With Blair Witch around the corner, we look back at V/H/S, a horror anthology film in the found-footage genre that The Blair Witch Project popularised back in 1999.
It’s hard to cook up a fresh idea when it comes to making a handy-cam flick, so why not incorporate five short horror stories in one frame narrative? V/H/S is a collaborative project by Adam Wingard (You’re Next), David Bruckner (The Signal), Ti West (The House of the Devil), Glenn McQuaid (I Sell the Dead), Joe Swanberg (You’re Next) and Radio Silence (Devil’s Due).
The plot follows a gang of millennial delinquents who receive an assignment to retrieve a rare video tape in a seemingly abandoned, rundown house. Upon arrival they see a man dead in an upstairs room, sitting in front of multiple TV screens. They also find stacks upon stacks of unmarked video tapes, making their task all that much harder. A couple of the men are told to stay in the room and go through some of the tapes, setting off a turbulent chain of events that only add to the film’s uncertainty and terror.
Showcasing five films: Amateur Night, Second Honeymoon, Tuesday the 13th, The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger and 10/31/98; The main narrative is shown in intervals in between the tapes, offering half-a-dozen storylines without going off the rails. It’s this very Twilight Zone-esque execution that makes the film engaging.
The characters shine with what minimal time they’re given. The film’s main narrative, Tape 56, becomes a checkpoint for the viewers, as we segue in and out of the tapes. This very element helps us sympathise with the group of delinquents as we experience the anguish and scares along with them, viewing these tapes. It’s a quasi-interactive approach on part of the directors as our reactions mirror those of the group.
V/H/S enlisted the help of little-known actors and crew of the film, to help satisfy its conservative budget. This affects the film in a positive and negative way – the positive is it comes off as more authentic and real, given its ambiguous elements, the negative being that a lot of them don’t show off any emotional range, something seasoned actors pride themselves on. In hindsight though, it’s a good sell and one that many found-footage flicks have achieved over the years.
Each film is entirely different than the next and features a diverse range of horror, almost in the sense, paying homage to previous movies of the genre, keeping its audience refreshed without becoming too tedious. V/H/S’ non-linear story may turn off general movie fans, but for those who are patient and riveted by its game-changing style of found footage won’t be disappointed.
The brick house the three guys break into where all the VHS tapes are located is the same house from Marble Hornets (A Found footage web series on YouTube that popularised Slender Man)