Monday, February 25, 2013

V/H/S (2012)

So I finally got around to watching V/H/S, and I'll tell you, I liked it. You can't really take it too seriously, in terms of expecting everything that happens to make total sense, but if you're willing to just sit back and enjoy a bunch of found footage shorts, you just might like it. I think the idea is extremely clever - a horror anthology (like Creepshow or Tales From The Crypt) totally in the found footage style. And, I actually thought it was pretty scary, too (which is something I've found that found footage does more effectively than traditional filming styles in the horror genre). One warning though, if you can't stand "shaky cam" movies, you'd best avoid this one.

Note: The rest of this review may contain some spoilers. Nothing too detailed, but if you want to go in completely fresh, then I suggest you watch the film first before reading on.

So the "wraparound" story ("Tape 56") deals with this group of immature jerkwads who go around committing petty crimes and filming them, presumably for the entertainment of likeminded blowhards on the internet. And then they get this job where they have to break into some old guy's house to steal a VHS tape. Except, the old guy turns out to be dead, and his house is filled with VHS tapes. So they start watching some of them, and it turns out this guy has a treasure trove of found footage.

The first segment, titled Amateur Night, introduces three douchebags with a glasses camera looking to bag some drunk chicks from a bar, bring them back to a hotel room, and film them having sex with them (presumably so they can upload the video to the 'net). Except one of the chicks they bag turns out to have a very terrifying secret - she's not exactly human. The guys in this segment, as the guys in the wraparound, were very obnoxious, but apart from that, the segment had a nice balance of gore and nudity, and was genuinely creepy once the shit started to hit the fan.

The second segment is titled Second Honeymoon, and ostensibly seems to be a recording of a young married couple's "second honeymoon" road trip to the Grand Canyon. But they come across a suspicious girl at their motel who, it seems, is inexplicably able to sneak into their room at night. The segment ends with a very brutal murder (remarkably so) and something of an unexpected twist. I have to admit, even aside from the gore, just the idea of somebody sneaking into your room at night and watching you while you sleep (not necessarily with good intentions) is pretty terrifying.

The third segment, titled Tuesday the 17th, is a not-so-subtle parody/homage (take your pick) to Friday the 13th styled slashers, about a girl who lures three of her friends out to the woods in an attempt to capture video evidence of a local rampaging killer. The acting is atrocious, and this segment would be eminently forgettable, if it weren't for the video tricks utilized. The killer only shows up on the camera in the form of a glitch, presumably because of some kind of (quite possibly supernatural) electromagnetic interference. It's actually a neat trick that ramps up the mystery, and contributes to the viewer's fear of what exactly the characters are up against.

The fourth segment has the rather unwieldy title of The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger, and comes in the form of an internet video conference between two lovers. The girl (who is not nearly as flawless, but oddly has some of the look and mannerisms of Chloe Moretz) is having some problems with her apartment - she thinks it's haunted. So we're treated to a very much Paranormal Activity style horror, albeit one that has an unexpected and somewhat ineffective (even if it was a neat idea) conclusion. Props for the addition of nudity, though, especially because - come on - this is a webcam convo, after all.

The fifth and last segment is titled 10/31/98. We are introduced to another group of overconfident young males (slightly less obnoxious than previous groups), on the night of Halloween, in search of a party they were invited to. They have a bit of trouble finding it, contributing to the suspicion that the house they eventually arrive at may or may not be the right one. Regardless, it's rather large and nicely furnished, but noone is there partying. They find a way inside and begin to explore the house. Various subtle paranormal activity follows, leading the men to believe it's some kind of Halloween trick - you know, a haunted house. They make their way to the attic, where they hear some men chanting, and find a woman tied up, the focus of some kind of ritual. They eventually discover that this is not, in fact, a party, and even as they try to save the girl and escape, the paranormal activity in the house ramps up considerably, trying to trap them inside.

If there's any complaint I have with this movie, it's that it spends a lot of time depicting the douchebaggery of today's stereotypical over-testosteroned male. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the female nudity (and even to a lesser extent, I like that they didn't just limit the nudity to the female), but it was almost always in the context of men being douchebags - like assaulting a woman on the street and forcibly stripping her on camera, or a guy trying to secretly film himself having sex with his girlfriend, or another guy pathetically begging his wife to take off her sweatshirt and kiss her with the camera rolling.

It doesn't make me hate this movie, because it's not a drama or an anthropological documentary - it's a horror, and it's effective (in my opinion) at being scary, even if I don't like the characters (in fact, I might be more receptive to the violence if it's being exacted on unsympathetic characters - that's open to debate), and after all, if a horror movie is out to depict the horror that exists in the world (real or not), then that contributes to my feeling of disgust.

But, it just makes me think about how men treat women in the real world, and wish we had better examples of men enjoying the sexual delights of women in a way that doesn't suggest that men are pigs and rapists, or lead you to the insidious conclusion that, like vandalism and theft, sex is an antisocial crime committed by immature men, in this case against women (who, nevertheless, may or may not have the ability to defend themselves and exact terrible, murderous revenge).

On the other hand, I am extremely happy to see a found footage film that doesn't shy away from the fact that putting the technology of homemade videomaking into the hands of the populace leads to a lot of people wanting to film some sex. Sex tapes, webcam videos, even the concept of voyeurism itself implies the marriage of sex and video technology. So even though this is horror and not porn, I was very excited to see some actual sex and nudity for once in a found footage film.