It all begins with a group of guys that commit deplorable acts to capture on video and place online – for a price, of course. They are then commissioned by an unknown and unseen benefactor to retrieve a certain VHS tape from a house. They find an old man in front of a number of TV screens and videotapes and begin their search for the right one. One man is left upstairs to watch the videotapes and the others go to the basement to find what else there is. They are not told which videotape and thus begins the horror anthology we are subjected to.
The main story is “Tape 56″ (Adam Wingard) the 5 we watch are (in order): “Amateur Night” (David Bruckner) – a succubus themed slaughter, “Second Honeymoon” (Ti West) – why motel rooms can be so creepy, “Tuesday the 17th” (Glenn McQuaid) – camping in the middle of nowhere, “The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger” (Joe Swanberg) – Skype can be scary too and “10/31/98” (Radio Silence, Chad Villella, Justin Martinez, Tyler Gillett & Matt Bettinelli-Olpin) – Halloween party gone wrong. The acting is nothing to write home about (even with some of the directors appearing in their own films) particularly as there seems to be a common theme of characters with a sense of depravity and lust. The best segments for me (10/31/98, The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger, Second Honeymoon) had the least over-the-top shaky cam (who holds a camera that badly these days?) and better plots – not a surprise as they come from directors like Ti West (The Innkeepers). The least likeable characters are in the other segments and you find yourself not caring that they die.
Found footage is a genre that has been coming to the forefront of late. I can understand why in some cases it can add to a story but more often than not, it’s a side of cinema that I feel has been used to death (pardon the pun). V/H/S is the work of 10 directors who have created 6 stories and put them all together. The concept and idea is new and interesting but the execution – not so much. It is almost self-indulgent at 2 hours in length and there isn’t a single connective fibre between any of the stories (unless I missed something). Why is it that all of these tapes somehow find their way back to this house from their various locations where these scenes of violence occur? Who is the dead old man they find? Who is the anonymous person? There doesn’t seem to be a point to any of it.
If you like horrors, you’ll like how clever this film in some of the stories, but be warned it is really violent. It builds suspense extremely well and I can guarantee I wasn’t the only one jumping in my seat and they weren’t cheap scare tactics either – just good old-fashioned dread and creepy music. There are moments when the fear stems from the so-called VHS quality, the inability to see the danger clearly and that seems like a cop out to me. It is much better though than the Paranormal Activity series of films in that they get straight into what will happen. It would have been better as 6 short films at a fright festival or even a web series, but being released as one movie on a random day in January seems pointless. Maybe that was their aim as directors and if so they did it pretty effectively albeit randomly and violently.