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Thursday, May 28, 2015 

Film review: V/H/S.

You know what I miss? Stupid, dumb, meat and potatoes slasher films.  There's a killer, he kills people, mostly idiotic, annoying teenagers who may or may not have been in some way responsible for why he is the way he is, he does it in inventive, amusing ways, with or without wisecracks, until there's only one left, often a young woman, who manages to outsmart him.  The door is left open for a sequel, it's all accomplished in 80-100 minutes, the colour theme of the film is vibrant rather than washed out brown/green, it's not lensed by a cinematographer with Saint Vitus' dance, and the editor refuses the temptation to make a bazillion cuts every nanosecond.

Is that too much to ask?  Is it really necessary for every other new "horror" film to be a part of the "found footage" genre, or to follow the lead set by the Paranormal Activity series of films, which seemingly exist only so as to make life even more miserable for the zero-hour, minimum wage slaves at the local World of Cine who have to pick up all the spilt popcorn between screenings?  How is it I cannot think of a single horror film released in the past 5 years other than American Mary that I would watch again?  I haven't seen It Follows, You're Next or As Above, So Below yet, all of which have had somewhat decent reviews, but I'm really not getting my hopes up for any of them.

And so we come to V/H/S.  Not only is it a found footage horror film, it's a portmanteau/anthology found footage horror film!  That means there's not just 120 minutes of shaky, wibbly, constantly breaking up and decayed video to enjoy, but it's broken up into segments, sort of but not really tied together by the conceit of a gang of idiots breaking into a house to steal a tape, only they don't know what it is or what's on it.

Except the film doesn't so much as bother to follow that conceit, as on a couple of occasions the next segment just begins without one of our intrepid heroes pressing play.  Still, we're not really here for the plot, we're here for the spookums aren't we, so what does it matter?

The film then opens with a sexual assault.  Yep.  Turns out our narrators, or at least guides have been making $50 a pop by grabbing women on the street and exposing their breasts, all the while filming their attacks.  These are then posted online.  They do this, needless to say, in broad daylight, without covering their faces.  Only one of the group has found out they can make a whole heap more dough by just breaking into this one house and stealing a tape.  They don't ask for any more details, they'll just know when they've found it.

There is, of course, a dead guy in the house, in front of the obligatory stack of TVs and video machines.  Which tape is it?  Why do they not just gather up all the tapes and leave to review them elsewhere, as indeed one of the group suggests at one point, only to decide it's a fanciful idea?  Why are they filming everything they're doing?  Why I have not already switched this rubbish off?

The leery, nasty tone set from the off continues in our first segment, Amateur Night, directed by David Bruckner.  Our new group of 3 bros have only scored a pair of those spy glasses off the interwebs, the sort "used" by reality porn producers to film them picking up a random woman off the street and then having a rather jolly time together!  Guess what they're going to do with the glasses?  Do you think things won't go according to plan?  Do you think that despite the implication being this is meant to suggest objectifying women isn't a good thing it won't in fact do anything of the kind?  Do you think the pay off despite everything being wrong will be worth it, rather than a mess of CGI and shaky cam?  Does the director think everyone in the audience won't be asking themselves WHY HASN'T HE TAKEN THE GODDAMN GLASSES OFF?

Next up is director Ti West, known for 2009's House of the Devil, with "Second Honeymoon".  His segment ends with one of the goons asking, "what the fuck was that?".  My sentiments exactly.  The one thing that can be said in its favour is that if you were to find a tape with a real murder filmed on it, it would probably make as little sense as his section does.  Couple on a road trip, film themselves as they go along, only there's someone letting themselves into their hotel room who picks the camera up and records them as they sleep, only THEY USE A LIGHT AND YET IT SOMEHOW DOESN'T WAKE THE COUPLE UP.  Nor does the couple notice anything amiss, apart from some money having gone missing.  It's dreadful.

We then have Glenn McQuaid's "Tuesday the 17th", which as you would expect from the title is sort of playing with genre conventions except not really.  Best of the bunch which is saying very little is Joe Swanberg's The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger, which consists of Skype chats between a couple living apart, with the Emily of the title convinced her apartment is haunted.  It is, and yet it isn't.  In fact it's something far worse.  It's not in the slightest bit scary, but it does switch things up after what's gone before, although again there's some unnecessary leeriness.  Last is "10/31/98", and we are back once again into everything that is wrong with the found footage genre.  Our gang of slightly older bros don't think to call the police and instead steam in to save the victim of some crazies at a house where they thought there was a Halloween party, with the expected consequences.

The problem with "found footage" is it asks you to suspend your disbelief twice over.  While you can accept the horror genre's tropes of the victims of the masked assailant being stupid and either unable/unwilling to call for help, to do so when you're also being asked to believe that what you're viewing is a document of something that happened is a step too far.  It can work only in certain specific circumstances, whether it be in the woods like Blair Witch Project, away from a phone signal, or in the depths of the rainforest as in Cannibal Holocaust.  That the high point of the genre is still the one that started it all rather suggests it's not going to be improved upon.  Please filmmakers, for the sake of our sanity, give it a rest. 

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Sounds pretty awful. I can recommend You're Next, though - it's clever & twisty without being pretentious about it, and the nasty bits are properly nasty. You might like the Falling, too.

You're Next is surprisingly directed by the same guy as did the connecting parts of this, although You're Next was his previous work. He's also apparently slated to direct a remake of I Saw the Devil, which I reviewed a few years ago , and I can only imagine how an American version of that already questionable film will play out. I will give it a go though.

Mark Kermode raved about the Falling, but it seems another of those films that have split audiences down the middle

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