August 31, 2012
Simon Barrett (“Tape 56”), David Bruckner and Nicholas Tecosky (“Amateur Night”), Ti West (“Second Honeymoon”), Glenn McQuaid (“Tuesday the 17th”), Simon Barrett and Joe Swanberg (“The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger”), and Radio Si
Adam Wingard (“Tape 56”), David Bruckner (“Amateur Night”), Ti West (“Second Honeymoon”), Glenn McQuaid (“Tuesday the 17th”), Joe Swanberg (“The Sick Thing that Happened to Emily when She Was Young”), Radio Silence (“10/31/98”)
Calvin Reeder as Gary
Helen Rogers as Emily
Sophia Takal as Stephanie
Hannah Fierman as Lily
Jason Yachanin as Spider
By James “Crypticpsych” Lasome
“Tape 56” directed by Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die, Home Sick, You’re Next): As with other films like V/H/S, the best way to review it is to look at each individual component and how they come together as a whole. In this case, the wraparound tells the videotaped story of a group of guys who tape themselves forcibly lifting women’s shirts in public (for sale to a porn site) who find out from a friend that there’s a way they can make more money. All they have to do is break into a man’s house and steal a valuable videotape. Upon arrival, they discover a dead body and a slew of tapes. The only way to figure out which is the right one is to start watching the tapes. While the idea of this wraparound is interesting and is creepy at times, it fails in practice overall because the main characters are spectacularly unlikable. In addition, the wraparound actually finishes BEFORE the last segment of the movie, an editing decision which makes no sense at all!
“Amateur Night” directed by David Bruckner (The Signal): The first tape viewed shows one of the positives of the overall film: interesting ways of filming found footage. In this case, what we see is filmed from a secret spycam in a main character’s glasses as he and his friends head out clubbing to pick up some women and secretly film a wild night with them. Unfortunately, the ladies they find might have a surprise in store of their own. Unfortunately, this first segment doesn’t pick itself up out of the hole the wraparound digs for it because it has the exact same problem as the wraparound does: unlikable leads. This isn’t helped by just how much time is devoted to the main characters’ clubbing and the build to the “twist”. That being said, that ending is fantastic, as is the overall performance of the character it involves, making this weak segment at least worthwhile.
“Second Honeymoon” directed by Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers): Up next, the tape on deck is video of a happy couple on vacation. However, unbeknownst to them, a mysterious figure seems to be following them in secret with intentions that are unclear. Unfortunately, the film follows a weak segment with the worst segment in the film, a surprise given the director behind it. Unlike the previous bits, the issue here isn’t an unlikable cast (point of fact, the couple is believable). No, here, the problem is it’s never fully clear exactly what is going on with the mysterious stranger until the absolute end. Said ending is also rushed, and is so extreme and sudden compared to what came before that it feels awkwardly jarring.
“Tuesday the 17th” directed by Glenn McQuaid (I Sell the Dead): Third, we have a tale not interesting for where its found footage comes from but instead interesting for how it is used. It’s the story of a group of friends who head out into the woods for some relaxation. However, this particular patch of woods is also home to a series of prior brutal murders committed by a serial killer who got away. McQuaid produces one of the two best tales for the film by first having a group of characters who aren’t as cloyingly annoying as those in either the wraparound or “Amateur Night”. He then puts his own spin on the 80s slashers he’s paying tribute to, found-footage style, by having the killer manifest, not as a flesh-and-blood being, but as steadily increasing flaws in the video. The kills in the segment are also suitably gory.
“The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Young” directed by Joe Swanberg (male lead in “Second Honeymoon” segment, director of Silver Bullets): Fourth is a segment that’s another interesting use of found footage: it’s comprised completely of webcam footage. Here, the idea is that a woman named Emily (Helen Rogers) is concerned that apartment she’s living in at college is haunted and that she’s also discovering strange bruises on her she can’t explain. She decides to investigate, via webcam, over a period of nights. This particular short is so well-done and creepy that it actually makes it easy to forgive the “why is webcam footage transferred onto VHS” plothole. The creepy sequences as Emily explores, as well as surprising plot twists and ending, easily make this one a highlight and Swanberg a director to watch.
“10/31/98” directed by Radio Silence (a short-film collective comprised of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, and Chad Villella): We conclude with a group of friends heading out to a Halloween party. Once again, the method for obtaining found footage is pretty interesting as, this time, a character’s Halloween costume is supposed to be a “nannycam”, meaning he’s dressing as a bear and carrying a camcorder to get what we’re seeing. Once the group reaches the party, they find the house deserted and decide to investigate at their own peril. Not as great as the third and fourth segments or as bad or flawed as the first two, this final component falls squarely in the middle-of-the-road. It has plenty of creepy moments that are helped by the fact that the camera doesn’t see most of them at first with the only inkling they’re happening being the cast appearing and talking about how great the “haunted house” is. Its big flaw is that, once the climactic reveal occurs, the filmmakers have backloaded a slew of special effects shots that sometimes don’t look too great… a problem only amplified by them all hitting in rapid succession. Still, it’s an effective story to end on.
Overall, V/H/S ends up feeling distinctly average. By starting with a weak wraparound and two lesser stories, the filmmakers dig a fairly large hole for themselves that they never fully get out of. There’s definitely some great tales here (particularly McQuaid’s and Swanberg’s segments), but they aren’t enough to make the full viewing experience satisfying. In addition, the movie drags badly and feels about a half-hour too long to its own detriment. The total anthology should be commended for its unique ideas and interesting things it does with the found-footage concept. However, it’s too uneven to recommend beyond a rental, particularly in a year when a slightly better horror anthology (The Theatre Bizarre) has already seen release.