The anthology horror film gets a hip new face with V/H/S, an unpolished collection of horror tales from some of the cool new kids in horror. Keeping with another cool new horror trend, V/H/S also plays out using the found footage technique, with characters controlling the action in each of the stories.
The wrap-around story follows a group of twenty something criminals who make money by tricking and/or forcing women into getting naked, until the day they get a big money assignment to break in to a country home and steal a VHS tape. When they arrive, they find a creepy old dead man and a lot of tapes, each of which hold a different spooky surprise.
Each of the stories that break up the criminals' bumbling adventure is its own mini-found footage film, each of which is presented in a different manner. One is a home movie of a romantic vacation, another is footage taken from some spy camera glasses, another seems to be a recording of a Skype conversation. About the only things these stories have in common are a) violent surprises and b) men who try to get women to show their breasts. I'm not saying this is the most misogynistic horror movie I've seen, but it does seem kind of like the male directors/writers created their scripts while drinking at a frat party. (Meanwhile, it's probably best not to think about how there happens to be an old VHS tape of a Skype conversation or how video from a pair of glasses with a camera in them gets on tape either.)
Once you get past how juvenile the stories and characters can be, the five short films are often very effective. The first segment is a bit of a chore to get through, thanks to some grating camera work and annoying characters, but it still offers a neat twist and some impressive special effects for a film on this budget. The second segment - directed by FMWL favorite Ti West - is one of the highlights of the film, showcasing some creepy stalker imagery and shocking finale. A slasher segment with a twist in the middle of the film is a little bit of a let down, but it's followed up by a the bizarre and inventive Skype-ish segment which stands out as the most unpredictable piece of the film
The final segment is probably the best example of the film's problems and successes as they come together. I also think it's my favorite part of the film. Directed by and starring members of a group who are credited as Radio Silence, it features more obnoxious young males drinking, swearing, and hoping to party - only to stumble into a haunting situation. The sequence features a lot of "blink-and-you'll-miss-it" scares, and leads to the film's best Twilight Zone-style surprise. It's a film that could have been put together a lot of ways, but I think it ends at the most perfect moment.
V/H/S is a highly flawed film, but its radical approach to horror is a breath of fresh air to me. The handheld cinematography is often a drawback and some juvenile writing (including an impressive number of excuses to show female breasts) will leave a bad taste in the mouth of anyone who wants their horror to rise above the cliches that give the genre a bad name. But when you get past those issues - which will be hard for some, since they are blatant and persistent throughout the film - the ideas behind these horror stories have a lot to offer. It's kind of like a cheap all-you-can-eat buffet version of the horror anthology - there's a lot there, but you have to take the bad with the good.
If nothing else, V/H/S stands as an interesting statement on how versatile the new breed of horror filmmakers can be. You can see that they're horror fans, and a large part of their appeal to horror fans is the fact that we can see a recognition of horror conventions in their films. But these young guns have a lot of ideas that shake even the most experienced horror fans' expectations. V/H/S raises as many questions as it answers about these young filmmakers, but they did enough to keep me fascinated in where the film was going next, which led to a smooth and enjoyable two-hour horror experience. It's not for everyone, but V/H/S works well enough for me.