January 28, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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V/H/S, which screened as part of Sundance’s Park City At Midnight series, is a gimmick piled upon a gimmick.

First is the horror anthology itself, familiar from the Twilight Zone movie and Rod Serling’s Night Gallery TV show, among many others.  In this case, half a dozen unrelated short films, each from a different director, are presented as an omnibus film.  The additional gimmick is that all the stories are variations of the “found footage” horror subgenre that kicked off with The Blair Witch Project and became a franchise with Paranormal Activity.  The connective tissue (so to speak) of the movie is a loose story (directed by Adam Wingard) about a group of thieves hired to steal a mysterious VHS tape from a house; to no one’s surprise except theirs, as various members of the gang settle down to watch the videos, they’re slaughtered one by one. 


There was a fair amount of imagination put to finding different excuses for the “found footage” to exist.  In one story, directed by David Bruckner, the camera is embedded in a pair of spy eyeglasses worn by one of a trio of frat-boy idiots who are on the hunt for sex–and we all know how well that ends in movies like this.  Another mini-movie (direcred by Joe Swanberg and Simon Barrett), is entirely in the form of Skype chats.  Another, set in the 1990s, and directed by Ti West (House of the Dead), the closest thing to a “name” director in the group, is composed of “home movies” from a second honeymoon that goes wrong.  There is, of course, a slasher-in-the-woods story, directed by Glenn McQuaid.  And in what is probably the most elaborate of the chapters, directed by the collective known as Radio Silence (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Chad Villella, Justin Martinez, Tyler Gillett), another group of morons is unwise enough to spend Halloween night at a “haunted house” party that lives up to its name.

There are certainly some shocks and enjoyably gruesome violence to be had along the way (the picture will probably have to go out unrated or be edited to avoid an NC-17 in its current form), but the project inevitably suffers from a serious case of diminishing returns.  Because of the stylistic homogeneity imposed on the anthology, chapter after chapter features the same mannerisms:  shaky hand-held (or head-held, in the case of the eyeglass camera) visuals, sudden cuts to blue when the “VHS” picture goes out, staticky interference as supernatural events are captured on tape.  The most controlled chapters are West’s and Swanberg/Barrett’s, but theirs also have the dumbest stories with the worst endings; the rest are mostly just exercises in watching people wander around for 10 minutes or so and then get hacked apart.

There are no characters to speak of in any of this, little of what one would call “acting,” and certainly no memorable dialogue.  By definition the production values are low-rent.  So V/H/S just exists as a vehicle for gore and creatures jumping out of the shaky, hand-held dark, and 116 minutes of that is far more than anyone who isn’t an obsessive could need.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."