At the same time that found footage horror films seem to be going out of style (or at least slightly out of favour), the anthology film and series – last glimpsed in good health circa 1985 – looks to mount a bit of a comeback. Bridging that gap between the two just in time for Halloween is V/H/S, a sly and mostly consistent collection of short films from some of the best genre and mumblecore filmmakers working today. Well, they’re consistent in that most are pretty great, and not in terms of the title that doesn’t really make all that much sense since it’s more of a multimedia film than anything else. Discounting the wrap around segments that bookend the film involving a group of thieves breaking into a mysterious house looking for a specific video tape and instead end up finding a lot more than they bargained for, the film bats a solid 4 out of 5, which for anthologies still ranks pretty high.
The festivities kick off following Adam Wingard’s wrap-arounds with one of the strongest offerings, a short from David Bruckner titled Amateur Night (the titles of which and their directors remain unknown until the credits, but it doesn’t spoil anything knowing who made them). A pair of bros with spycam eyeglasses go out on the town for a night of debauchery and bad intentions, when they encounter a soft spoken young woman that will make their night take a turn for the worse. Easily the most outwardly intense and potentially off putting of the shorts, Bruckner creates a traditional morality tale using a strange offshoot of filmmaking technology with quite a bit of grace and tension, building to the most surprising ending of all the shorts. It doesn’t quite peak here, but Bruckner’s entry might be the strongest overall.
Next up is Ti West’s low key Second Honeymoon, in which a couple (including Joe Swanberg, a director of a later sequence) goes on a road trip that goes horribly wrong. Fans of West from his feature work (The Innkeepers, House of the Devil) won’t be surprised by the sparse nature of this affair or the surprising amount of dark humour. It might be a bit slowly paced for the average viewer, but for those willing to put themselves into a low-fi frame of mind, there’s a nice little jolt at the end of this one and it will properly acclimate the audience to the shorts yet to come.
Well, maybe they won’t be properly acclimated for the third short, but definitely the ones that follow after it. Glenn McQuaid (I Sell the Dead, Stake Land) logs the lone strike out of the bunch with the illogical and fairly rote slasher short Tuesday the 17th. If the other shorts around it fail with viewers for being “too slow to be scary” this one might appeal to them, but it’s such a standard “teens in the woods” story that it feels woefully out of place here and markedly less inspired than the films around it.
Swanberg jumps behind the camera for the next round, The Strange Thing That Happened to Emily While She Was Young. Not known as a horror director, the prolific microbudget filmmaker unsurprisingly starts his film using mostly online chat footage to tell the story of a young woman trying to explain some “changes” to her body to a close friend. The chats build an intriguing mystery before Swanberg pulls back for a somewhat shocking reveal that makes perfect sense, yet comes almost completely out of left field. Things only get stranger from there.
The show closes with the appropriately Halloween-y 10/31/98 from the directorial collective Radio Silence (better known as the minds behind Chad, Matt, & Rob’s Interactive Adventures). Here a bunch of partygoers get loaded while pre-drinking en route to a holiday party only to stumble across the wrong house entirely. The only one of the films that credibly could have been shot on the titular format, it’s easy to see from its whizbang finale why this one closes things out on a high note, even if it’s the most thematically light of the shorts. It sends the audience home on a fun note after making them use their brains for most of the other shorts. It really amounts to the icing on the cake.
Anthology and found footage horror films are so hard to grade overall because both have so many variables that can make them work or fail. For a film as all over the place as V/H/S to succeed is more than a minor miracle with the filmmakers and producers deserving pats on the back all around.