Part of the reason I'm sick of found-footage horror movies is that the more of a proven commodity they become, the further and further away they get from the things that make a found-footage narrative especially effective. After a certain point, at their worst, they might as well be conventionally shot movies with a little red recording light in the corner of the frame. If you're going to make something a found-footage story, it should be not only be shot in a certain way, but the story should be told in a certain way as well. Found- footage with a minimum of backstory is good, because the whole idea is that it's just raw footage, the documentation of something nobody was ever supposed to see. The lack of provenance is what makes it scary. In that respect, V/H/S works quite well on balance.
V/H/S is an anthology of five short movies, plus a framing narrative, all shot as one type of found-footage conceit or another. At its best, this anthology rediscovers what makes found-footage movies so powerful. It falls short a couple of times, but overall makes a convincing argument for continued exploration of the form.
The framing narrative - titled Tape 56 - is about a bunch of scumbags who get their jollies from vandalizing abandoned houses and molesting women on the street, all while videotaping their antics. Somebody has offered them money to break into a house and steal a specific videotape. "You'll know it when you see it", the man says. The house is oddly empty, except for an upstairs bedroom, which contains a stack of TVs and VCRs, a bunch of videotapes, and a dead body sitting in a chair. One of the idiots sits down in front of the TVs and starts plugging in videotapes, each one of which is a separate story.
On the one hand, Tape 56 does set a tone of unblinking nastiness that serves some of the best stories in the anthology well. But otherwise, it's pretty unfocused - sure, the unexplained is an advantage in scary movies, but there's not really enough information here to draw any conclusions other than this house is bad, the tapes are bad, and these guys are bad. Each interstitial segment tries to advance the story with action, but because we're returning to it between separate, discrete stories, it's more distracting than anything else. It might have been more effective if we didn't hate these guys from the word go, and if not much happened until the very end. As it is it's too choppy and chaotic to make much of an impression.
Tuesday the 17th
The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger
It wouldn't have occurred to me before I watched this, but found-footage movies have a lot of potential to be better in the short format than a full-length narrative. In life, homemade footage of even happy occasions is incomplete, a product of the moment, with half-glimpsed looks at the camera, things happening offscreen, and a spur-of-the-moment quality to it. These are all things that help scary stories as well, and I wonder if this wouldn't be a bad thing to turn into a regular series. I'm normally not a fan of franchises, but I wouldn't mind seeing another collection like this. It seems like an opportunity to showcase all sorts of directors, be cost-effective and so encourage experimentation with the form and as a result would probably make for a better viewing experience. Not all of these work, but they're all admirable shots at doing something fresh and interesting.
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