Director: Adam Wingard, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, David Bruckner, Joe Swanberg, Ti West
Cast: Joe Swanberg, Adam Wingard, Sophia Takal, Kate Lyn Sheil, Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes
RunTime: 1 hr 56 mins
Rating: M18 (Coarse Language, Nudity and Gore)
Released By: Jalan Distributors Asia
Opening Day: 21 March 2013
Synopsis: When a group of petty criminals is hired by a mysterious party to retrieve a rare piece of found footage from a rundown house in the middle of nowhere, they soon realize that the job isn't going to be as easy as they thought. In the living room, a lifeless body holds court before a hub of old television sets, surrounded by stacks upon stacks of VHS tapes. As they search for the right one, they are treated to a seemingly endless number of horrifying videos, each stranger than the last.
Your appetite for ‘sick shit’ will ultimately determine how much you enjoy ‘V/H/S’, the latest found footage movie that tries to be different by being an anthology. Essentially a collection of five other shorts connected by a single wrapper that unfolds in between, it makes no apologies for going the whole ten years to shock and terrify you, so take that as fair warning that it is not for the faint-hearted or for the squeamish.
Conceived by Brad Miska – better known as the founder of the website ‘Bloody Disgusting’ – it approaches the horror genre with a certain reverence to the grunginess that it was associated with in the past, and we’re not just referring to the aesthetics associated with ‘found footages’. All the shorts here – as the title suggests – are meant to evoke an era when horror was a little rawer because of the very nature of VHS footage, so expect the same graininess and other concomitant interferences to be associated with the format.
But more than just a gimmick, it is a plot device neatly worked into director Adam Wingard’s bridging short ‘Tape 56’, where a group of hoodlums get more than what they bargain for after they invade a private home to retrieve a videotape. A seemingly dead old man sitting in an armchair in an upstairs room isn’t the only weird thing they find; in that same house, they find a whole stash of video cassettes, five of which become the shorts that this compilation is made up of.
Other than the fact that each is no less twisted than the other, there is no connection between these shorts. Still, each one of the five directors - Ti West, Joe Swanberg, Glenn McQuaid, David Bruckner and Radio Silence – seem to have made an unspoken pact with one another to go for maximum shock value, such that every death happens with plenty of onscreen gore purposely designed to make you revolt in disgust, exacerbated by the matter-of-fact manner in which most occur.
That’s especially true for the middle two shorts – McQuaid’s ‘Tuesday the 17th’ and Swanberg’s ‘The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger’ – which are probably the most potentially disturbing among the lot. The former has a virtual killer which only shows up as static on tape going after four college kids who are misled by one of them to take a journey into the woods, his modus operandi not excluding dismemberment; while the latter unfolds over web-cam between a pair of lovers as they attempt to uncover just what is going bump in the night in the girl’s apartment, the latter literally digging under her skin to uncover the source of a persistent irritation.
Compared to McQuaid’s cabin-in-the-woods tale and Swanberg’s extreme ‘Paranormal Activity’, the other three appear tame by comparison. Bruckner’s cautionary tale on picking up strange girls at a bar – ‘Amateur Night’ – remains pretty safe until the last bit where said mysterious girl turns into a literal maneater; and Radio Silence’s ‘10/31/98’ where another such group of guys on a disorderly rampage apparently interrupt a Satanic cult’s sacrifice of a girl is pretty much standard ‘Exorcist’ stuff. Finally, West’s ‘Second Honeymoon’ leaves the horror right till the end, is over before you know it, and is easily the most disappointing one of the lot.
Still, there is plenty to unnerve perhaps even the most seasoned horror viewer in this decidedly low-budget faux-found footage anthology. There are no cheap scares like the typical Hollywood polished horror; instead, this is as raw and visceral as it gets, with scenes that matter going for the jugular (and yes, we do mean it literally) for extreme audience impact. By that attribute, it won’t endear the casual viewer, but anyone looking for no-holds-barred horror will appreciate what Miska and his assembly of six filmmakers have accomplished.
(Plenty of shock and terrify scenes that will please those looking for raw visceral horror; everyone else has been warned to stay away)
Review by Gabriel Chong