SXSW 2012: 'V/H/S' Marries Found Footage & Anthology to Horrific Success
by Jeremy Kirk
March 14, 2012
While found footage is on the upswing and may be taking over the planet soon, anthology horror is a thing of the past. A genre that's never really found its footing for upper level cultural dominance, anthology horror films find themselves in 2012 on DVD shelves, film festivals, and the occasional, short-lived TV series. Creepshow was 30 years ago. Thankfully, we do have those film fests that showcase quality films, anthology or found footage, when they come into play, and V/H/S is both. It's an anthology of found footage films, all tied with a wrap-around story and dished out for your horror hunger pangs. It's scary. It's funny. It delivers wholeheartedly.
That wrap-around, directed by Adam Wingard of A Horrible Way to Die and You're Next fame, revolves around a group of criminals who film their debaucheries. They find themselves in a predicament one night when they're hired by a mysterious client to break into a home and retrieve a single videotape. They break into the house looking for one tape. They find many. There's also the dead body of an old man, something the chaotic hedonists pass off with a casual joke. They do have a job to do, though, and begin watching through the videotapes they find. Each one contains a single horror story, all made of found footage, and all of them insanely twisted.
The project amasses some of the biggest and brightest up-and-coming horror talents out there. Filmmakers like Joe Swanberg, Glenn McQuaid, David Bruckner, Ti West and Radio Silence provide the shorts the criminals in Wingard's wrap-around, and us, experience. Each of them bring their own way of handling the found footage aspect. Swanberg's The Strange Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger is a series of Skype conversations between a guy and his girlfriend, who is experiencing some supernatural occurrences in her apartment. 10/31/98, directed by Radio Silence, and Amateur Night, directed by Bruckner, feature the lead character wearing special headgear that captures the horrors they come in contact with. Even the ones where characters are carrying video recording devices handle the "put the camera down and run" issue well, particularly Second Honeymoon, directed by West.
The horror elements to each short are incredibly strong. Every one of them has, at least, one, solid, gotcha moment that drives nails of chill down your back or has your head snap back in shock and awe. Second Honeymoon and Amateur Night are the slowest burns of them, West's short being more a dark thriller than supernatural terror. Tuesday the 17th, directed by McQuaid, is the slasher-in-the-woods story but the concept and the execution of its killer are extremely cool. Swanberg's film, as well as 10/31/98, take the classic haunted house tale and flip it on its head. It flips it pretty hard, too. There's a lot of blood.
With films like V/H/S, You're Next, and Cabin in the Woods all hitting in 2012, there shouldn't be any reason for anyone to say it's not a good year for horror. If satisfaction reverts to dollar signs, there's no reason horror films shouldn't pull in $500 million in 2012. A lot of the talent behind V/H/S also had a strong hand in You're Next. Both have the same vibe that it's something you've seen before, but it's done differently, cooler, and with the ultimate intent of giving their audiences a satisfying experience. V/H/S takes the found footage horror popular now and the classic style of anthology and marries the two in a grand wall of blissfully fulfilling horror.
Not all of the stories are perfect. Wingard's wrap-around, in particular, is a little too ambiguous. Tuesday the 17th gets repetitive. But none of the films out-and-out fail. They all provide their own unique brand of scares, their own technique when it comes to the camera, and their own way of making you appreciate what can be done with something as common these days as found footage horror. It works, because it's executed brilliantly. No one can say there will never be another found footage anthology, especially within the horror genre. However, it's pretty certain there will never be one as good as V/H/S.
Jeremy's SXSW Rating: 7.5 out of 10