The thing I wonder about “found-footage” films is, “Who’s filming them – and why?” The protagonists in V/H/S are a trio of utter cunts – they grab and molest women (I’ve somehow managed to go my entire life without ever seeing any kind of on-screen sexual assault), they smash up people’s homes, they break in and draw crude graffiti on people’s possessions (and with super-squeaky Sharpies), and within the film’s first four minutes, they’re actually planning how to target victims for their next rapey antics (“next year we ought to do skirts and dresses”). So already, amid the movie’s shaky-cam jump-cuts, we are being presented with a group of characters that we do not care about.
They’re on their way to steal a VHS tape, and they’re being paid to do it. This doesn’t make us despise them any less – they’re not down-on-their-luck college students, single-mom strippers, threatened, lonely drug addicts or recovering alcoholics or ex-cons. They’re petty thieves, and they’re arseholes. And they have absolutely foul, unkempt pornstaches, of which we get multiple extreme close-ups. Why should I care if they die immediately? Already, for me, there’s no tension, no conflict, no fear for me – they’re going to get what’s coming to them (hopefully), which makes me think it’s going to be some kind of torture-porn movie.
Happening upon a corpse (which they remark smells), they find a pile of video tapes and pop in the first one to see if it’s…correct? We see a POV shot of a guy and his “video glasses”, surrounded by bro-mates talking about asses and tiitties and going to a club and drinking and swearing and stumbling into a dive bar and chatting up birds and drinking more. Maybe they’ll date-rape them with drugs. Yep! They totally are. What gentlemen. And one of them is driving drunk (and probably high).
So this is another set of characters that are designed not to elicit any sympathy. So what’s the entertainment value to be gained from this movie? We’re not going to give a shit what happens to them (I can’t identify with date-rapists or drunk drivers or sex offenders), So are we going to enjoy watching them getting mercilessly, brutally torn to shreds? One of the guys remarks how much easier it is to fuck a chick when “she’s passed out” and “totally unresponsive”.
Oh, I guess there’s some restraint, because he chooses instead to fuck the conscious chick – in front of his giggling friends and the somewhat uncomfortable video-glasses-guy friend, who…almost…engages in a foursome with her and the giggling guy, but stops (becoming the sort of moral, sympathetic one of the trio). In typical fashion, we get extreme close-ups of tits and pussy, but when the giggling friend runs into the bathroom screaming “she bit me!” and “she killed him! she killed him! What do we do, man? What do we do?!” I guess the guys get to keep their modesty intact.
The other two shorts in this sort-of-anthology are directed by different people, allowing the mish-mash of styles to avoid an episodic feel (much like The Signal, though that was a linear story about the same characters told in parts). It also avoids any clashing that’s to be had from contrasting tones (from frat boys trying to rape a girl to a cute couple on vacation).
One instance common among all the VHS footage is pointing the camera at a female character and making them feel sexually uncomfortable, whether it’s grabbing a complete stranger and groping their breast (something that’s actually repeated in a glitch over 20 times during the end credits), date-raping an unconscious chick you just met or perving on your own girlfriend with a camera and asking her not to put her clothes back on, zooming in on tits and crotch, etc, etc. Regardless of the killer, knives or sharp instruments seem to be weapons of choice in each segment.
The segments get incrementally better. Segment 3 (“Friday the 17th” [i c wut u did there]) has entity that hides in VHS glitches; it’s interesting enough of a style to shirk off its probable primary function as a plot device that allows the “character filming while running frantically for her life” trope of the found-footage horror genre. Segment 4 (“The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger”, arguably the best of the bunch) makes inventive (and more plausible, everyday) use of webcam calling to keep the filming format steady, well-lit and having two characters’ video thumbnails on-screen at once.
On a budget of a little over $700,000, with several cast and crew members, and apparently just the one knife to use among them, it’s not surprising that the visual effects are very, very cheap and the acting quality varying so wildly. Its short-story format keeps pacing fairly sharp, and allows plot development rules/twists to be chucked out the window. It’s a decent anthology set, and I’ll probably check out the next one, but maybe not too soon – 2 hours of glitches, wavy lines, shaky-cam and FPS-style screaming is enough for one day.