“V/H/S” is a weird movie because I enjoy it much more in retrospect than I did sitting in the theater. There are some elements that will delight horror fans, but there are moments of extreme frustration as well. “V/H/S” is another in the line of recent horror anthology films, and features a who’s who of hot young independent horror directors. Radio Silence, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, and Joe Swanberg all take a turn at the helm. The individual pieces of “V/H/S” are, for the most part, solid standalone horror shorts, and many of them have great, stand out elements. You will have to have a high tolerance for douche bags to watch “V/H/S”, but you’ll enjoy watching most of the characters die. How the pieces of the puzzle come together, or in this case, how they don’t, is the central problem with the film.
On their own, each segment is nice little bit of nastiness, and if I were watching any of them alone, everything would be fine. There’s a demon story, a slasher joint, some supernatural flavors, and more. All of the pieces are held together by a frame story, and the frame story is by far the weakest link. It isn’t the only chink in the armor, but it’s the biggest. The attempt to connect all the stories is terrible and obnoxious, so bad that it came close to ruining the entire movie.
The gimmick of “V/H/S” is that these guys who videotape themselves doing all sorts of violent, destructive things—they break in and destroy abandoned buildings, they grab random women and pull their tops off—break into a house to find a particular videotape. They’re looking for one tape out of thousands, and as they check each tape they find that each holds a horrific tale of horror.
The biggest stumbling block to “V/H/S” is length. Each section is too long, and as a result the movie runs twenty or thirty minutes beyond where it needs to. The frame story takes way, way too long to start. It drags on and on, and you start to not give a shit by the time the chapters kick in. And every installment shares the same device, a found footage sort of thing. That has its own drawbacks, but it’s fine. However, every chapter spends time setting how the story will be told. After a couple sections, tou don’t need that road map anymore because each segment that comes before already established the methodology. Instead of spending ten minutes telling you how this story will unfold, they could have done in four or five, been just as effective, and quickened the overall pace of the film. Instead, after each section, you’re forced to sit through another plodding introduction. Just when the pace, action, and tension all pick up to a fever pitch, the momentum stops and you start all over again. This is insanely frustrating to sit through time after time.
One of the middle chapters is a framed as a home movie of a couple on a road trip. By this point in the movie, you’ve been through a couple runs, and you don’t need to see these two walk around a faux old west town doing stupid touristy bullshit. By the time you get to the heart of the story, you’re bored and a little annoyed. Like I said, if you watched any single piece of “V/H/S” they all function as an independent horror short. Any one taken alone most are pretty damn cool. They’re full of inventivness, as well as frights, gore, and genre playfulness that makes them fun. Pasted together like they are, it simply never comes together as a whole like it should, or, more tragically, like it could.
That’s why I like “V/H/S” more now than I did when I was watching it. I can think back to the pieces, examine them in retrospect, and realize, yeah, that was pretty great. It’s easy to see why they chose each piece. But the way “V/H/S” tries to fit everything together causes problems. I wish I could take the film, fast-forward through the frame story, and watch each piece on its own.