You have to respect the vision of V/H/S. Five stories, five directors, five found footage tapes. It’s a neat idea. Each director gets their plot of land to plough and till, and they plant some pretty ghoulish seeds. The shorts are, of course, framed by a central story arc which puts the found footage into context. This arc follows a bunch of petty criminals as they are given a job to retrieve a video cassette from a suburban house. But instead of just one, they find a cellar-full, along with the corpse of the house owner. The unlikable thieves must then watch each tape in turn to find the right one.
The anthology’s opening gambit is a literal take on a lads-night-out from hell. Director David Bruckner does a great job of building up the group’s testosterone fuelled antics, and explores the fine line between having fun and going too far. There is a moment when a girls passes out during foreplay, and we wonder whether or not one of the boys is going to become the real villain of the piece. It is this tension which makes the bloody revenge of a man-eating succubus all the more impactful.
We are then treated to four more stories which include, among others things: stalkers, vendettas, webcam hauntings, demonic pregnancies, and an exorcism rescue which goes horribly wrong.
The director’s seeds do bear some tasty fruit, but at four minutes short of two hours, the shorts suffer from being too adventurous for their running time and some remain frustratingly undeveloped. This could be forgiven, if V/H/S boasted a strong central narrative, but again, the story is too shaky and vague to sustain our interest over the course of two hours. At no point do we discover which cassette they are looking for, or why. Why and how have all these horrific tapes found their way into the basement of an old man’s house? The answers to these questions might have given the film the punch which it often lacks.
That being said, there is something inherently creepy about the unexplained collection of sadistic tapes. V/H/S differs from its predecessors such as The Blair Witch Project, in that those films were actually released and watched on video. V/H/S cleverly plays on VHS’s new status as an obsolete format. A crew of criminals finding a hoard of video cassette tapes now has the same chill factor as a hoodoo song on an old gramophone record, or cassette tapes found in an asylum containing interviews with the criminally insane “ (remember The Skeleton Key or Session 9, anyone?) Although it suffers from ambiguity and a long running time, V/H/S will still have you reaching for the pillow. After all, what’s scarier to the Apple TV and Blu-Ray generation than obsolete technology?