FrightFest 2012: ‘V/H/S’ review


Ensemble effort V/H/S (2012) is just the type of film Amicus Productions would have churned out if they were still active. A portmanteau horror, with a returning narrative thread to string the short films together, V/H/S blends together a series of overly familiar and somewhat tired genre tropes and conventions. As with the Amicus films of the seventies, each independent story is designed to be efficient, economical and effective in delivering the required chills.

For this contemporary take, V/H/S goes with the found footage formula, fast becoming a somewhat tired staple of the horror genre itself. However, the amateur aesthetic has lent itself well to the horror genre. The shaky hand-held camera work and the naturalism of the performances both serve to bring a tangible sense of foreboding and dread to proceedings. It’s hardly what Vertov had in mind when exposing the virtues of ‘film truth’, but when executed with skill, it can be chillingly effective.

One can point to The Blair Witch Project (1999) as a trailblazer for this genre, yet V/H/S shares more in common with an older and more gruesome variant, Ruggero Deodato’s revered classic Cannibal Holocaust (1980). The visceral nature of this new counterpart would suggest that the filmmakers involved share an affinity and a deep affection for the brutal, blood-thirsty and exploitative American and European horror films of the seventies and early eighties. The build-up is suitably tense and taut, but V/H/S delivers in the practical gore department unlike many of its contemporaries.

The wrap-around story of V/H/S itself is an explicit nod to the era of the ‘Video Nasties’, a clandestine and seedy world of VHS tape traders. Each story takes the seedy quality of the found footage horror and foregrounds the implicit problematic of this aesthetic technique. Ironically, it does so by incorporating the digital technologies. From the hidden spy camera glasses of oversexed and lecherous frat boys, to a series of intimate Skype call conversations between distanced lovers, each technique is used to great effect to maximise tension and unease.

In his EIFF review, CineVue’s very own Patrick Gamble makes an excellent point regarding the nature of the film’s misogynistic tone. Even if we take an alternative reading – with the murderous women as variations of avenging dark angels, punishing the vile male protagonists – it’s a shame that, for the most part, they are such unsympathetic ‘monstrous feminine’ characters. V/H/S can be easily dismissed as exploitative sexist filth – but then so was Deodato’s film upon its release.

From 23-27 August, CineVue will be reporting back from this year’s Film4 FrightFest with a bucket-load of gruesome reviews. For more of our festival coverage, simply follow this link.

Spencer Murphy