Thursday, October 4, 2012

V/H/S: Found-footage, hexagonal horror movie (six directors), will scare you shitless

If you follow my reviews at all closely, you'll already know that I am not a big fan of hand-held camera-work, supposedly "found footage" (dat ol' Blair Witch agin!), and a lot of the other stuff that goes along with DIY movie-making. That said, if ever all the annoying-to-unnerving techniques used to "create your own movie" have managed to work together, often brilliantly, in one weird film, that would be V/H/S. This new compilation scare-movie, using six different directors and telling a bunch of jumbled-together tales, proves at once supremely old-fashioned and absolutely up-to-the-minute in the way it pulls us in, alternately amuses, bores and scares the bejeesus out of us, then finally kicks us into oblivion. All using the tried-and-true -- along with the brand-new.

I am now going to do something I almost never have done: using the film's press release to describe the framework here. "In V/H/S, a group of misfits are hired by an unknown third party to burglarize a desolate house in the countryside and acquire a rare tape. Upon searching the house, the guys are confronted with a dead body, a hub of old televisions and an endless supply of cryptic footage, each video stranger and more inexplicable than the last...." I do this for you because I found the framework the most confusing part of the film and probably would not have understood much of the above from what I saw in the film itself.

Once I got into the individual stories, however, I could -- sometimes barely -- get my bearings enough to enjoy what was going on. If this sounds off-putting, don't worry: It works better than you'll imagine because confusion is actually part of the enjoyment here. When we're off balance, the only slightly scary can become much more so.

Other than the wrap-around framework, there are five stories contained in the film. While some work better than others, not a one falls flat and at least a couple are supremely creepy. The directors include, from beginning segment to end, Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die), David Bruckner (The Signal), Ti West (The Innkeepers), Glenn McQuaid (I Sell the Dead), Joe Swanberg (Alexander the Last) and Radio Silence. (That final "name" is actually a group made up of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez and Chad Villella, so I guess you could properly say that this movie has nine directors.)

Bruckner, McQuaid, West and Wingard all have bonafides in the fright department; Swanberg, who doesn't (though some people find his films horrors of a sort), fits into things perfectly well, while the Radio Silence guys, reasonably new to film-making, come through just fine. I'll leave each plot for you to discover, but will say that, for sheer off-balance fear, Bruckner and the Radio Silence Boys got me where it hurts. Ti West, of all people, manages to scare us on a deeper psychological level, with Swanberg (below) one of the stars in his segment.

Not all of this 93-minute movie works, but when it does, it has you, one claw around your throat, the other caressing your balls. And as annoying as those hand-held moments can be, I think you'll agree that, over all, you ain't seen nothin' quite like this one.

V/H/S, via Magnolia Pictures' Magnet division, opens Friday, October 5, all over the country, in a limited release and in a surprising number of cities. In New York City, it will open at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema, and you can take a look at all other currently scheduled playdates (with cities and theaters) by clicking here. Meanwhile, as is often the case with Magnolia's movies, it has already been playing via VOD for nearly the past two months.

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