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V/H/S (David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Adam Wingard, 2012)

 Directed by a slew of “mumblecore” filmmakers, the anthology V/H/S sets out to offer the ultimate in found-footage horror films. Made on an obviously low budget, this inventive thriller utilizes both its central gimmick of handheld camerawork and tweaks its simple narratives in imaginative ways that distinguish the work as a whole. The loose wraparound story here involves a group of hooligans who break into the home of a snuff film collector in search of a specific tape. As they begin viewing his large collection, the five short stories that make up the majority of V/H/S unfold. These tales, spanning several different subgenres, from vampire drama to slasher flick, are each given enough of a twist to feel fresh. The result is a fairly fun ride, crafted by filmmakers who understand the genre enough to set any pretensions aside.


Although the title of V/H/S suggests that a single format will be employed, the shorts use several, including a spy camera and a laptop’s webcam. This variety helps to add visual interest to a subgenre that is too often reduced to the same few tricks. Thematically, the shorts make a collective statement about female agency in the genre. Time and again male voyeurism is presented and punished. All of these tales end in death, and women are more often than not the murderers. Of the five tales, the first and the last are the strongest, which helps boost one’s overall impression of the whole. In the first, a trio of would-be pornographers use a hidden camera to document their drunken conquests. The plan fails spectacularly. In the last, some drunken folks wander into a house on Halloween night that actually turns out to be haunted. These segments are the most high-concept of the bunch, which perhaps suggests that ambition should be scaled to available run time.


Horror anthology films are notoriously inconsistent. Little in V/H/S falls entirely flat, at the same time, though, the film also seems to be missing a truly classic segment. Still, this is a collection of shorts that is consistently clever, to the point where its sense of invention outweighs any sense of dread that it inspires. There has been no shortage of horror films told from a first-person perspective over the last decade, but V/H/S manages to distinguish itself in both content and execution. Its existence suggests a healthy crop of young filmmakers, eager to unleash their perversions upon us. For fans of the genre, this is great news.



Jeremy Heilman