Saturday, June 2, 2012
When I saw the schedule for the Seattle International Film Festival last month, and realized that V/H/S would be playing, I did a happy dance at my desk. Luckily, nobody saw me. But I was excited. I had heard so many good things about this film when it premiered at Sundance and showed at SXSW. I was psyched beyond belief that I would be given the opportunity to see it before its release.
If you haven’t been following it, V/H/S is a found footage horror anthology film. You heard me right. An anthology film (Creepshow-style) made up of multiple found-footage-style segments directed by the likes of Ti West, Adam Wingard, Joe Swanberg, Glenn McQuaid, David Bruckner, and Radio Silence. The framing device is that a group of trouble-making assholes is hired to break into this house to steal a rare VHS tape. Amid a mass of VHS tapes in the house, they uncover the various stories featured in this film.
I know that I probably lost half of you when I said “found footage,” but if you’re still reading, stay with me. I promise, it’s worth it. I know that found footage is wearing out its welcome and it seems like every new film that comes out is derivative and tired, but trust me - V/H/S is different. Each of these filmmakers seemed to take the premise as a dare and a challenge to do something different. Working within box of the found footage sub-genre allowed them to find new and interesting ways to stretch that box and come up with something new.
The different segments are not what you typically expect out of the genre, and that’s part of what makes them so captivating (and frightening). I never knew what was coming next because none of these stories is simply re-playing the familiar. They all found ways to push the genre boundaries and limitations in unexpected ways. And each segment had a totally different feel to it, so it never felt like the directors were treading on the same territory. I enjoyed some stories more than others (as is typical of anthology films), but none of them sank (which is freaking awesome), and I enjoyed aspects of every segment on offer.
And it's creepy. These guys played their horror smart. They didn't rely on 2 hours of jump scares to get the job done, opting instead to put time and effort into building tension within their stories and create a real sense of unease. There were some truly unsettling moments throughout the film that were built on suspense and dread, rather than cheap scares, and it worked really well.
Ti West was kind enough to come out and do a Q&A after the film, and revealed that the project wasn’t really a collaborative process. Each director went and shot his own segment independently of the others (and at different times) and then the segments were assembled into the finished piece. The interesting thing about this is that, despite this individualized approach, many of the segments shared similar themes and they all play well together in the final cut.
V/H/S has been picked up by Magnet and will be distributed later this year. They will start with a VOD release on August 31st and a limited theatrical run in October. And if you are not one of the lucky cities to get the theatrical release, fear not. While it is always fun to see a film in the theater, this is a film that wouldn't really lose a whole lot on the small screen. The found footage nature does mean a lot of shaky cam, and sometimes, that is easier to handle when it’s not taking over the entire room. This film is just as at home (perhaps even more so, given the premise) on your tv as it is on the big screen.
I was so psyched to get the chance to see this film, and I was not disappointed. Like I said, some segments were more effective than others, but each one has something creative to showcase. When the opportunity presents itself, I highly recommend you check it out. It’s a really fun ride, and a well thought-out addition to found footage. These guys put a lot of effort into doing something new with a genre that is past its prime, and it really pays off.