Director: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence; Screenwriter: David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Ti West, Chad Villella, Justin Martinez, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Nicholas Tecosky, Simon Barrett, Tyler Gillett; Starring: Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes, Adam Wingard; Running time: 116 mins; Certificate: 18
The found-footage horror subgenre is tantamount to a murderous movie monster that refuses to die and vanishes whenever you lose sight of their mangled corpse, only to resurface in another pointless outing. V/H/S takes a bold move with the overused concept, intertwining various short films of found-footage to create an anthology of varying quality but with sufficient thrills to make it worthwhile.
The segments, each showcasing different directors and actors, include a group of robbers looking for a tape, some jocks trying to procure women for a sex tape, four youngsters taking a trip to the lake and an online video chat between man and woman. Needless to say, none of these scenarios emerge smelling of roses.
Instead. the stench of death and dismemberment is rife. Yet somehow these disparate collections of footage have all made it onto the same VHS tape, a conceit that you simply need to accept and move on in order to soak up the regular jolts that stem from immersing yourself in the stories.
You feel like an uneasy voyeur at the many private moments you're forced to witness, often of a sexual nature. There are distinct shades of David Cronenberg's masterpiece Videodrome on several occasions, not just with the body horror, although the frequent fuzzy, static interference on the 'tape' does infuriate at times.
There are two standout stories amongst the bunch. The compelling amateur sex tape scenario directed by David Bruckner oozes with danger and menace, as three guys - one of whom is equipped with a camera in his glasses - bring back a lady with hidden talents to a motel room. A 'meat and two veg' extraction takes place amidst creepy imagery and compelling camerawork. This is not the type of material that makes it past the censors onto You've Been Framed.
Similarly, a seemingly innocuous scenario of four youngsters venturing to a lake becomes a stunningly scary venture into terror - in broad daylight too. Directed by Glenn McQuaid, the short managed to swiftly establish a back story to reinforce the impact of the horrific events that unfold, as a villain with echoes of Pipes from the iconic (and banned) BBC1 docudrama Ghostwatch enters the fray.
The ensuing video chat and exorcism segments that round off the movie fail to generate a similar level of fear despite sporadic shocks, as V/H/S becomes increasingly repetitive. The frequency of nipple baring, body mutilation and frenzied young males running around screaming "What the f**k! What the f**k!" wears increasingly thin.
Yet on the whole, the anthology framework works well and features enough audacious moments to merit a viewing. A lot of craft and skill has gone into making the form of this movie appear so raw, with the found-footage genre reaping the benefits and being spared from flatlining. For now.