Note: This review was originally published as part of our Sundance 2012 coverage in January,
PLOT: A group of petty criminals are hired to steal a VHS tape from a spooky mansion. But first, they'll have to go through the tapes, each of which tells a blood-soaked tale.
REVIEW: V/H/S is an anthology horror flick coming from a whole bunch of up-and-coming genre directors, including Adam Wingard (YOU'RE NEXT), Joe Swanberg, Glenn McQuaid, David Bruckner, Radio Silence, and Ti West. Like any anthology films, the stories are a mixed bag, but at their best, the stories in V/H/S are blood-curdling good fun.
The premise, which is the shell story about a bunch of petty criminals breaking into a mansion, and forced to watch a bunch of old V/H/S tapes is clever, with this being almost like a found footage version of CREEPSHOW. The first story is particularly good, involving a bunch of drunken frat boys who buy a set of eye glasses with a video camera built in, with the hopes of taping their drunken hookups, in between beers and shots of cocaine. Umm, yeah- good plan guys. Naturally, things go horribly awry, and by the time this twisted tale reached it's end, people were screaming awwww shiiiiiits at the screen (at the public screening, someone allegedly passed out).
The second story, involving a vacationing young couple, one of whom is played by Joe Swanberg (who directed another segment) is less successful, even if it features one of the most revolting on-screen killings I've seen in a while, with this one being a pseudo snuff-tale, although the twist is ridiculous, and more than a little misogynistic.
Next up, we get more randy college students, this time vacationing at the site of a series of brutal murders. It's probably the goofiest story, but it has fun with the tropes of the genre, including some light drug use that leads to disaster, and the horniest kids being the first to go. It's a fun story, and the way the killer is depicted using the video effects and tracking is visually striking.
The second last tale is framed as a series of Skype calls that go horribly wrong, and while many have pointed this out as the best installment (it's the one directed by Swanberg), I had a tough time with it, and it was the one segment I didn't really get into. It's too complicated, and there's something that happens towards the end that really rubbed me the wrong way- but for the sake of spoilers, I will not reveal it here.
V/H/S keeps the best for last, with a bunch of fun-loving guys, circa 1998, going to a Halloween party at a haunted mansion, that- naturally, is actually haunted. The initial reaction to the old school haunted house effects are priceless ('dude- there are arms coming out of the wall!), but the menace builds and builds to a really strong finish- making it a tight little twenty minutes of horror.
So, while V/H/S is a mixed bag, as with most anthology films, I had a really good time with it. Even at their worst, the stories are always good fun, and while it might have been nicer if their had been some kind of connection between the stories (each is totally self-contained), that's a pretty minor quibble. Horror fans will absolutely love this, and I imagine Magnolia, who just bought the VOD rights, will make a mint off it (although- it's even more fun watching it in a theater full of screaming fans, as at Sundance).