★ / ★★★★
“V/H/S” is composed of six segments with a unifier titled “Tape 56” where four friends are able to make money by recording with a video camera, stalking women, and forcing them to expose themselves. The videos are then posted online for the world to see. A fan who claims to have seen their work on the internet contacts the group offering a nice paycheck if they are able to break into a house and steal a VHS tape. Naturally, they accept the offer because it has made apparent that these guys will do anything for money. When they get inside the house, however, they find a dead older gentleman sitting in dark room in front of several televisions. One of the guys decides to watch the tapes while his friends explore the basement.
The scariest thing about this film is its prospect of becoming a new trend or franchise. As a whole, it is neither scary nor thrilling; written with neither creativity nor zest; and executed with neither love for its characters nor love for film. It’s as if a group of so-called filmmakers decided to come together and conclude that it would be a fabulous idea to take a sickness from a dark corner in their minds, make it a reality, and pass it off as “art.”
I love horror movies because if they are well-made, they stimulate my mind and heart like no other genre can, but watching the contents of “V/H/S” is a depressing experience with its recurring images of women being cut up and mutilated. While men do experience deaths, notice that the camera places shorter attention on a male with blood on his body than a female. Like in “Amateur Night,” directed by David Bruckner, men meet their gruesome demise in the dark while in “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger,” directed by Joe Swanberg, the woman’s torso area being sliced open is front and center. There is a surplus of other similar examples that can easily be found in the other segments. The film insidiously communicates a hatred of women and implies that’s it’s all right to relish a girl exposing herself and languishing in violence.
There is one segment I enjoyed highly. On “Second Honeymoon,” written and directed by Ti West, a couple (Joe Swanberg, Sophia Takal) goes on a road trip and makes a stopover at the Grand Canyon. They eventually plan on going to Las Vegas so Sam can play some craps. I admired it because the horror is more subdued and is actually relatable. Sam and Stephanie stay in motels during the night. During one of those nights, a girl (Kate Lyn Sheil) knocks on their door and asks if they can give her a ride in the morning. Points for West for allowing Sam to express the uneasiness he feels after speaking with the hitchhiker. We’ve all experienced talking with a stranger and feeling that something about them is just a bit off. The segment has a sense of humor, too. Stephanie investigating the dirtiness of the motel room–dust, stains, and all–is a horror story in itself. Admittedly, the segment deserves a much better ending.
What “Tuesday the 17th,” directed by Glenn McQuaid, and “10/31/98,” directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, et al., have in common is that they both have numbers on their titles. The other is that they are both a waste of space and time. With the anthology’s two-hour running time, it could have done without the pair’s stupidity and predictability. For instance, as you begin to suspect that a character running in the woods is going to trip and fall (on a branch, no less), he does. When you think that something will pop up on a corner with an accompanying “scary” music, it does. What is the point of sitting through a movie when your mind is always ten steps ahead of it?
“V/H/S” is pessimistic. I have a special disdain for movies of its type. I haven’t even begun talking about how the screen is frequently full of glitches, conveniently ubiquitous when a scary thing happens, pummeling us over the head with, “You’re watching a VHS tape so it needs to look like the tracking has to be adjusted!” But I think you get the idea.