Directors: David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence and Adam Wingard
Starring: Mike Donlan, Joe Sykes, Drew Sawyer, Jas Sams, Hannah Fierman, Joe Swanberg, Sophia Takal, Kate Lyn Sheil, Norma C. Quinones, Drew Moerlein, Jason Yachanin, Helen Rogers, Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett and Paul Natonek
Pairing together five unseemingly related short found footage horror movies into one feature film initially appears to be a gimmick that aims to draw in as much money as possible for the low-budget, independent projects. But the new anthology movie, ‘V/H/S,’ which features entries from such noted horror helmers as Ti West and David Bruckner, brilliantly links the shorts together. Their universal theme that people thrive on voyeurism, deceit, control, and at times, when it suits them, murder makes the characters continuously question their mental and psychological well-being. Along with its impressive stunts and visuals, ‘V/H/S surprisingly offers a unique take on the horror genre.
The five short horror films included in ‘V/H/S’ are uniquely connected by one distinctive narrative story, which is titled ‘Tape 56’ and was helmed by Adam Wingard. A group of misfit guys are hired to break into a house and steal a mysterious VHS tape for an unknown accomplice, and they decide to record their crime. Their recording chronicles how they find more than one tape in the house, and are unsure of which one to take, despite their accomplice’s insistence that they’ll know the right one when they see it.
The group shows their true reprehensible nature when they start watching the tapes in the room in the house where they discover the owner’s dead body. The tapes they watch are the five short movies shown to the audience, which are filmed by the characters in the found footage format. Each one is more extreme than the last, leaving the group understandably frightened and questioning if the events on the tapes were real.
The first short film, ‘Amateur Night,’ which was directed by David Bruckner, follows three friends, Shane (Mike Donlan), Patrick (Joe Sykes) and Clint (Drew Sawyer), as they rent a hotel room with the intention of bringing women back for sex. Clint cleverly wears a pair of glasses wit a hidden camera inside to record the encounter. They meet Lisa (Jas Sams) and Lily (Hannah Fierman) at a local bar, and bring the two women back to the room.
The three men are stunned when they discover the seemingly quiet and reserved Lily’s true nature. They believably go from being confident and arrogant over being able to pick up women who are so interested in having sex with them to instantly being frightened for their lives when they emotionally reject Lily. Fierman plays Lily as desperately wanting to be loved, and feeling forced to violently retaliate when she feels shunned.
The next short film, titled ‘Second Honeymoon,’ was directed by Ti West. The movie follows married couple Sam (Joe Swanberg) and Stephanie (Sophia Takal), as they take a road trip for their second honeymoon. While in their hotel room after visiting a Wild West themed attraction, where Stephanie receives a predication from a mechanical fortune teller that says she will be visited by a loved one, a masked woman (Kate Lyn Sheil) breaks in. The woman eerily records as she watches Sam and Stephanie sleep, puts Sam’s toothbrush in the toilet and steals $100 from his wallet.
While ‘Second Honeymoon’ is the only short in ‘V/H/S’ that doesn’t feature supernatural elements, West still created a horrifying, intriguing story that questions what happens when a couple’s vacation is disrupted by an unknown force. Takal was well cast as the mischavious Stephanie. She questionably didn’t share the same concerns about the weird happenings that have been occurring since they checked into the hotel, such as Sam’s missing money. Her carefree nature was believably inviting to a mysterious stalker with questionable intentions.
The next short film, ‘Tuesday the 17th,’ which was helmed by Glenn McQuaid, follows four friends, Wendy (Norma C. Quinones), Joey (Drew Moerlein), Spider (Jason Yachanin) and Samantha, as they visit the woods in Wendy’s home town. Recording their journey, Wendy tells her friends how a mysterious man killed her friends in the woods when she was younger, but then says she was just joking. But there appears to be some truth to story as glimpses of bodies begin showing up in the frame.
‘Tuesday the 17th’ didn’t have as alarming of an emotional and horrifying effect as the other shorts in ‘V/H/S,’ as McQuaid included multiple glitches to represent the killer and his victims on the tape. The unsteady, malfunctioned-filled tape, which had well-intentions of representing the presence of his killer and his victims in a unique way, was instead visually harsh and difficult to watch. Wendy’s intention to show her friends and potential viewers the killer she knows is in the wood is sidelined by the harrowing visual effects.
‘The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger,’ the fourth short in ‘V/H/S’ that was directed by Joe Swanberg, follows Emily (Helen Rogers) as she tells her boyfriend, James, who’s studying to be a doctor, about the mysterious bump on her arm, and how it reminds her of her leg when she was a child. She also tells James how she thinks her apartment is haunted, as she sees visions of young children at night. After her landlord denies anyone died in the apartment, a boy and a girl appear and attack her. James sees the children on screen, and struggles to help Emily discover the truth in the apparitions.
Swanberg created a truly psychologically, emotionally troubled title character who truly questioned her mental well-being after she thinks she begins seeing ghosts in her apartment. The director’s subtle inclusion and images of the children truly make viewers question if Emily’s visions are real or imagined. Along with James’ level-headed ideas of what could really be happening in her apartment, the short continuously features surprising plot elements.
The final short in ‘V/H/S,’ ’10/31/98,’ which was directed by Radio Silence, follows four friends, Chad (Chad Villella), Matt (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin), Tyler (Tyler Gillett) and Paul (Paul Natonek), as they head to a Halloween house party being thrown by a person they don’t know, dressed in costume. When they arrive at the house, they find it to be deserted, but come to think it’s actually a haunted attraction. As they search the house, Tyler’s camera, which he has hidden in his bear costume, picks up distorted images of ghosts.
The group finds a group of people chanting in the attic, and interrupt a cult that’s seemingly assaulting a bound young woman. The friends think it’s a joke at first, but when the cult violently assaults the woman, and the members are pulled to the ceiling, they realize the danger they’re truly in.
’10/31/98′ was the most intriguing short in ‘V/H/S,’ and had the most potential to be made into its own truly frightening feature film. The four friends naively walked into the house, just looking for a fun time on Halloween. But when they realized they unknowingly walked into a cult practice, and see the horrifying assaults being practiced on the woman, which are reminiscent of West’s ‘The House of the Devil,’ they come to realize the true horrors that do reside in people.
Creating another found footage horror film, which comprises of five short films with an underlying narrative, is a particularly risky move, especially on a limited budget with several different directors. But the new movie ‘V/H/S’ bravely brought together the unique storytelling and visuals of the talented filmmakers, who had a concise idea of what kind of message they wanted to tell. While ’10/31/98′ had the most stunning visuals and characters who matured the most out of the five shorts, all of the narratives featured intriguing stunts and diverse characters.
Written by: Karen Benardello