There are few sub-genres more tiresome than found footage horror. While Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project before it breathed new life into your conventional spook stories, this fad has now become the mainstream with no-one seemingly capable of doing anything fresh or unique with the concept. V/H/S, however, intends to do otherwise in being a found footage horror film about found footage horror films.
It opens up with a gang on burglars who investigate a creepy house in search of a valuable VHS tape. There, they find a plethora of videos documenting terrifying, gruesome occurrences all captured by unsuspecting victims. These include a wild night out that turns horribly wrong, a honeymoon that ends in bloodshed, a trip into the woods interrupted by an invisible killer and a Halloween party at a haunted house, each of which is directed different filmmakers including Ti West, Glenn McQuaid to Joe Swanberg.
But while the concept of V/H/S may be original, the execution is certainly not. Aside from never answering the question as to why all these tapes are gathered in the same place and the usual queries that accompany found footage horror stories like ‘Why not turn the bloody camera off?’, the film suffers from another familiar problem: With only approximately 15 minutes given to each segment the stories are rarely able to achieve anything outside of the genre’s norm. There’s no room for imaginative plotting or fresh ideas and so they frequently fall back on the clichéd set-ups, conventional twists and tired shocks that we have witnessed a hundred times before. Consequently, once you have seen the first short story, you’ve seen most of them.
The fact that each section is so short also means that each filmmaker is only allocated a minuscule amount of time to create the suspense necessary for any horror movie to work. While feature films have the ability to establish a setting, a mood and a sense of foreboding while moving the story along, V/H/S’s format makes it impossible to do any of that. Just as you’re feeling embedded into the world of a story, you’re snatched away from it and frustratingly dropped into the next making few of the short stories even that frightening.
It’s only Joe Swanberg’s section over an hour and a half into the film that manages to both break new ground for the found footage genre and be terrifying while it does so. Compiled through a series of Skype conversations between a boyfriend and girlfriend who are living apart, it’s an inventive spin on the haunted house tale that uses the laptop format to great effect.
Admirable in theory but dull in implementation, V/H/S is your stereotypical found footage horror that’s only unique selling point actually makes for a repetitive, monotonous and hackneyed experience.