I finally got around to watching V/H/S and right now I'm sitting here amazed, absolutely amazed... at how something so bloody awful managed to not only get a ton of buzz behind it, but also semi-decent reviews from a number of critics. Of course, most online genre-specific websites - the established ones in particular - simply cannot be trusted for an unbiased viewpoint. That's just how it is. I know what goes down behind the scenes at these places first hand because I used to write for one of them. In doing so, I got so frustrated dealing with these people and their attempts at censorship to appease their "buddies" that one day I simply said "Screw it," quit and have written about movies sans pay ever since to ensure my voice wouldn't be censored, my opinion wouldn't be silenced and my words wouldn't be altered behind my back. Many of the people who run these sites don't have an ounce of integrity and have no problem leading people astray for their own personal gain. They'll kiss the asses of directors, producers, writers and actors, chum up with them and then go on to proclaim that whatever junk they throw out there is "Like the most bad azz scariest movie like everrrr!" For doing so, they get blurbs, recognition, freebies, small roles in films, chances to work in other capacities on films, special invites to premieres and parties and other such perks simply by showing their "loyalty." That's precisely what makes blogging such an invaluable process. Now everyone has their say, including those who have nothing to gain or lose, no one to piss off or please and no networking to do, from simply telling it like it is. So am I implying that the makers of V/H/S and the people who run these sites are in cahoots? Perhaps, but I'll get to all that here in a bit.
So I'll just lay it out there like I see it - V/H/S lacks everything that goes into a good horror film. Because it's a "found footage," shot-on-video effort, production values, camerawork, continuity, editing, lighting and other technical aspects are rendered nearly irrelevant. In other words, the movie is supposed to look cheap, bad and amateurish. Great, so they accomplished that much. What "found footage" movies don't necessarily have to be is horribly acted, horribly written, unscary, predictable and completely unoriginal. None of the five stories contained herein stands out as being even remotely good. There's nothing at all memorable or novel in here. At times, a few of the stories seem to have potential but they're botched by laughably bad acting, poor direction, clumsy, foul-mouthed, seemingly improvised dialogue and the sheer annoyance of the camera wobbling, shaking and blurring out images. As if the camerawork itself isn't irritating enough already, at some stage in the editing process even more fake picture rolls, fuzzy screens, tape damage and other effects have been added. And did I mention this thing runs nearly two hours? Yes, indeed it does. And over half that time consists of the camera focusing in on exciting things like walls, ceilings and the ground.
V/H/S has six different stories to tell, each from a first person camera perspective. The first story, directed by Adam Wingard and used as the framing device for the other five shorts, consists of a small group of guys who get paid to videotape various criminal activities. They're employed by some porn website to accost women and lift up their shirts and have high aspirations to move on to accosting women and lifting up their skirts instead. They're also paid to demolish homes and property. Their newest job is to go to some old man's home to retrieve a VHS tape. They're not informed what tape or what is on the tape or anything of the sort. Just retrieve the tape. When they arrive, they find the old guy dead in front of five or six TV sets and VHS tapes everywhere. Some of the guys decide to play some of them to see what's on them. And thus our stories begin.
The first tale (David Bruckner's "Amateur Night") is probably the best of the bunch, though that's not saying much. Two obnoxious frat jocks I couldn't wait to see die and their nerdy friend decide to spice up a night out by luring girls back from a bar to their hotel. There, they plan on videotaping themselves having sex using a camera hidden inside some eye glasses. They manage to get two girls to come back with them, but there's something seriously wrong with one of them; all she can do is mumble and hiss incoherently and whisper the words "I like you" over and over again. The guys don't seem to mind. That is, until she shows her true colors as some kind of demon / succubus / cannibal who quickly slaughters everyone. The build-up to this story is almost unbearably irritating, with awful dialogue and annoying, screaming, foul-mouthed characters. The horror scenes are reasonably well done, there's gore and nudity and Hannah Fierman somehow manages to make an impression as the monster, but it's all downhill from here, folks...
Ti West's "Second Honeymoon" is a horribly-acted, padded, drab, boring vacation video of a dull couple running into trouble while passing through some Western town. They stop at a hotel, where a mysterious woman knocks on the door, asks for a ride and then promptly disappears. Later that night, the same girl sneaks inside with a switchblade, steals money and dips a toothbrush into the toilet. There's a lame twist at the very end of this utterly useless segment. Next up is Glenn McQuaid's "Tuesday the 17th," a horribly acted backwoods slasher with one novel idea: the killer is some kind of invisible being who shows up as glitches on videotape. While the general idea is a pretty good one, the execution is dire. Both of these stories are filled with inane dialogue, awful amateur acting so bad it completely pulls you right out of the story and are buffered with utterly pointless footage that doesn't add substance, character or mood to the piece.
Tale # 4 is Joe Swanberg's "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger." Emily (Helen Rogers) has been keeping in touch with her out-of-town boyfriend James (Daniel Kaufman) via Skype and confesses to him she believes her new apartment may be haunted. Several attempts at jump scares in this one are completely botched and the only "twist" is that it's not a ghost but some other kind of supernatural being (an alien). That hardly constitutes originality. Finally, "10/31/98" (which has no less than five credited directors) follows four men on Halloween night in 1998. Going to a party, the guys accidentally enter the wrong home and find the place abandoned. Eventually, they come across what appears to be a ritual sacrifice taking place in the attic and decide to rescue the victim. This segment has more CGI visual effects than the others (levitating dishes, hands popping out of walls, etc.) and the twist at the end is extremely predictable. All five times are completely unscary, poorly filmed and are severely underdeveloped, bordering on incoherent.
As much as I hate naming names and singling people out, I now feel the need to just let the cat out of the bag. The buzz for this film originated on Bloody Disgusting; one of the most popular, most quoted and most visited genre sites around. The site has been singing V/H/S's praises all along and when one traces back all of the hype to its infancy, they will be led right on over to BD. You may see the name Brad Miska in the credits several times. He not only produced this film but also came up with the concept for it. Miska also happens to be - surprise! - the head honcho over at Blood Disgusting. As much as I want to smack his hand with a ruler right now (I had no clue he was even involved until I saw the credits), I also have to give the guy some credit for business savvy. Miska seems to possess true marketing skills. He knows that hype and buzz are half the battle. Saying your own movie is something special and passing it off from an 'unbiased' viewpoint from a popular website that it's something special and some people are going to convince themselves it is something special. After all, to be able to convince anyone that two hours of people (I refuse to refer to them as "actors") running around shaking a camera screaming "fuck!" over and over again constitutes a good horror film, truly does take some skill.
It also takes some skill to get your low-budget film out there to the masses. These guys managed to get this to Sundance and even got reviews from critics like Roger Ebert. [Ebert has it in his "Your Movie Sucks" section but, hey, at least he saw it!] So it's clear the people behind this know how to effectively market, promote and sell a horror movie. Great! Now all they need to learn how to do is make a decent one.