This week I had the pleasure of sitting down with V/H/S at the Wellington International Film Festival. The showing also included a Q&A with one of the key contributing directors, David Bruckner (The Signal).
If you’ve not done your homework then all you need to know is that it’s a curious hybridisation of the staple horror anthology (Creepshow, Body Bags, Necronomicon) and the growing genre of horror-themed found-footage cinema – I brazenly add the ‘horror’ prefix to found footage considering that 95% of the films shot in this style do tend to be some form of horror film – with segments from current indie horror darlings, Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way To Die, You’re Next) and Ti West (The House Of The Devil, The Innkeepers).
V/H/S chronicles five stand alone short films all loosely (very loosely) tied together by an overarching bubble narrative; simply put, a group of misanthropic youths somehow make a living shooting with clunky old VHS cam-recorders as they menace random women, fail at amateur porn making and indulge in mindless wanton destruction.
Time stamping is vague at best (or perhaps just poorly developed by the writers) though we’re given the impression that the footage we’re watching is perhaps pre-internet, and therefore an entirely unknown and sinister intention manifests behind the shady figures purchasing these VHS tapes from our would be film makers.
After watching a rough cut up of garbage recorded by the gang, we’re soon introduced to the key concept -a mythical VHS tape that our lads are hired to retrieve from the residence of an unidentified elderly man. Upon arriving at said residence we find our elderly gentleman dead in his armchair, facing a stack of five tube televisions, each roaring static. The lads then make a joint decision to split-up (*sigh*) in order to spread out and locate their quarry. Instead, they’re each eventually drawn to the static screens, for a curious peek at the tapes still inserted in their respective VCR’s. It’s through these portals that we view the five horror shorts.
I won’t go into the meat and potatoes of each short and its narrative so as to protect any of our readers fixing to see this film, in which case lets cut straight to the review:
In his introductory speech to the audience, David Bruckner commented that viewers of the film had thus far split evenly between folks who genuinely enjoyed it, and folks who found it to be a misogynistic shit-storm. I’m still unsure as to how greatly this loaded my own interpretation of V/H/S, but one thing is for certain; all of the characters in this film came off as nothing more than a collection of repulsive, sexist, moronic fuckwits who I myself (and surely the audience) approached with nothing more than an ever tapping foot, waiting impatiently for each of them to hurry up and die. Some may argue that these characters have been written to create a realistic depiction of westerners, casually taking part in the narcissism of recording their mundane lives, but even then who actually wants to watch a half-baked collection of dramatised up-skirts and Skype conversations?
The narratives were more or less wrote in so far as horror tropes go, and nerdier viewers (me) will notice that a great deal of the short films aren’t actually shot on VHS tape; three out of the five shorts aren’t even being shot with a hand-held camera of any kind, and the other two can often be seen in reflective surfaces to be modern digital cameras… yet somehow they all wound up in an old blokes house on VHS… the only times in the entire film we can confirm that the found footage screening is legitimately shot on VHS tape is during the tape hunt bubble narrative with our lads shooting the whole ordeal on big daft old cam-recorders.
This, and a variety of additionally odd inconsistencies have led this reviewer to entertain the notion that each of the five shorts were conceived and shot prior to the group having made a creative decision over what to call the film. One could even go as far as to say that the bubble narrative was created solely as a means of tying all the shorts together into a motion picture sized package…
Speculation aside, there were some genuinely well crafted moments amid the motion sickness. Particularly the first and final shorts, although it seems to be a common consensus among viewers that V/H/S mistakenly starts with the strongest of the five. Something particularly satisfying about the film was the viewers freedom to enjoy the film without rejecting weak narrative justifications behind protags expositional reasoning for continued filming under highly unlikely circumstances: for example in two of the shorts our camera is hidden (for whatever reason) on the person of the protag experiencing the plot.
I’d love to talk some more snash about V/H/S but I found its conclusion to be empty and under developed. In the beginning, I was genuinely intrigued by the hunt for our titular VHS and what footage it held, although sadly this plot device shrank to no more than a mcguffin, while any remains of an intriguing plot holding it all together had dissolved to make way for another collection of detestable shake n’ bake characters, evenly lined up before the proverbial grinder.
Interestingly during the post screening QA session with David Bruckner, the one found footage film title he mentioned as inspiration material was Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void -a film I hadn’t previously even considered part of the found-footage genre, albeit the direction does indeed take on a morbid voyeurism in all of Noe’s films, Enter the Void being no exception.
If you’re a fan of the found-footage genre and otherwise immune to motion sickness, by all means check this film out, the morbid curiosity of its dramatised amateur vulgarity perfectly captures the type of real life amateur vulgarity it aims to emulate, which in turn should satisfy the same shameful desire we all have to watch this sort of filth.