Thursday, October 4, 2012
This anthology of horror stories from some of todays up-and-coming horror and/or mumblecore directors utilizes a particularly modern gimmick: each of the stories is some sort of "found footage" deal, made to look like it was shot on home video.
Man, what a fucking disappointment. V/H/S has segments by folks such as my favorite young horror director (Ti West), one of the co-directors of the great The Signal (David Bruckner), a fellow who made some seriously shitty movies but whose last one was pretty damn good (Adam Wingard), and, uh, also a few other dudes I don't give a shit about (sorry, Swanberg). Despite not always been a big fan of the "found footage" style, I had been stoked for this one for a long time. And yet I don't think there was a single segment here that makes for a passable short story.
In fact, the "stories" are hardly stories at all. If I'm not mistaken, all but one basically follow the same format: we are introduced to the main characters, who range from bland to flat out obnoxious and hatable. We watch them go through a few scenes of amateur improv where nothing much of interest happens. Part way through, some sort of ominous detail is introduced that the characters ignore. Then some more nothing happens, until that ominous detail turns into a real threat (a ghost or a monster or a killer or whatever), and then some people die. The end. There aren't any particularly cool twists, clever reversals of expectations, or much going on conceptually. Whatever you imagine is going to happen in the first 5 minutes of each segment usually ends up happening.
Mr. Subtlety chalked my disappointment up to my not being a fan of the style. I don't think that's it, though. While it's true that I am typically underwhelmed by most "found footage" movies, there are a handful I do enjoy, including the REC movies (and the American remake), The Last Horror Movie, and heck, I even had some mild fondness for Paranormal Activity 3 despite the fact that I hated the first two. I think the style is mostly used lazily, as a way to excuse sloppy storytelling and ugly visuals, but there is potential for cool stuff there. And I don't think any of the shorts in V/H/S find much of that potential. Forget the fact that all the stories look ugly (this movie is the biggest goddamn eyesore I have seen in years), they mostly fail to utilize the tension between what's in the shot and what isn't. Some of the segments attempt some ambitious long takes, which is a perfect use of this style, but it's made null and void by all the weird VHS aesthetics thrown in: blurry footage, video skips, freeze frames, cutting to static, etc. It doesn't even matter that some scenes are meant to appear as one shot when the image keeps cutting out and skipping.
Hey, look, I get it. This is a style that can be done fast and on the cheap. But when I watch a fucking movie, I want to feel like somebody actually put some fucking effort into it. I don't want to watch you and your buddies screaming and dousing each other in karo syrup while the camera man has a seizure and shows us a bunch of shots of blurry trees. Next time, ditch the stupid gimmick and buy a damn tripod.