Nothing says ‘Found Footage has arrived’ more than think pieces on the subject, rife with academic genre-speak. Consider this lofty description from Wikipedia:
“The film is presented as an anthology of short horror films, built into a frame narrative which acts as its own short horror film. Each short film is linked together with the concept of found footage.”
This is the explanation of structure given for each of the three V/H/S films and, as hard as it is to understand, it speaks to why the trilogy works better than a lot of other movies in the same vein.
The V/H/S franchise sits snugly in the middle of the found footage realm, but it also represents the work of several different directors with their own wide ranging styles and sick fixations… that is to say the slasher fan, alien buff, and zombiphile alike have something to look forward to.
Granted, they’re not a perfect trilogy, but each installment is worth watching for at least a few reasons. There’s a lot of great camerawork, the editing must have been a bitch, and special effects are fairly consistent and good. It’s also a great showcase of new directors, and you never know…one might be the next Wes Craven, and this early short will turn out to be a cinematic gem. Stranger things have happened.
The series begins with a group of teen-aged thugs (who film their crimes, of course) breaking into a house to steal a single VHS videotape as part of a low-rent contract job. Upon entering the house, they find a dead body sitting in front of several televisions and hundreds of unmarked VHS tapes. They set about collecting them all to ensure that they retrieve the right one, watching a few in the process. There are strange things happening in the tapes and in the house at the same time…wackiness ensues.
The sequel is based in the same abandoned house and presents a new string of footage to a pair of investigators. The cutaways include a man with an experimental eye-camera implant (a nice way to work around the ‘why are you filming this’ question); a zombie attack on a bike path (this one is just awful, as you might imagine); a film crew attempting to infiltrate an Asian cult, and a group of pre-teen boys at a sleepover with alien abduction problems. It’s a more uneven movie than its predecessor, and from what I understand the sequel was rushed through production, so that may account for the peaks and valleys. Still, it’s a good watch with more than one jump-scare and some surprising tension in the final act.
An off-shoot rather than a continuation, the third installment looks at viral footage, as suggested by the anachronistic title. The wrap-around story (there’s more of that jargon) centers on a high speed pursuit and the people clamoring to capture it on video, only to gradually reveal that the truck being chased is circling one neighborhood repeatedly. The end result of this fool’s chase is fairly ridiculous, but the journey to get there is mostly fun.
V/H/S: Viral’s segments include the stories of a wanna-be illusionist who obtains a cloak (fun to say) of great power; a man who invents a homemade machine that opens a door to a parallel universe, and teenage skaters who unwittingly become targets of an undead cult in Tijuana while filming their own highlight reel. They ascend in quality; the final short, Bonestorm, is the most believable footage as far as the ‘found’ part goes, it has great action, and it’s thoroughly ridiculous in all of the right ways. Hearing a character repeatedly refer to ‘Gas Money Kid’ as he’s ripped apart by priests and priestesses with super-human strength is fantastic.
Below is a full list of directors for posterity…think of it as a digital time capsule. Who will find this pile of names…and what will be revealed…
- Adam Wingard (Tape 56)
- David Bruckner (Amateur Night)
- Ti West (Second Honeymoon)
- Glenn McQuaid (Tuesday the 17th)
- Joe Swanberg (The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger)
- Radio Silence (10/31/98) – Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Chad Villella & Justin Martinez
- Simon Barrett (Tape 49)
- Adam Wingard (Phase I Clinical Trials)
- Eduardo Sánchez and Gregg Hale (A Ride in the Park)
- Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Huw Evans (Safe Haven)
- Jason Eisener (Slumber Party Alien Abduction)
- Nacho Vigalondo
- Marcel Sarmiento
- Gregg Bishop
- Justin Benson
- Aaron Scott Moorhead