If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand times; found footage horror is a dry well. Once a potent concept that had us all quaking in our boots with genre highlights like The Blair Witch Project and even things like Paranormal Activity, the shaky cam low-res high-tension thing has inevitably worn thin thanks to a myriad of badly sculpted films out to make big bucks on small money. Of late there’s been an outcry from the horror audience, the word is out and it’s getting pasted here there and everywhere, V/H/S has arrived to save the day and pull the handheld cam back into respectability and give us all a good reason to take up insomnia. The general opinion ain’t that far off the truth. When a film pops up written and directed by such an eclectic mix: Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way To Die), Ti West (House of the Devil), David Bruckner(The Signal), Glenn McQuaid (I Sell the Dead), Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes the Stairs), and the directing quartet known as Radio Silence, you can’t help but get interested.
Following the format of an old-school anthology horror, V/H/S reveals the dire doings of a group of social misfits hired by a shadowy employer to break into a house and steal a video tape, a tape they are told they will know on sight. Arriving at the deserted household the group find a dead body slumped in an armchair facing a few TV’s and a stack of video cassettes. As the group split up to search for the tape, watching them one by one, it becomes evident that something isn’t right. The tapes document bizarre, brutal, and terrifying events but that’s not the only thing the hapless group have to fear.
The great thing about V/H/S is that there’s something for everyone. The short segments are all weird and wonderfully horrific, but as with anything some ideas don’t quite take off. Through all the segments there winds the careful writing of obvious horror fans combined with the sometimes gentle and creepy/sometimes visceral direction of guys who know their stuff. For horror aficionados there’s enough role reversal and unanswered questions to fill a hundred film theory essays. Female roles seem to be toyed with with glee, male roles get dragged through the muck, every segment is balanced with reality and heart against fantasy and gore. Problems show up in some of the films when there’s no one to relate to, no real hero or heroine to guide us, just a large group of very weird/silly/stupid/horrific human beings and “other”. In fact V/H/S could probably be renamed something like “How Boisterous Jocks in Motels Cause Hell”, or “She’s Not What You Think”. It’s that clever reliance on horror tropes that puts the film above others since it then pulls the other way just to teach you for thinking you were smart.