I have run into a recurring problem with found footage movies: they seem to start off pretty slow. It’s a way to set the stage a little bit; to make it feel a bit more like real life. The viewer gets to know the main characters a little better in the downtime. Quarantine starts off with 10-15 minutes of Angela interviewing firemen. It lulls you into a certain sense of security/boredom. It also allows us to see Angela in her everyday life. “She’s just like us.” Well…not exactly like us, but you get the feeling that she’s a normal person.
The good found footage movies do this well, and use this device to their advantage. You feel a better connection to the character. You feel more invested in their well-being. The first 15 minutes being a little slow doesn’t really matter in the long-run.
This is my main problem with V/H/S, an anthology movie featuring 4 short films inside of a wraparound story. The entire movie clocks in at just under two hours, which would be fine if it were one story. But it’s not. It’s five stories. And each one has the set-up that I just talked about. Having an extended period of dead time to start your movie doesn’t kill it if it’s 90+ minutes long. But, if you’re making a film of roughly 15 minutes, you can’t have 10 minutes of boring set-up. That doesn’t make it interesting. It just makes it boring.
There’s another thing that kind of kills this movie: there really aren’t any likable characters. There are a handful of characters that I didn’t actively hate, but not too many. I despised the vast majority of these characters. I don’t mean that in a, “they were despicable and I couldn’t relate to them” kind of way. I mean that in a “they grated on my nerves” kind of way. That’s the major difference in the characters in this movie and the characters in Trick R Treat. Trick R Treat was filled with terrible people, but they were at least tolerable. I wanted to reach through the screen and punch most of the characters in V/H/S.
Let’s get to a short breakdown of each story, starting with the wraparound.
“Tape 56” [Director: Adam Wingard]
A few friends are hired by an unknown person to break into a house and steal a specific VHS tape from an old man. We don’t know much about these guys, except for the fact that they make money by running around, lifting girl’s shirts up, filming it, and selling it to porn sites. They also enjoy vandalism (shocking, I know). Also, I hate all of them.
They go into the house and find that the owner is dead. So they take their sweet time picking through his library of VHS tapes. They watch some of the tapes to try to figure out which one they’re supposed to grab (as opposed to just taking all of them and sorting it out later, which would have made entirely too much sense). The short films that we see are the VHS tapes that they are viewing.
We catch glimpses of weird things in the house between the films. A couple of the guys disappear. Something is moving around in the house. The dead man disappears from the chair he was sitting in, only to reappear a little later. And so on.
Why is there so much antiquated media/facial hair in this house?!
The verdict: I hated this. The characters were all ridiculously obnoxious, and I was openly rooting for them to die.
“Amateur Night” [Director: David Bruckner]
Three guys (Shane, Patrick & Clint) hit the town in search of sex. Lots of sex. One of them (Clint) has glasses with a camera installed in them, so he can record all the events of the night. (It’s worth noting that Clint looks like Ben Folds.)
They go to bars, drink, meet girls, and get kicked out of said bars. One of the women they meet is a strange girl named Lily. She’s kind of cute, but extremely pale, and her eyes look a little too big for her face. She’s a little skittish, but she keeps getting close to Clint’s face (thus, the camera) and mouthing the words “I like you.”
"I like you, too. Please stop looking like a caged animal."
The three guys take two girls (Lisa and the aforementioned Lily) back to their room. Clint was going to hook up with Lily, Shane was going to hook up with Lisa, and Patrick was going to sit on the couch in the hotel room and laugh like a hyena. Lisa falls asleep, so Shane decides to hook up with Lily instead, because no one cares about Clint or his stupid feelings.
But, as we’ve already guessed, Lily is some kind of night creature. A vampire, most likely. A split-faced vampire.
The verdict: I didn’t love it. The “twist” was telegraphed from very early on. Also, I hated the three main characters. I guess Clint wasn’t terrible, but Shane and Patrick were insufferable.
A married couple (Sam and Stephanie) decide to take a road trip out West for their second honeymoon. They seem happy and in love. They see the sights. They have fun on their drives. And so on.
They also get their fortunes told by an old-timey prospectin' machine
One night, in their hotel room, a woman comes to the door and asks them for a ride in the morning. They decline.
Later that night, the camera turns on, and it’s obvious that it’s the woman from earlier. She steals $100 from Sam’s wallet, opens a switchblade, and softly touches Stephanie with it.
Sam and Stephanie wake up the next morning none-the-wiser, except for Sam accusing Stephanie of stealing his money.
Smile for the camera
The verdict: There’s a little payoff at the end, but it’s entirely too small to make up for the rest of the film. 95% of this film is watching a happily married couple taking a road trip. The ending (which wasn’t even that great) doesn’t make up for all the boring stuff.
Four friends (Wendy, Joey, “Spider” & Samantha) head into the woods of Wendy’s hometown. She says they’re going to a cabin she used to visit as a kid. As they walk through the woods, Wendy tells them stories about a trip she took with friends, and the accidents they had. As she tells them these stories, the camera has flashes that show dead bodies. At some point during the walk, Wendy stops, looks into the camera, and says something to the effect of, “You’re all going to die.”
But she says it in a really adorable way
She tells them a story of a serial killer that stalked the woods, killing people. How he killed her friends. How he has supernatural powers that allow him to not show up on the camera. How she brought all of them there as bait, because she was going to kill him.
And sure enough, he shows up and begins to pick them off. And, true to the story, he only shows up on camera as a technical glitch.
There he is: all glitchy and not-at-all terrifying
The verdict: I didn’t really hate these characters, but there just wasn’t enough about them to like. There was nothing to them. And, as in the last film, the payoff just wasn’t worth it. This wasn’t Jason stalking the teens of
was a blurry, tech-riddled blob shambling through the forest and killing
college kids in a very quick and pretty non-interesting fashion. Camp Crystal
Emily and James are dating, and they talk often over video chat. He lives in another state, and is studying to be a doctor. Their chats are centered around the strange bump on her arm, and the strange happenings in her apartment. Footsteps by the door, bumps in the night, etc. She’s convinced that her apartment is haunted. While chatting one night, a ghost-like figure runs into the room and slams the door.
So it definitely appears that her apartment is haunted.
During one of their chats, Emily begins digging into her arm with a knife, trying to get the bump out. James is concerned, and tells her she needs to not do that anymore.
I can’t really go too much further without spoiling the ending.
The verdict: I liked it. I didn’t love it, but it felt like a Twilight Zone episode. Definitely the best film in this collection.
Four friends (
Chad, Matt, Tyler & Paul) head
out for a Halloween party. When
they get there, they don’t find anyone in the house, but there are some weird
things going on in the house. They
assume that the owner set it up as a haunted house attraction.
They hear chanting coming from the attic, so they go up and find a woman tied up and a group of men beating her. They decide to rescue her, so they cut her down and run out of the house. As they escape, the house gets stranger. Hands grab at them from the walls. Chairs and tables float in the air and fly towards the escapees.
They get the girl in the car and drive off. But things are not quite as black and white as they had assumed.
The verdict: Not bad. It moved along pretty quickly, but it never really drew me in. Still, it was fairly enjoyable.
Here is my ranking, in order of how much I enjoyed them:
- The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger
- Tuesday the 17th
- Tape 56
- Amateur Night
Overall, I didn’t really like this. It’s was pretty plodding and boring for the most part, and I didn’t like many of the characters. And there weren’t nearly enough good parts to counteract the bad ones. Even my favorite film was pretty boring for the most part. It was just less boring than the other films.
I had one major issue with the film as a whole: as far as I know, this was supposed to take place in modern times. At least, I don’t remember them saying when it took place (the only date I remember was in “10/31/98”). So, if this did take place during modern times, why was everyone using VHS? I get that it wouldn’t have the same feel if it was called iMovie or something, but the rampant use of VHS was baffling to me.
I also get that the ending didn’t really matter too much, but it still left me with questions. Did they find the tape they were looking for? How were they supposed to know if they found it? None of them seemed to know anything beyond, “We need to find a tape,” so how would they know if they found it? I go back to my earlier point: why not just grab all the tapes and leave? Why stay in the house and watch all of them? It makes no sense. I guess I’ll just have to wait for V/H/S 2.
V/H/S II: Lost in Yonkers
I had a thought towards the end of the movie that helped me to explain the widespread use of VHS. At least, it makes sense in my mind.
This movie does not take place in our world. This movie takes place in an alternate reality.
Every film except “Second Honeymoon” involves supernatural events. And not small supernatural events, either. Yes, these could take place in our world, but that’s a pretty big leap. To try to get me to believe in vampires, glitchy serial killers, and whatever-the-devil-happens in “The Sick Thing” is a pretty bold move. And I believe in aliens and ghosts, so it’s not like I’m coming from some position of complete unbelief in the supernatural.
So perhaps this film takes place in an alternate universe. A universe that, for one reason or another, technology didn’t advance quite as fast as it has here. I realize it’s a leap, but believing that the events of this movie take place in our reality is also a pretty big leap.
Just a nice picture of non-dead friends
But that might not be accurate. After all, they have glasses that record in “Amateur Night”. So why do they record to VHS? And why is the video chat of “The Strange Thing” on VHS? Wouldn’t that all be digital? Am I supposed to believe that someone converted a digital file to a VHS tape? For what purpose?
One final note: when I was searching for pictures for this review, I found that the pictures made the movie look a lot better than it was. Don’t be deceived by these pictures: the movie was not very good.