Thursday, January 3, 2013

DVD Review: V/H/S (2012)

V/H/S (2012) 
Label: Magnet Releasing
Region Code: 1 NTSC
Duration: 93 minutes
Rating: R
Video: 16:9 Widescreen (1.78:1)

Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 
Cast: Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes, Adam Wingard, Hannah Rose Fierman
Directors: David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Adam Wingard

Synopsis: V/H/S is a point of view, found-footage horror film from the perspective of America's top genre filmmakers. In V/H/S, a group of misfits are hired by an unknown third party to burglarize a desolate house in the countryside and acquire a rare tape. Upon searching the house, the guys are confronted with a dead body, a hub of old televisions and an endless supply of cryptic footage, each video stranger and more inexplicably terrifying than the last...

It should be no surprise that I do love a good anthology film, and that I also find enjoyment with the found footage format as well but it seems less and less so as of late. This title piqued my curiosity with the inclusion of Ti west (HOUSE OF THE DEVIL) as one of the nine directors involved. 

Like all good anthologies we get a wrap-around segment entitled TAPE 56 from director Adam Wingard (A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE) wherein a group of low level criminals who regularly videotape their petty crimes are contacted by an unknown person to procure a VHS tape from a rural home. These guys all have their own video recorders and the entire extraction is videotaped, so we're definitely firmly in the found footage trenches for better or worse from the get-go. Once inside the house the hoods find a corpse and hundreds of VHS cassettes and this is the device by which we are introduced to a series of five cinema verite vignettes inter cut with an exploration of the house in search of the coveted VHS cassette complete with it's own conclusion, for what it was it was at least an interesting entry into the film and introduction if not overly satisfying. 2.5 

First up of the shorts proper is AMATEUR NIGHT from director David Bruckner of THE SIGNAL notoriety. In it a group of four drunken guys head out for a night on the town with the idea of documenting a lurid night of sex capturing the act on a pair of web-cam enabled spyglasses worn by one of 'em. At the bar they pick up two girls and take them back to their hotel room for some lascivious debauchery, at this point I was thinking this was gonna be a found footage take on sexploitation or a rape revenger, thankfully it's not but we do get some nudity and sexual situations. All signs pint to a imminent threesome when the events turn very strange. One of the young women is quite a bit more than the timid sprite she appears, much to the dick-shredding dismay of all four young men. This was a pleasant surprise, blood soaked and ferocious, when the shit hits the fans it's unrelenting and wonderful, some good gore, lots of blood and with the added bonus of some cool creature effects. When the finale takes flight I think the effects suffer a tiny bit but it's a great ride and the best of the bunch right off the bat. 4

Next entry comes from Ti West (THE INNKEPERS), a languid travelogue called SECOND HONEYMOON and like nearly all of West's output thus far it's a slow burn. A young couple drive through the South West United States on a second honeymoon recording their journey on video. I found this pretty dull from the start and it's not until we witness someone coming into their hotel room and videotaping them in their sleep that the suspense kicked-in, this aspect of it reminded me a bit of David Lynch's LOST HIGHWAY when someone videotapes Bill Pullman's character and his wife in their home while they sleep, it was creepy then and it was creepy here, too. However, the twist while unexpected fell flat for me. 2

Third story up is TUESDAY THE 17th from Glenn McQuaid, the director of the quirky and quite cool I SELL THE DEAD (2008). This time out a group of three teens are persuaded by their friend Wendy to visit a rural lake that was the scene of heinous murders a few years prior, of which she was the only survivor. This "found footage" take slasher was pretty decent, played with a few conventions, had some great gore effects and an interesting spin on one of my favorite sub genres. The killer here is someone or something you can't quite get a good visual on for some reason, it's never explained. My main beef with this one was Wendy's motivations and her "plan" which involves using her friends as bait to draw out the killer, it didn't all add up at the end but a decent slasher spin with some good kills and an attempt to bring something different to the game at least and it was nice to see Jason Yachanin from POULTRYGEIST (2006) who's character was afraid to smoke weed for worry of suffering a dreaded condition known as "the fear". 3

Vignette number four, the somewhat Giallo sounding THE SICK THING THAT HAPPENED TO EMILY WHEN SHE WAS YOUNGER, from director Joe Swanberg features a young woman named Emily Skype video-chatting with her boyfriend James who's out of the state. Strange things are happening to Emily, he has an odd bump on her arm and is hearing strange things in her house at night. One night while on Skype James see's a childlike figure run behind her and slam the door shut, it's pretty creepy. So what appears to maybe be a haunting of some sorts veers wildly off the path and into something quite a bit more otherworldly and interesting. Emily attempts to make contact with the "spirit" inhabiting her home, walking through the halls with her laptop with a Skype connection open to James, I actually got tense a few times as it goes where many found footage have, through a darkened house with poor lighting as we await the next scare and it worked on me, again. The twist is unique and I really enjoyed the picture-in-picture Skype gimmick here and there's some decent body horror and voyeuristic elements (read: partial nudity), too. 3

The fifth and final vignette 10/31/98 comes from a film-making collective known as Radio Silence who I know nothing about but this fun entry in the found footage omnibus definitely has piqued my curiosity. It's Halloween night and a group of three friends head out to what is supposed to be a raging party at a friends house, the night's events are captured on camera via one of the party goers dressed as a working nanny cam. When the guys arrive at their destination they find the home apparently deserted but experience some strange sights like arms reaching from walls, lights flickering, some minor weird shit but they think it's just a haunted house prank and continue to assume so right up through to the point they walk in on an exorcism in the attic and then shit gets real, this is no mere haunted prank but a real-life case of supernatural possession This was a fun one, the effects are maybe a bit too slick for the short honestly, you see it and think yup that's an effect but this was still one of the better entries on the set. 3.5

Special Features:
- Alternate Ending 10/31/98 (1:31) 
- More Tuesdat the 17th (2:38)
- Amateur Night: Balloon Night (3:32)
- Webcam Interview with Actors Simon Barrett (5:56), Helen Rogers (7:37) 
- Conceptual Design Galley - Lily
- Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery
- AXS TV: A Look at V/H/S (4:49)
- Theatrical Trailer (1:47)
- Cast and Crew Interviews with Brad Miska, Zak Zeman, Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Ti West, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillette, David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg (28:39) 
- Magnolia Trailers (8:48) 

Verdict: This was a great idea, young genre directors taking a stab at the found footage format, each one with a unique gimmick. At times it was tense and thrilling and there  were a few that seemed a bit uninspired, particularly disappointing was the Ti West entry which was lackluster. On the other end of the spectrum we have David Bruckner and Radio Silence's entries which were each well executed. If you're a fan of found footage this is gonna be worth a watch if not exactly a high recommend from me, if you find the sub genre a slog as it is this isn't gonna win you over, a bit disappointing but two very strong vignettes and some decent elements that overall just don't come together quite so well. 3 Outta 5