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The Sunday Film Review: V/H/S

Posted on by sam


Director(s): Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence Productions (2012)

1 a.m: a dark crisp September night, an intrepid wannabe indie filmmaker struggles to sleep, the reason? Sid Meier’s Pirates, a swashbuckling computer game the wannabe indie filmmaker bought discounted in the 2013 Steam Summer Sale. Unable to remove a treacherous crossing between Trinidad and Gibraltar from his mind, the wannabe indie filmmaker turns to Netflix. His plan: to rest his tired mind by focusing on a film he can drift off to, the only problem is, the trashy sounding film he’s chosen, V/H/S, may not be so accommodating


V/H/S is the story of a group of dudes with video cameras who like to video their crimes, (something I’ve always thought is on the ‘pulling the tiger by the tail’ level of forward thinking). The film begins with a shaky mini-featurette of the group smashing up abandoned houses, partying and grabbing women in the street to expose their intimate areas. Apparently the group receives payments from uploading videos of them exposing female genitalia, so whoever says crime/sexual assaults/general misogyny doesn’t pay hasn’t realised just what a horror the internet is yet.

But reducing women to their sexual organs can only entertain a group of dudes with video cameras for so long, and soon they make the natural progression into VHS tape collection.  Entering a rather shady looking house in order to fulfil a job collecting a videotape, the group find a dead guy in a chair, an odd television set-up involving several screens and a VHS player. Looking for the specific tape to collect, the group split up, several members decide to search the house for the tapes, while the least popular one gets to stay in the room with the dead guy and watch tapes the group have already found, hierarchy, can’t have a group of dudes without hierarchy. The story then splits between the contents of the tapes the least popular member of the group watches and the story of the rest of the group hunting for a specific tape.


V/H/S is basically a series of short horror films put together, and I’d like to describe my thought process early on watching it……….. so I will, because it’s my review, I have no editor and I can write whatever I like………….. long as my mum approves.

I sat through the early section of V/H/S, which involved the group exposing a woman’s breasts, filming another woman having sex without her knowledge and a scene of them sat in a room speaking in naturalistic, almost certainly improvised dialogue, pretty bored. The gratuitous framing of female breasts and the casual swearing just wasn’t very interesting, it’s not that I’m against such things. Well maybe the sexual assault and filming people without their consent parts I am, but I certainly wasn’t offended by them. I just find that boobs and the word ‘fuck’ are overly done and dare I say, boring horror devices used as an excuse to gain a ‘mature’ rating or as a cover for a lack of story. (Boobs and swear words aren’t alone in that category but I’ve digressed enough).

Little to no effort was made to actually introduce the group (I’m not even sure their names are given) and I began to suspect V/H/S was going to be one of those generic low budget horrors where mutilation and copious amounts of blood are the order of the day………………. which would actually have been ok, because that’s the type of lazy horror crap I drift off to quickly. Then a dude played the first video tape and everything changed to a new short story, ‘ok’ I thought, ‘I’ll watch this bit, and then I’ll probably be ready to sleep’……………. Ten minutes later, I was anything but ready to sleep.

The first story in V/H/S sets the tone for the rest of the film brilliantly, for the longest time you’re just watching a few guys filming themselves in a very normal situation, and yet something doesn’t feel right. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching something very bad unfolding, and when it finally did, the execution was damn near perfect. The idea of a video diary was used to limit how much I could see of the horror unfolding, and I actually found my imagination (a terrible, terrible thing) being the catalyst for creating my own fear. Put another way, the film cleverly used framing devices and character interaction to leave me with the knowledge that some horrific thing was happening, and then let me go to town imagining exactly what said horrific thing was. Then the first story abruptly ended.

From that point on V/H/S had me, every time a new tape was put in and a new short story began, I became tense, I started seeing shadows, and everything felt like a clue or precursor for some bigger, hidden terror. Knowing something bad is about to happen, but having no idea what, that’s a scary position for the viewer to be manoeuvred into, and once you’re there, V/HS keeps you there.

It reminded me of the glory days of Japanese horror, yes there‘s monstrous imagery and a fair amount of blood, but it’s the atmosphere, the impending sense of doom, the knowledge that every corner turned could be a characters last, that’s where the scares come from. Jump scares, scares designed to make your audience jump with surprise, can be a great horror device (Jaws has that famous one involving a severed head), but after you execute a jump scare inevitably your audience then has time to relax again. When the scare comes from atmosphere though, well once you’ve built that up enough to creep out your audience; you never have to let them go. That’s what V/H/S does in spades, brilliant, cheap camera techniques are used to create one hell of a disturbing atmosphere.

Silent Hill 2: One of the scariest experiences you'll ever have, and it's all down to the atmosphere


It’s not a perfect film, one or two of the shorts feel a little phoned in, in fact there’s one that I’m not actually sure counts as a horror story, and the end credits, which are some of the most ill thought out and jarring in history, have to be seen to be believed. The acting ranges from exceptional to pretty poor, though it could be argued that fits with the low budget style, and the jerky camerawork will annoy some, also, I’m amazed how many amateur cameramen are good at framing shots and playing with focus.

Overall though, V/H/S is good, very good; V/H/S is a nice little horror experience, one I’ve gone to every effort to review without spoiling. Kept me up for hours, watch it, I recommend.

Written By Sam ‘needs to stay away from the Steam Summer Sale if he wants to eat‘ McKinstrie

Unnecessarily on twitter as McKinstHFP

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