Monday, August 6, 2012

MIFF 2012 Review: V/H/S

Expectations can be a difficult thing. Before seeing it, the retro horror omnibus V/H/S was amongst my most eagerly anticipated titles of the Melbourne International Film Festival. Off the back of some killer (oh dear, look what I've pun done) American buzz, and some fantastic marketing materials, it seemed like the audience packed 11.30pm slot on Saturday night was the perfect opportunity for some good ol’ fashioned horror fun. How wrong I was as I joined the bleary-eyed crowd outside the cinema at 1.30am post credits, standing around aghast at what we’d just witnessed. Was it altogether Satanic like something out of the film’s own haunted VHS video collection, or was it far more stupid? A little from column a, a little from column b.

A small group of thuggish yokel petty criminals accept a job from an unseen client. They are to break into a house and retrieve a mysterious VHS video tape. What they find, however, isn't quite as simple and they must make their way through the collection of videos to find the right one. Outside of the final product, this is actually quite a good connecting device for the anthology of short films to follow. Nevertheless, right from the get go these scenes are plagued by issues that are only exacerbated by the film's interminable length and irksome mission statement. Considering the directors - name like Ti West and Joe Swangberg - were aware of each other's films since creative names crossover between shorts, it's quite alarming to note that all six seem to offer up the exact same thing and all in just appalling ways. Doofus douchebags acting like pricks around women who are just as easily willing to flash their breasts on camera as they are kill you in your sleep. Women, am I right?

Short film after short film plays out in typically grainy videotape aesthetic with erratic jump cut editing and frustrating periods of nothingness. Consider the opening passages of Cloverfield extended to feature length and you've got a good idea of where V/H/S lays on the scale of 'films with characters I wish I were friends with in real life'. Fairly damn low. The only passages to not feature such openly dickish forms of the male specimen have issues of their own - evil lesbians! skype! - but ultimately the film's failure comes from its completely and utterly catastrophic use of the cinematic medium. There isn't anything in this movie that elicits a reactions other than contempt or disgust. There isn't a single likable character to be found, rendering the horrific events that befall them entirely void. There isn't a single film that doesn't feature multiple fake scares (something jumping from off screen! a character pretending to be killed mere moments before they actually are!) and lazy execution. There is barely a single moment that doesn't feel like it was born out of the mind of a leering screenwriter who has used the V/H/S concept to produce a masturbatory folly that reeks of cynicism. At least The Devil Inside (surely the previous barometer for this sort of cheap shlock) didn't hide behind a veneer of hip, nostalgia tripping smugness.

If the film were just a mere technical exercise then I could have at least found something to admire amidst its sexist boganisms, but the filmmakers can't even seem to get a grip on their own set up. Set in modern times, I find it hard to believe that even the most hardcore snuff viewer would go to all the trouble of converting a recorded Skype video onto ancient VHS. It makes no sense why we can see the desktop and cursor behind the recorded video or why the villain of the piece would even go to the trouble of filming it anyway if they are so intent on keeping things hush hush secretive. Does the dude wearing the camera glasses in "Amateur Night" have them plugged into a video recorder via cables? What about the "nanny cam" guy? How does a camera survive a high impact train collision? How come they dissolve the central premise of the film at the end and have a "video" play seemingly at random. Who is watching it? Who pressed play? V/H/S certainly could have stood to loose a bit off of its two hour run time so I'm not sure why they bothered to include Radio Silence's film-ending "31/10/98" other than they'd spent the cash on the visual effects and felt the need to include it. It's probably the best one, too, but it's still maddening.

That most of the stories have at least one element or image that I can look back on fondly only makes the end product that much more of a bitter disappointment. I enjoyed the representation of the killer in "Tuesday the 17th" (otherwise the worst segment due to its over-abundance of ridiculous exposition and awful handheld camera work), and the initial Lost Highway inspired stalker sequence of Ti West's otherwise offensive "Second Honeymoon". The visual effects of "10/31/98" were impressive and the way they were incorporated into this otherwise grungy look made them all the more so. Er, I also enjoyed Simon Barrett's moustache in "Tape 56". These moments stop it from being a total failure of a movie, although I am surely being incredibly generous by saying so.

It's sad that V/H/S is so completely lost up its own arse. You may not find a bigger cinephile defender of the Paranormal Activity films as I, and I rank The Blair Witch Project as perhaps the scariest films I've ever seen (I'm weak like that, I guess), so it's not a "found footage" gripe. It's just that the film is so chock full of boredom, sexism against both women and men, cliches, and is utterly devoid of scares. And, yes, it's in widescreen and features impressive sound design - something that Paranormal Activity also has, but here it's a distracting signpost of a half-thought out movie that inspires anger for its shortcomings rather than chills for its successes. D-

1 comment:

Brittani Burnham said...

Thank you for pointing out the Skype conversation being transferred to VHS. I haven't seen this film, but when I read the synopsis, I thought the same thing. Maybe it would've been more acceptable if they had used an older video chat format, and not something that was only created a few years ago?