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.


  1. Oh, cool! I'm glad you saw this. And I'm glad you liked it, too. We seem to have near identical taste in found footage, but very different taste in traditional films, ever notice?

    I'd give Amateur Night a solid 10 out of 10, just a fantastic short. 10/31/98 would probably get a 9 or an 8. Rumor has it, that short was filmed in the house from The House of the Devil. The other shorts I wasn't so fond of, but at least in Sick Thing the part where she is digging into her arm was fantastically gruesome. I actually thought the wrap-around was very creepy, too.

    As much as I could easily do without nudity in just about any movie, I too thought it was very refreshing that they actually inserted nudity into this, because, as you said, these are supposed to be people's home tapings. It's just straight up realistic, it adds a lot of realism that found footage tapes would be enencumbered by traditional film ideology. I think this was done especially well in Amateur Night, where several of the characters are completely naked for an extended period -- a very realistic scenario to encounter in real life, but one you'd almost never encounter in film. And especially, it's one you'd never encounter so matter-of-factly where being sexy is *not* the intended goal, for the majority of the time.

    I've seen so, so many FF teases where the idea of nudity is brought up, but then ultimately reneged. PA3 comes to mind, but most frustratingly it's often done in zero-budget, z-grade, unrated, direct to video found footage where, realism is pretty much the only thing they can hope to achieve, so why not go for the gusto? It's not like they have to try and get a PG-13 rating, it's never even going to be rated.

  2. Absolutely, and I wish "traditional" filmmakers would adopt that philosophy as well. You don't always have to go out of your way to include nudity in your movie (that depends on your style and what you're going for), but when it occurs naturally in the course of the story, it just tends to emphasize our culture's collective fear and immaturity surrounding the subject of nudity when you go out of your way to *avoid* it. And that's something that never fails to get on my nerves in a movie. (There's a prime example of this in Megan is Missing, but I'll spare you the gruesome details :p).

  3. I dunno, I think movies go out of their way to include nudity far more often than they ever try to avoid it, practically every big actress does a nude scene sooner or later. But for me "movie nudity" (and TV nudity) is just so... fake. It always looks *exactly* like those uber-cheesy soft core porn movies that pay channels play at night. Tends to take me out of otherwise fairly gritty shows like Game of Thrones, when all of a sudden I'm watching airbrushed, dime-a-dozen skinemax for a minute and a half. Now if they want to do something like Amateur Night did, and make it feel more sincere, I'd have no problem with that.

  4. Well, yeah, that's the thing. "Movie nudity" is lame. Case in point, Hollywood's idea of "nude" is walking to the bathroom in a tightly wrapped bedsheet after sex, when noone else is in the house.

    It's like Jessica Alba wearing a swimsuit to the shower scene in Machete, and then the production studio photoshops her to appear nude after the fact. Lame.

    They don't have to make a big deal about it, either - turn it into a set piece. I would be thrilled to see some incidental nudity - hell, maybe even in the background of a scene - just to say "yeah, it's there, and we're not making a big deal about it."

  5. You can change that when you start making movies. ;)

  6. Hey, you can totally do it. With my geekish FF knowledge and your natural photography skills we seem like an ideal team! =D

    Anyhoo on the IMDB board it occurred to me that VHS is a pretty interesting case: it's equally called both misogynist and misandrist. Because on the one hand all the male characters are horrible douchebags, but on the other hand all the female characters are evil betrayers. So I guess the film is just... misanthropic? Though I suppose being misogynistic and misandrist simultaneously is totally possible.

  7. It seems to me like it takes a village to make a movie. Lots of crewmembers, all doing different things. In any case, you need actors, and I may be a photographer, but I haven't honed my "working with models" skill just yet.

    Yeah, it is a weird thing about that movie. The male characters are douchebags, which suggests misandry, but then their activities (including the misogynistic ones) almost seem to be glorified. Then you have the women, who are exacting vengeance on the douchebags as an almost feminist fantasy, but they're often not very likable characters either.

    I read something about it being a "critique of the male gaze", which kind of puts it into perspective - showing men treating women as sex objects - and then suffering a cruel fate. But of course, I'm critical of critiques of the male gaze, because it all too easily becomes a misandrist attack on male sexuality. What you need to balance that is a visible example of the way a male can properly relate sexually to a woman, so as to say, "I'm not against male sexuality, just douchebags treating women poorly for sexual reasons". And this film seems to lack that, while meanwhile somebody who's not willing to read beyond the surface layer (the type of people who never get satire), will just see a glorified and violent movie about men being dicks to women, and view it a prime lesson in the school of misogynism. It's, like, *showing* misogynism in order to criticize it, and some people aren't capable of thinking past the first level (or else just don't think the satire or the underlying moral is effective enough, which I think is a valid criticism in this case).