Apparently most horror minds do actually think alike. A genuinely refreshing concept in a genre that is tough to alter is not wasted in V/H/S, but certainly not used to its full potential. A clever-enough plot that incorporates five isolated horror stories, made by five directors sent off on their own to do as they please, features five shorts that are surprisingly and disappointingly similar.
When a group of young sleazy crooks are sent to a creepy house to secure a VHS tape, they encounter hoards, and naturally, pop a few in and start to watch. What they witness is what the audience witness: a series of creepy found-footage tales that are maybe funnier than they are scary. The drawback to such a creative idea for a horror film is that in addition to priming the main story line that finds these kids in a dark house with its owner dead in a chair in front of a lot of strange tapes, each of the five other stories needs to be introduced, taking a bit of time away from actually being scared.
There is a clear start and end to these tapes, allowing for the audience to relax and regroup, and failing to maintain any tension. A pair of the stories has a clever way in which the audience sees what is unfolding, one is through a secretive camera installed on a pair of glasses, and the other is recording a conversation on Skype. The rest are done with handhelds of people wanting to record their travels.
What is most disheartening though is the common threads that bind these films, films that are supposed to be different and startling. In four of the five, a man with the camera is trying to get a girls clothes off, or succeeds at doing it, and by the time the fourth one roles around, the audience gets the joke. In most of them, it is a woman that has a secret. In most of them the killer uses a knife and a throat is slashed. In most, the jokes come from males, either being stupid or mean. And in most of them, there is of course a sudden twist at the end.
Which isn’t to say the film isn’t worthy, but when watching five stories (six, sort of), it is all too easy to see the similarities and wonder if the genre really is beleaguered. There are plenty of shocks, but like the later installments in the Paranormal Activity franchise, much of the scares comes from the potential, not necessary the payoff. And unfortunately, the main story line isn’t compelling enough to maintain interest when other stories come to the screen.
The stories are simply, and very bloody, and mostly tense, save for the laughter. In one, a trio of men seek to record a night of drunken sex with some club girls, in another a couple takes to a road trip, and in another a group of coeds heads to the woods to relax. Four men head to a haunted house on Halloween in another, but perhaps the most fun and interesting is the series of video chat conversations that take place between a boy and his girlfriend, a woman who is very casual about the fact that her new apartment is haunted.
It’s a good start, but V/H/S needs to try again. The main story ends too soon and is never fully developed, and the five other stories strain to be remembered. There is no reason not to have another go, and let’s see a few more collections of horror, and maybe get a female director or two in there.