V/H/S is 21st-century nasty
Starring Calvin Reeder and Lane Hughes. Rated 18A.
As John Waters wrote many years ago, there’s good bad taste, and there’s bad bad taste. And so it is with horror films. The classics soar above their inherent nastiness and creaking logic while the rest leave you rolling your eyes at stupid people doing stupid things. As an anthology film made by multiple directors, V/H/S manages both.
There’s no cackling Crypt Keeper here. As you might have inferred from the title, the framing device involves a mysterious collection of videotapes and a lot of Blair Witch–style found footage. But old technology aside, V/H/S is all 21st-century nasty, with graphic disembowellings and other splattery moments among the more supernatural elements imported from J-horror.
If you don’t get too involved wondering how or why mumblecore icon Joe Swanberg’s Skype-based segment ended up being transferred to this dead analogue format, then it has the most effective scares—even if its denouement, which owes something to David Cronenberg’s The Brood, is a little too puzzling.
Best of the lot is the first story, David Bruckner’s “Amateur Night”, in which a bunch of frat types try to secretly record a drunken gangbang and end up grappling with a vicious succubus instead. Bruckner manages to cut through the visual noise and ugliness of the format with some impressively gothic imagery and a genuinely creepy and uninhibited turn from Hannah Fierman as the hypersexual demon.
Because “Amateur Night” exceeds its self-imposed limitations, you’re less bothered by its essential disgust with female sexuality. Not so much with the rest of the film. Horror movies should be transgressive, but when the end credits are played over a reprised image of sexual assault—jokily repeated to a grating noise-punk soundtrack—you realize we’ve left the realm of good bad taste and entered into the more tedious arena of adolescent-male bullshit.
Watch the trailer for V/H/S.