Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
With Halloween just around the corner I figured I’d repost my review of the new “must-see” horror film! Sadly I seem to be the voice of dissent.
I love the horror anthology film, to me it is a forgotten genre in the horror field albeit because it can be a divisive strategy. On occasions you have moments of brilliance like the recent (and grossly overlooked) Trick R Treat or you have this film, V/H/S. I can’t say that V/H/S is a terrible film (there’s two stories that are great) but the overall structure and the three earlier stories make it far from a frightening or entertaining experience.
The film tells of a group of hoodlums going into a house in order to steal a VHS tape. Upon arriving at the house the group discovers the homeowner dead and a room filled with televisions and tapes. In trying to figure out what tape is the one they need the group proceeds to watch a couple that lead to terrifying results.
The overall problem with this film, before I start to dissect the individual stories, is the mood swings this film takes. The opening bookend of the film involving a group of delinquents who get their kicks assaulting women doesn’t do much to endear you to the story, especially considering the first five minutes involve them showing women’s bare breasts. From there you just want these guys to die and apparently the screenwriter thought so too as I don’t even recall these guys possessing names! They’re expendable from the word “go” and the film never seeks to explain the reason for their arrival at this house, or the creepy old man. The fact that their story effectively ends before the final segment proves that their plot is ineffective and unnecessary to the story. The book ending segment is always hard to establish as it’s needed to give exposition but its expendable but introducing a group that you hate doesn’t help.
By that same token, nothing much is explained about this film at all. Case in point, how do segments involving a glasses cam, a nanny cam, and a Skype call end up on VHS? And I hope you brought airsick bags because I’ve never gotten a headache watching a shaky cam film on television until this one. The camera in at least three of the videos is so poorly shot I didn’t understand what was going on entirely in one.
The other main issue I had was the film’s depiction of women. I understand horror films are a showcase for young women to bare their breasts for little reason but did almost every….single….segment need to have women literally shaking their breasts at the camera? The opening installment, the first segment entitled Amateur Night, and two subsequent segments all include women in various states of undress with their boobs shoved in front of the camera. Taking into account this is a found footage film several characters either request or have the women request baring their tops making it forced and awkward. By that same token at least three of the stories involve women being the source of carnage, great leap forward! On the flipside the men in these stories are gangs of hoodlums out for a quick roll in the hay. Their dialogue to women is disgusting and if anything it makes me glad I’m single.
Let’s get into the individual segments which I’ll grade individually before giving a final grade for the film as a whole.
Amateur Night starts us off directed by David Bruckner whose film The Signal is supposedly good (I’m skeptical to check it out after this). The story tells of two frat boys and their nerdy friend trying to score with chicks. They find two girls, with the latter being extremely weird (her only dialogue is “I like you”). Of course the weird girl goes crazy and carnage ensues. This was the one shot the worst as it’s recorded on a camera embedded in eyeglasses. The final two minutes involves our main character running and frame literally becoming a blur of indistinguishable colors. The story follows a group of total scumbags (continuing the theme of the douches in the bookend stories) who disrespect women and get their comeuppance. The actors are all okay for playing stupid frat asses and the girl has some cool makeup effects. The problem is we never learn who or what the girl is (aside from the fact she doesn’t like giving a BJ to a guy…I’m not kidding). The final minute is cool but that’s not enough to make this an interminable way to open a movie (D).
Second Honeymoon is directed by Ti West who I’m continuing to feel is a one-trick pony. I loved his House of the Devil (a film I watch every Halloween) but hated his latest venture The Innkeepers. Second Honeymoon follows a couple on a road trip that might be followed by someone. Aside from two scenes involving a third party recording the couple this was boring as watching paint dry. Do you love watching some couples vacation videos? If so, then you’ll love this because we get to watch them sit in hotels (and record inspecting the bed for germs) and visit some rocks! Also, how heavy do these two sleep that they don’t notice a mammoth lens and light in their faces? The ending is so quickly resolved it makes little sense. (D+)
Tuesday the 17th is a bizarre film in that, since the segments don’t have titles, your never sure if this film is meant to be a spoof of Friday the 13th or not. The segment follows a group of kids going out to a lake where people were supposedly murdered. All the tropes of the genre are lampooned which creates some levity but in the last three minutes the main heroine becomes a terrible actress! The entire segment falls apart by bad acting and the need to force in an actual climax into the film. The “killer” is interesting but it’s never explained enough to have an impact leaving you to scratch your head and say “huh?” It’s also poorly shot with the last two minutes involving running through the woods. (D+)
The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger is by far my favorite of the entire film and I’m interested in seeing the rest of director Joe Swanberg’s filmography. The story is told in Skype Chat between Emily and her boyfriend. Emily feels that her house is haunted and it might be tied in to a mysterious bump on her arm. The story is paced just right constantly ramping up the suspense before giving the film’s one big jump scare that’s amazing. The acting is solid and there’s just enough questions left at the end to make you wish it ran a bit longer. I’m not sure if I’d enjoy this as a full-length film considering the sci-fi twist it takes towards the end, but I’d have enjoyed a 30 minute short. (A)
The final story is entitled 10/31/98 and follows a group of friends going out to Halloween party that’s not all it appears. The biggest problem with this film is the various “inspirations” that you’ll compare it to including the aforementioned House of the Devil and Kevin Smith’s Red State. That’s not to say the story is bad, you’ll just figure out the twist really quick. Once the group, who surprisingly aren’t jerks, get to the house is when the fun begins. Not only does the film become a single camera story, but it becomes a segment locked into a single location! The use of practical effects and camera trickery makes you nostalgic for the way films used to be and by the end you’ll love this house of horrors. It’s another expertly paced segment that doesn’t overstay its welcome. (A)
In the end V/H/S’ individual segments don’t add up to an enjoyable film as a whole. Two of the segments are fantastic (and should be in better movies) but the entire first hour is just long, misogynist, and boring. The overarching connecting piece of the film never gels and by the time you find stories you like the film ends. It’ll be showing on some HD movie channels early and you can rent it on iTunes. I do not recommend seeing this in theaters, especially if you have a weak stomach as the camera movements made me sick on my iPad!
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.