Directors: David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Adam Wingard
Cast: Calvin Reeder, Hannah Fierman, Joe Swanberg, Norma C. Quinones, Helen Rogers, Chad Villella
Watch V/H/S online in the UK: Shudder / iTunes / Amazon Instant Video / TalkTalk TV Store / Google Play
There’s something wonderfully mismatched about watching a film called V/H/S on VOD – but this old-school slice of analogue horror is a nice shot in the arm for viewers. Even with the world of possibilities opened up by digital, there aren’t enough short films around. At the same time, there are way too many found footage films. V/H/S is a novel, nerve-shattering middle finger up to both problems.
An anthology of handheld horrors, it brings together a group of filmmakers all staking their claim to be the next big name in the genre. That’s what makes V/H/S so interesting to see: short collections such as Paris, Je T’aime and New York Stories only confirmed that already-acclaimed directors can knock out a novella. Here, we witness people trying to break through in less than 15 minutes.
Adam Wingard draws the short straw by providing the framework – a couple of lowlives hired to hunt through a stack of VHS tapes in a spooky building. The scares never quite hit due to its sporadic appearance across the two-hour runtime, but the idea itself is inspired: a structure that turns V/H/S into a study of the format, as well as a showcase for young talent.
That balance between past and present gets off to a solid start with David Bruckner’s Amateur Night, which follows a bunch of guys on a night out who pull one bird too far – and record the whole sorry affair (complete with wonderful, gooey visual effects) on a pair of glasses with a hidden camera.
Glenn McQuaid’s uneven but effective Tuesday the 17th goes one step further, turning a hike through the woods into a digital nightmare as a bunch of teens are hunted down by a pixellated monster.
The best by far, though, is The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger, which slides from webcam-romance into genuinely unpredictable territory via two eerily natural performances. A shocking 10-minute tale told entirely through Skype? Who knew mumblecore king Joe Swanberg had it in him?
Luckily, YouTube ensemble Radio Silence have a secret weapon to rival Swanberg’s perfect slice of terror: CGI. And lots of it. Skipping the script altogether and going straight for the climax, they chuck furniture, limbs, demons and more through the walls of a haunted house until there’s nothing left to throw. For every second you spend wondering why they’d keep filming, you spend another five enjoying how bonkers it all is.
On the low-tech end of the scale, Ti West’s Second Honeymoon niftily tackles the who’s-holding-the-camera problem by using it as a central device, shooting his lead couple while they’re asleep. It’s oddly intriguing, but West’s typically slow-burn style doesn’t suit the runtime, leading to a payoff that’s as sudden as it is unsatisfying.
So far, so mixed, but the variety of found footage styles proves just what can be done with such a tired format. The uncomfortable thing is how similar they are in another way: almost every film hits borderline-misogynistic notes, painting their females as evil demons. The fact that five out of the six directors’ camcorders seem to come with a “Remove women’s clothing” button doesn’t help either.
Is it a conscious comment, or unintentional reflection, of the current state of the genre? Either way, these filmmakers successfully mark themselves out as names to watch in a new digital age. You just wish there were some female names among them.
V/H/S is available to stream online on SHUDDER UK, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription, or £49.99 yearly membership.
Where can I watch V/H/S on pay-per-view VOD?
For more on Shudder UK, including reviews of films available now, previews of what’s coming soon and an interview with Dearest Sister director Mattie Do, see VODzilla.co’s Shudder UK channel.