Sundance 2012 Review: V/H/S

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One of my favorite sub-genre of horror films is the horror anthology film. A few mini-movies with a common theme, connected by a linking story that weaves its way throughout. They don’t make them as much anymore so when I heard that Sundance had a “found-footage” anthology horror film in the Midnight section this year, I was elated. Because contrary to many, I still really love found footage horror movies as well. Written and directed by a whole bunch of awesome horror guys that I really dig (including Ti West, director of one of my favorites from the last few years, The House of the Devil), and conceived by a guy that most every horror nut knows, Brad Miska from the Bloody Disgusting website, my hopes were high. Well, last night was the premiere. So what did I think? Hmm, let me put it this way… I liked about 75% of it.

Anthology films are always a mixed bag because you have so many different segments, each done by a different team, so they really do open themselves up for a roller coaster critique. It’s almost like you have to review it as a few different episodes of a TV series. But then, along with that, because it’s a single film, you have to review it as a whole as well. I gotta say as individual episodes, as well as a single film, it never quite fully succeeds, but it never fails either. It’s about a 75% mixed bag throughout.

The linking story doesn’t really provide much other than a few scares towards the end, and that was a minor quibble with me. I wanted more out of the linking story. More of a vested reason for all of this. Maybe even something that actually connected everything together. But we didn’t get that. In fact, strangely they even end the linking story before the end of the film, just arbitrarily playing another segment for the end instead. Usually these stories provides a bookend, but for some reason they didn’t do that. That’s one of my main complaints with the film as a whole, as well as a majority of the segments. Nothing that happened seemed to have any reason. Nothing was ever explained. Everything just… happened. I know that in itself is scary. Trust me. But here it just came across as confusing and well, quite frankly, a little bit lazy. It’s harder to think of a reason for things to happen, and much easier to just let them happen. I doesn’t require much, just throw us a tiny nibble or hint of meaning.

But enough of my complaints, let me talk about what I enjoyed. As a whole, I enjoyed the visceral feel of the film, even though occasionally it felt a little too shaky. I enjoyed the “you’re there” feel of the while thing. And I enjoyed the range of different stories (for the most part.) As far as the individual segments, I don’t want to ruin their premises here because that’s part of the fun, but I do want to talk about the segment I enjoyed the most. The one, in my opinion, steals the show, is the segment filmed completely using Skype on MacBooks. The girl on one end of the webchat is having scary experiences happen to her while the man on the other end (and in the bottom corner, just like in a real webchat) just helplessly watches. It’s a very clever usage of found footage, and one that definitely changes the game, so to speak. A runner up for me was the final segment, which in contrast to most of the other stories, actually makes use of some clever special effects to a seriously haunting effect.

All in all, the segments that were just one long build-up to a single punchline weren’t quite as effective as the ones that had more scares and suspense throughout. But they all had their own place for sure. And no, this isn’t a mass audience film at all. In fact, I think it would have played a LOT better on a small TV set instead of a large screen. But regardless, for its intended audience it’s a worthy view. Just expect it to be about 75% worthy, and you won’t leave disappointed.

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