Audience fatigue may be an understatement for the reaction I get when bringing up found footage films. Fresh at first, the recent influx has left audiences cynical to what I believe can be a very effective sub-genre. The concept of V/H/S had me very excited, a collection of short vignettes from up-and-coming American filmmakers, framed around a group of friends breaking into a seemingly empty house in search of a mysterious but potentially money making videotape. Like all anthologies, the strength of V/H/S can only be measured based on the strength of the individual films, and whether anything original can be done with the found footage film. In this regard, some were more successful than others.
The most effective vignette was the first: Amateur Night directed by David Bruckner. Filmed using a hidden camera embedded in a part of a pair of glasses, we follow a group of friends enjoying an evening out, and returning to their motel with a couple of girls, of course, one of the girls is not what she seems. Amateur Night benefited from a great creature design and found a solid balance between sexiness, tension and gross out horror moments.
While perhaps not the most effective of the shorts,The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger directed by Joe Swanberg used found footage in the most original manner. Documented by recorded video chats that Emily has with her boyfriend, Emily starts complaining about strange occurrences in her home, including sightings of ghostly children. In the most chilling scene, Emily, afraid to confront the horrors searches her home with her eyes closed, guided by her boyfriend on the other end of the computer. The use of the video chat puts us in the same position of the boyfriend, as we helplessly watch the horrors unfold.
The least effective vignette was Tuesday the 17th directed by Glenn McQuaid. Telling the story of a group of friends taking a trip to a lake, until unsurprisingly bad things start taking place. Tuesday the 17th was the least original story out of the bunch and played out in a fairly predictable manner.
The strength of V/H/S is in its variety, each film is unique and each successfully built up towards the final pay off sufficiently in the short time that was available to them. Unfortunately, the anthology structure is what stops the audience being satisfyingly terrified, any tension is diffused when the next short starts as we’re introduced to, and have to appreciate, a new group of characters.
V/H/S was a lot of fun to watch and by the nature of the anthology film was never dull as there is always a fresh film to spark your interest. There are scares to be had here, and while not breaking any new ground with the found footage genre, V/H/S will still leave horror and gore fans satisfied.