit thin and the payoffs seem a bit rushed, which is why it might work better as a television show in the vein of “Tales from the Crypt.” Each week you could have a fresh half hour to an hour where the events could unfold more naturally with characters you know a little better.
That being said, “V/H/S” is still worth a watch if you’re a horror junkie. It’s thrilling without making you sick enough to faint or puke like it supposedly did to viewers at Sundance.
My Grade: B-
IFF Boston runs through Wednesday May 2, 2012. For more information on the festival, please visit www.iffboston.org.