Studio: Magnet Releasing
Director: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence
Writer: Simon Barrett, Nicholas Tecosky
Producer: Gary Binkow, Brad Miska, Roxanne Benjamin
Stars: Calvin Reeder, Hannah Fierman, Mike Donlan, Drew Sayer, Sophia Takal, Norma C. Quinones, Drew Moerlein, Helen Rogers, Daniel Kaufman
Six “found footage” films tell terror tales of aliens, cults, stalkers, urban legends, and killer creatures.
Measured by IMDb scores and Rotten Tomatoes ratings, the popular preference for ranking the “V/H/S” anthologies is “V/H/S/2” (6.1 and 70%), “V/H/S” (5.8 and 55%), and then “V/H/S: Viral” (4.2 and 39%). Metacritic flips those first two, and “found footage” film fans can argue which of that pair is better the same way “Star Wars” fans debate which prequel is worse, though majority opinion banishes “V/H/S: Viral” to the basement no matter what.
My personal preference skews the other way. Praise for the third film is virtually exiled to an all-consuming abyss of overwhelming dislike from the masses. Yet I applaud the effort each “V/H/S: Viral” (review here) filmmaker put into attempting CPR on a dying, if not already dead, format. Maybe “Dante the Great” didn’t float enough boats, but how many other mockumentaries take on that type of atypical tale? Perhaps Nacho Vigalondo’s “Parallel Monsters” rubbed some the wrong way, but have you forgotten its depiction of dangerous doppelganger genitalia?
“V/H/S” doesn’t pass the same tests for creativity or memorability. I first saw the original installment when it was released in 2012. Revisiting it for this review in 2016, I realized I had little recollection of “Tuesday the 17th” until midway through that segment and no memory whatsoever, somewhat shockingly given the gonzo gusto of its nutty twist, of “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger.”
That’s the only tell I need to convince me “V/H/S” is the weakest link in the series. The first film has the disadvantage of being a year older that its first follow-up, but there shouldn’t be too much trouble recalling Adam Wingard’s wild eye, the zombie picnic in the park, or the alien abduction sleepover from “V/H/S/2” (review here). Now name the winged woman of “Amateur Night” starring in her own spinoff film (review here) or detail the key events in Ti West’s “Second Honeymoon” from “V/H/S.” If it’s been more than two years since your last viewing, I’ll wager you can’t. By comparison, how long do you think it will take for the incredible cult carnage of the first sequel’s “Safe Haven” to make a similarly speedy exit from your mind’s eye?
I’d break down “V/H/S” by individual segments except their interchangeability makes such an effort mostly meaningless. “10/31/98’s” chronicle of four flippant friends encountering a house of Halloween horrors is the singular standout. Lo-fi CGI is perfectly masked by the “found footage” frame for an impressive orgy of paranormal poltergeists, although the scant story can’t hide that it is merely a springboard for digitized scares.
More premise than plot fits as a summary for the other shorts, too. Forgetting the function of a wraparound is to actually wrap around, “Tape 46” confusingly concludes prior to the final segment with a whimper proving its purpose as little more than a disposable frame. “Second Honeymoon” and “The Sick Thing…” particularly feel like their filmmakers had half an idea and still rolled camera with a “whatever.”
Each with different directors, writers, and actors, the six shorts comprising “V/H/S” are nonetheless united by their insistence on including male characters who are obnoxious and women baring breasts without substantial script motivation. Literally every single story features one or the other, sometimes both.
Joe Swanberg’s character interrupts romancing his wife on their “Second Honeymoon” to accuse her of stealing $100 from his wallet. Two teens in “Tuesday the 17th” come to terms with an unrequited crush by debasing the object of their affection as a “crack whore.” Hoodlums forcibly lifting an assaulted woman’s shirt in “Tape 56” and “Amateur Night’s” trio of drunk skunks slobbering salaciously on unconscious barflies compete for the crown of most offensive behavior. Never mind unwoke. Everyone is unentertaining.
Weighing in at nearly two full hours, “V/H/S” overstays its welcome, and the solution isn’t simply cutting a segment. Each short is ironically too long. Strung together, the movie squanders any shot at momentum due to regularly resetting the timer on uninteresting exposition and unnecessary padding buffing up already bountiful bloat. “V/H/S” has an issue with focus when it comes to its pieces as well as its big picture.
Throw in awful AV hiccups intentionally used to explain “Amateur Night’s” glasses cam frame skips and “Tuesday the 17th’s” conceit for its video glitch killer, and “V/H/S” doubles its trouble as an annoying sight and sound experience. Popular votes can poo-poo “V/H/S: Viral” all they want. I’d watch that movie again. This one I wouldn’t. Though if I wait even longer than four years to have a third go, maybe I’ll fully forget having ever seen “V/H/S” at all.
Review Score: 45