V/H/S DVD review: Very horrible stories.

Release Date: 28 January 2013
2012 | 18 | 116 minutes | £15.99 (DVD/Blu-ray)
Distributor: Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment
Directors: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence

Is the found-footage film all played out? No, but the question, “Is the found-footage film all played out” definitely is, so we can retire it? Like any new mode of expression, the success of found-footage has resulted in a lot of bad art, made by people who mistakenly think the right form will mask their fundamental lack of ideas. But V/H/S proves that this resilient, democratic format still has exciting possibilities.

Drawing on the tradition of anthology films made by the likes of British studio Amicus (but bringing it bang up to date), V/H/S ties together five shorts, all by different directors. Embracing everything from monsters, murder and possession to slasher horror, ghosts and even a dash of SF, they’re presented as tapes found by a bunch of asshole petty crims after they break into a house.

Two particular segments provide key evidence of V/H/S’s triumph. Director Ti West usually seems to take a perverse delight in testing audience patience with his languorous pacing, but his contribution – “Second Honeymoon”, in which a holidaying couple are filmed as they sleep by an unknown intruder – is so economical and tightly-wound it never threatens to outstay its welcome. Then there’s Glen McQuaid’s “Tuesday The 17th”: as the title suggests, it riffs on 30 year-old clichés, as a bunch of kids are picked off by a killer out in the woods. However, the bizarre, inexplicable nature of that bogeyman transforms tired old tropes into something genuinely terrifying.

McQuaid’s approach is typical in a film that, pleasingly, favours enigma over explication; vague answers are provided, but the details aren’t filled in; mysteries hauntingly linger, and there’s room left to theorise. Throughout, there’s nerve-fraying sense that absolutely anything could happen.

Remarkably, considering that it’s the work of so many hands, there’s just one weak link: the story that links all the “tapes” together, which lacks the killer twist needed to bring proceedings to a climax at a fittingly hysterical pitch. How and why some of this footage would have ended up on VHS is also rather puzzling. But you wouldn’t wish that framing device away, since the texture of the film – which faithfully replicates old videotape, complete with drop-out lines, moments of signal-loss, and archaeological layers of over-recorded footage – imbues it with a powerful nostalgic charge.


A behind-the-scenes piece on the first short, out-takes from “Tuesday The 17th”, an alternate ending, two cast/crew interviews, and the trailer.

Ian Berriman twitter.com/ianberriman

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