FrightFest 2012: V/H/S

The film of the festival so far, V/H/S is sublime horror.

FrightFest 2012: V/H/S

The concept of V/H/S is enough to inspire deep worries – not only is found footage a done-to-death aesthetic, the anthology set-up has not often lent itself to top quality horror cinema. The wraparound story is a decently inventive one – a group of petty criminals are tasked with breaking into a house to retrieve a VHS tape, only to find a dead body slumped in front of several flickering monitors. They rifle through the accompanying boxes of tapes to find the correct one, and their findings are what we see on screen.

As with any anthology, some sections are stronger than others, but with an array of genre talent handling each of the segments here, even the weakest are good value. There appears to be a recurring theme of aggressive male sexuality across the board, but aside from this, we are given a varied and exciting line-up.

The wraparound itself is perhaps the weakest element of V/H/S, giving us a couple of minor frights but essentially serving as a hub for the other, stronger, sections. We aren’t led to care about anything that happens in this part of the film, and it does occasionally veer into watch-checking territory as we wait for the next short to begin.

The first of the shorts, “Amateur Night” is one of the strongest, exploring an avenue of horror that has been left alone for some time. Genuinely unsettling and featuring some fantastic effects work, director David Bruckner gives us plenty of thrills with this bold opening. We are then introduced to “Second Honeymoon”, one of the weaker sections- surprisingly directed by The Innkeepers’ Ti West. This is a slower burn narrative than the first, which does feel a little jarring after the thrills of the stronger first film, although there are hints of West’s trademark character work.

We then coast through enjoyable diversion “Tuesday the 17th” by Glenn McQuaid, which although a reasonably fresh take on the slasher formula is no Cabin in the Woods, onto “The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger”. This is an intriguing little film, presented entirely as a series of Skype conversations as a young woman investigates her possibly haunted apartment with the help of her long-distance boyfriend. The pay-off may not be universally popular, but this is a memorable enough short to merit inclusion. Last but not least is Radio Silence’s “Halloween Party”, a witty, reflexive look at a group of beered-up frat boy types who head to the titular shindig only to find all is not as it seems. Perhaps the best of the line-up, and certainly in the top two along with “Amateur Night”, this is a very strong finish to a thrilling ride.

The film will no doubt throw some viewers with its clunkily retro presentation, with the conceit being that some of these are VHS tapes, the visual quality deliberately reflects this. Whilst this takes the shine off of things, the grubby photography actually works to the films favour, immersing us in the idea that we are watching pieces of evidence rather than an authored film. The whole thing is all the more effective because of this, and as a side note it is pleasing to watch found-footage where the camera isn’t merely hurled around to a soundtrack of pants and screams, but to be actually shown something.

V/H/S should be praised for taking two seemingly doomed narrative devices, and weaving some enduring horror imagery into a series of arresting tales. Some of what we see on screen is more visually striking then anything the horror genre has thrown up this year, and it’s good to know that there are talented and inventive filmmakers out there willing to be outright scary. One of our favourite FrigthFest films we’ve caught so far, we strongly recommend that horror fans seek out V/H/S.