'V/H/S' Review By Bryan Yentz

... What most of these directors failed to understand is that a short film IS NOT just a single "Gotcha!" idea; it's a beginning, middle and end...
  • OVERALL
    2.5
    WORTHY
  • Story
  • Acting
  • Directing
  • Visuals
Of the many forms of storytelling that exist, none strike such a chord with me as that of the tried-and-true anthology. Since I can remember, I've always maintained a penchant for short-stories; their concise and oftentimes brilliant means of conveying a narrative in an incredibly contained space. Be it book or film, my ever growing interest with omnibus-style dramaturgy has pushed me to explore the depths of Clive Barker's twisted soul with his BOOKS OF BLOOD; has driven me to understand the science-fiction genius of Harlan Ellison; has given me added appreciation to TALES FROM THE CRYPT and CREEPSHOW. I guess my infatuation for such minute stories stems from the fact that such condensed tales of joy, love, sadness, horror and tragedy are--many a time--able to accomplish in fifteen minutes or pages what a feature length film or novel fail to do in two hours or three-hundred pages. So, with all of that laid out, one can understand the giddiness I experienced upon my screening of V/H/S. It's a horror movie. It's an anthology. It derives from some of the best upcoming genre filmmakers of our generation. Sadly, for every incredible garland of cinematic terror akin to TRICK R' TREAT, there's a disappointing effort along the lines of SNOOP DOGG'S HOOD OF HORROR. While V/H/S is nowhere near such a travesty as Snoop's aforementioned folly, it doesn't come close to meeting the high bar set by Michael Dougherty and his pumpkin-headed roustabout, Sam.

V/H/S follows a group of young, idiotic criminals who spend their days videotaping their petty offenses. From trashing random, derelict houses to de-blousing young women, one can quickly understand that a Michael Mann-esque heist will not be in the cards for them. Anywho, this band of fratty thugs are commissioned by an unknown person to acquire a certain VHS tape from the home of an old man. Upon their forced entry however, they not only discover a massive collection of VHS's, but the stone-cold cadaver of said olden creature. The weird thing? His carcass resides in a recliner illuminated only by the subtle glow of five, static-filled television sets stacked one on the other with a handful of VHS players adorning their tops. Directed by Adam Wingard (A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE; YOU'RE NEXT), this story entitled, "TAPE 56", serves as the overarching thread "connecting" the five following tales. As the crooks search high and low for that one particular tape, a handful of them begin going through copies of the other tapes to witness what's on them. Sadly, while this overarching link begins on a solidly intriguing note, it de-evolves into absolute stupidity and poor filmmaking. Worse, is the way it all ends: abruptly with no creativity. Next to Ti West's endeavor, this is easily the worst of the bunch as it sets itself up for greatness but settles for less than ordinary.

So, the overarching plot aside, let's view each of these short films on their own.

V/H/S begins on a strong note with David Bruckner (THE SIGNAL) and his vicious "hunters-become-the-hunted foray into fear, "AMATEUR NIGHT". In this segment, we follow three douchebags as they dress one of their buddies with a spy-cam and seek out any young women which will give them tail. While the first few bars/clubs turn up nil, the last offers two promising females for the night; thus, the *ssholes take them back to a motel. Early on, it's incredibly apparent that one of the chicks is not exactly normal and this pays off immensely during the short's last five minutes. It's pretty damn creepy, contains some splendidly gruesome prosthetic effects and ends on a commendably interesting note. Outside of the last film in the series, I found AMATEUR NIGHT to be the best of the collection.

Following this, is the weakest of the bunch, Ti West's, "SECOND HONEYMOON". Following West's signature style of "incredibly slow burn; sudden, terrible climax", West tells the candid story of a couple's road trip as they take in sights, sleep in dirty motels and record their fond memories via hand-cam. After about ten minutes of them traveling from destination to destination (in a fifteen minute short), we're finally introduced to a masked killer sneaking into their room and recording them with their own camera. While that little tidbit does come with its own voyeuristic dread it all builds to a terribly vague "conclusion" that had me and my buddy looking at each other with "What the f*ck?" expressions. A completely wasted effort that feels dissonant to the grisly harmony the rest of the directors were trying to create.

Next up, is "TUESDAY THE 17TH", a slasher flick with a 'lil twist. . . Kind of. Directed by Glenn McQuaid (I SELL THE DEAD), this vision of horror follows another group of *ssholes and whor*s as they journey into a forest, only to learn of several murders which occurred there. TUESDAY does sport some eye-widening carnage placed against cool camera effects and an antagonist seemingly composed of video static, but it all feels completely undercooked and forced--even for a short. Really, it's just an excuse to show some graphic violence.

The fourth entry, deceptively titled, "THE SICK THING THAT HAPPENED TO EMILY WHEN SHE WAS YOUNGER", begins on a fun and enjoyably frightening note, but descends into questionable territory with its audaciously cruel twist. While director Joe Swanberg deserves props for delivering some of the collection's only scares, but it also misses the mark as its conclusion feels like a twist to something which should have been much larger. A nifty misdirection of a tale, but that's it.

The last and best (next to Amateur Night), is that of Radio Silence's, "10/31/1998". When four buddies head to a house party on Halloween night, they get infinitely more than they bargained for when they discover an empty abode with some monstrous tendencies. This last short performs like two different versions of a haunted house story as it begins with slow, ominous creep-outs (loved the chair!) that escalate into full blown special effects and absolute chaos during the movie's final reel. Again, while easy to anticipate, it's nonetheless infinitely more fun than the majority of the previous outings.

With V/H/S, I absolutely commend the talent herein and what they were trying to do, but the same clever minds behind such a concept also failed to lift something so potentially great above the bar of mediocrity. What most of these directors failed to understand is that a short film IS NOT just a single "Gotcha!" idea; it's a beginning, middle and end. Just because one must manipulate a time frame into fifteen minutes, does not mean that you forego storytelling as a whole. My biggest gripe with this anthology is that nearly all of the stories (except for the first and last) are built around a final idea--they aren't structured around a story. While Amatuer Night and 10/31/1998 felt like nifty, brutal shorts, the rest simply felt like a collection of random events before the director tossed in his SINGLE concept, "Surprise!", to which I say, "Meh". I'm sorry, but the duration of V/H/S is not comprised of short films, they are but single "Gotcha!" ideas placed at the tail end of a fifteen-minute series of events.

My other issue was surprisingly the characterization; or lack thereof. Nearly EVERY male character in V/H/S is a frat-bro-douchebag. Nearly all of the flicks involve some sort of "manly-man" *sshole either trying to get laid by any means necessary, or just outright mistreating a woman. There's a weird dynamic purveying this bit of celluloid as it presents women as either victims or the cause of men's pain, and presents men as frat boys with no conscience (Radio Silence's project, withstanding). This might say something about the director's themselves (party too hard with their Phi-Beta-Kappa bros in school?) as each seems to stand by the same perspective of character development. What's further disheartening about not only this element of the film, but the experiment as a whole, is that many of these directors have proven themselves capable of great things in their past visions of horror. They dropped the ball here.

I don't regret any of my time spent with V/H/S and actually had quite a bit of enjoyment with many of its gloriously creepy parts. But as a whole, V/H/S is nothing more than some solid ideas placed against a backdrop of bad storytelling, some incredibly annoying camerawork (prepare to get motion sickness) and a pastiche of explicit sex and gore. As I made mention earlier, anthologies work--to me--because of the power they can muster within a snippet of time that something full-length could convey. Taking that into consideration, it's interesting that Michael Dougherty, writer and director of TRICK R' TREAT, was able to tell four cohesively resplendent stories by himself. V/H/S had ten writers, ten directors, two hours, and yet, couldn't even muster a single story on any par with even one portion of Michael Dougherty's creation. Maybe next time, such an assortment of talented individuals can learn about the simple power of one rather than the lazy efforts of the many.

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Comments (28)

  1. THE JOKER

    @bryanyentz You didn't add mback to your tag list man!!! But a great review! This is about where I thought it would rate! Maybe even a little less... I never really liked anything I saw released for this...

    2 years agoby @mcleve02Flag

  2. The Cryptkeeper: Resurrected

    @bryanyentz Oh ok, well lucky you dude! haha I might do what I usually frown upon and pirate it :/

    2 years agoby @cryptFlag

  3. Nicholaus XX

    @bryanyentz -- It's a temporary name change, I promise you. I'm just joining the trend of mockery. You can expect a self-parody, next week.

    2 years agoby @XxNickTheFilmCriticXxFlag

  4. skywise

    @bryanyentz havn't seen ABC's but that is disheartening. Not surprising, though as that is what i felt the entire preview looked like.

    2 years agoby @skywiseFlag

  5. Bryan Yentz

    @Ilikepie202,

    Yeah, the two great shorts are brought down by the other films which renders the whole experience rather middle-of-the-road.

    2 years agoby @bryanyentzFlag

  6. Bryan Yentz

    @XxNickTheFilmCriticXx,

    Thanks, bud! And you changed your name, I see. . .

    2 years agoby @bryanyentzFlag

  7. Bryan Yentz

    @crypt,

    Yeah, man, very select screenings. My buddy actually won two tickets to the premier here in Hollywood so that's how I saw it. Now, it's playing at a lot of indie theaters and also on VOD.

    2 years agoby @bryanyentzFlag

  8. Bryan Yentz

    @skywise,

    Very good point, man, and yeah, I definitely agree. But I feel like the abrupt nature of the short could have still resonated with viewers had the short been more competently made. And you mentioning that he did it with his friends on a road trip makes sense as he also just finished his short for THE ABC'S OF DEATH and apparently, is one of the absolute worst of the 26 shorts as his was done with no skill, no creativity, no suspense and looked like a bottom of the barrel, home-video mess. One critic stated that if he had been one of the producers giving Ti $5000 to direct a short (which all of the directors were given), he would have wondered what exactly happened to the other $4999 that Ti obviously didn't use. It's like these up-and-coming horror directors are already losing steam and are refusing to try as long as they can cash a check.

    2 years agoby @bryanyentzFlag

  9. Nicholaus XX

    Outstanding review, as always.

    2 years agoby @XxNickTheFilmCriticXxFlag

  10. IlikePie202

    I agree pretty much, an okay movie

    2 years agoby @Ilikepie202Flag

  11. The Cryptkeeper: Resurrected

    @bryanyentz Yeah, I'll post a review when I see it- I may have to pirate it if it does not get a wide release :( which its just select theatres, correct?

    2 years agoby @cryptFlag

  12. skywise

    @bryanyentz I am not a HUGE ti West fan but Innkeepers got meinterested in his previous work. He is by no means a brilliant director and even the Innkeepers has pacing issues but your probably right. Ther eprobably wasnt much thought going into his short.

    In fact I read that he and a couple of friends took a "road trip" and filmed this movie while doing that so i agree; It probably wasnt given as much thought as i have given it.

    But that is what is great about art in general. We try to understand what thje artist was thinking feeling but more importantly its how the work effects us as an adience.

    Its easy to be an arm chair critic although I am not as good as so many around these parts (You included). I think the main reason it stayed with me is the genuine-seeming and unexpected human atrocity. It realy shines a light on the brutal and transient nature of human beings.

    2 years agoby @skywiseFlag

  13. Bryan Yentz

    @skywise,

    Not argumentative at all man; that is a great point; the immediacy of the kill/acting so happy and content while on the inside one is pining for murder. That is a good point and I think you bring up such a horrifying prospect far better than Ti West did. Honestly, I bet you Ti didn't even think of it as in depth as you did. He probably was just like, "... And then the killer is his wife--'cuz who's gonna see that comin'?! Huh!? Huhhh!?"

    2 years agoby @bryanyentzFlag

  14. skywise

    hehe struck me as the most striking...

    that sounds funny

    2 years agoby @skywiseFlag

  15. skywise

    @bryanyentz Ti West's story actually seemed rather boring to me as I was watching it. Maybe it was the placing of the short. Coming right after Ametuer Night with it's rather high energy finale made Second Honeymoon feel sluggish. In fact it wasn't until the film was over that I realised Second Honeymoon was stomping through my memory. I agree that is is not great. Its paced poorly and as you said, there is no buildup. But that is exactly what made it so horrifying to me. Had there been any buildup we would have seen it coming. We would have thought: Well that figures. However (I dont mean to sound to morbid here understand) if you are going to execute any plan of murder, you definatly do not want to be seen arguing with the one you are going to kill. You just never know who is watching or listening. The fact that they seemed so happy was the thing that struck me as the most striking.

    I don't mean to be argumentative here. As I said I understand why many people felt this was the weakest. I often find myself enjoying the the thing that other people hate the most in movies like this.

    2 years agoby @skywiseFlag

  16. Bryan Yentz

    @crypt,

    Yeah, man, I'd be interested to hear your take on it. I mean, I think it definitely worth a viewing, just--like I mentioned to the others--didn't find it near as amazing as it could of/should have been. I found two of the stories to be fantastic, two to be "meh" and two to be worthless. So yeah, it's just a very mixed bag of hit-and-miss. But yeah, man, thanks for reading!

    2 years agoby @bryanyentzFlag

  17. Bryan Yentz

    @bawnian-dexeus.

    Thanks, man!

    And yeah, Amateur Night was great despite its douchebag bros. I loved the awkwardness of the girl and the silent way she said, "I like you" in the bar. My favorite part was when the guy looks back up the stairwell and she's just staring at him from the corner of the stairs and then is RIGHT behind him completely out of focus. That part has stayed with me the longest since viewing it.

    2 years agoby @bryanyentzFlag

  18. Bryan Yentz

    @corey,

    Haha, thanks, man! I've actually been following that one too, and AMC was supposed to give it a screening at their theaters--at least in the LA region. That's hilarious that you didn't like it though, what was so bad about it? And please tell me that the Smiley mask ISNT't a mask; it looks like it would be way cooler of that were the killer's actual face. But if I do see it, I'll make sure to rip it a new one in your name!

    And yeah, V/H/S isn't bad by any means, it's just disappointing that so many talented people took the easy, quick way out of it. I think the first and last flick are awesome (Amateur Night and 10/31/1998) but two of the stories are complete throwaways and two are just "meh". But yeah, I can't wait to see your take on it.

    2 years agoby @bryanyentzFlag

  19. Bryan Yentz

    @skywise,

    And see, I can completely understand your take on it as the twist is quite frightening in the sense of, "Do I really know this person?" That one could become so close to someone only to have them murder you. Yeah, I think that's pretty terrifying and a cautious message to everyone in a relationship, but my issue was the execution. While the final moment was appropriately grisly (and the only thing memorable to me), the build up and reveal were standard Ti West formulas that I feel are not only typically weak as a feature length formula, but were incredibly weak as a short film. I think the twist could have had more impact had the short film been longer and hinted at the twist, rather than abruptly show it at the end, which made me wonder, "What the hell? It never showed them angry or dispassionate in their relationship, so why is it that way all of the sudden?" Again, I can understand why you felt the power behind this one, but I found it to be a write-off. As if Ti was just trying to get it over with. As for "The Sick Thing. . ." Again, I agree that this one definitely showed more creativity in its storytelling, but it still fell short for me. Have of my disstaste might stem from something more personal as I'm not a big fan of Joe Swanberg (the director). Typically all of the material he writes, directs or acts in is that of material where he gets to be laid by numerous hot girls or is in some capacity using them, Thus, when the twist came and displayed yet another tale in which he's once again pulling the strings on women (both sexually and mentally), it wore thin on me. I can appreciate its audacity from a narrative perspective outside of my bias, but like Ti's I felt this needed more time; more build-up and more of a conclusion. My favorite is still Amateur Night as that's actually the one that's stuck with me the most; especially the final images of the monster-chick.

    And thanks for reading, man!

    2 years agoby @bryanyentzFlag

  20. The Cryptkeeper: Resurrected

    @bryanyentz I feel like I'll enjoy this movie more than you, because a lot of the points you made, I am not as picky about. However, great review! I'm rather pumped for this one.

    2 years agoby @cryptFlag

  21. Bawnian©-Dexeus

    Great works as always man :)

    2 years agoby @bawnian-dexeusFlag

  22. Bawnian©-Dexeus

    Amateur Night tops them all

    2 years agoby @bawnian-dexeusFlag

  23. the MovieGhost

    @bryanyentz I had heard absolutely NOTHING about this collection of short films but if your review has done anything it's shown me that I've missed nothing. Great job, as always!

    2 years agoby @the-movieghostFlag

  24. Corey W.

    @bryanyentz Haven't seen this one but I got the file on my cmputer. Not gonna lie, your review made me want to check it out for the hell of it. Just saw Smiley. It sucked major donkey dick bro. I want to see you write a review for it just because you're awesome at trashing movies.

    2 years agoby @coreyFlag

  25. skywise

    @bryanyentz Very thorough review. I know this movie is not gret. In fact it is pretty cheap and for the most part I agree with everything you said here but I want to give my opinion on Ti West's short.

    I know that it seems rather boring and it is unfortunate that it is placed after such a far out short. However I felt this was the most disturbing. The way the characters seem so happy and have so much fun makes the ending most shocking. While I watched that section I felt like you did, it was weak and I felt out of place but long after the film ended it was the one that stuck with me. It really made me think about my relationship and how happy we are. I dont know, its hard to explain. Its just that you never know what people are really thinking.

    Having said all that I think that The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily was perhaps the most artistic in its execution but not really a great tale.

    It seems that everyone I have talked to hated the Ti West story but it really had an impact on me.

    Maybe that is because I think my GF wants to kill me sometimes hahaha!

    2 years agoby @skywiseFlag