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“V/H/S” is a movie that exists in the world.
One of the problems with “V/H/S,” and there are many, is that it came out in 2012 and features people recording things on digital cameras (or directly onto a laptop), but then other people watch those recordings on VHS tapes. Like, what? Really? Seriously? These folks couldn’t have found a DVD or website or something? It’s a conceit that would have worked 10 or so years ago, but now? One of the video vignettes is specifically dated in the 1990s, and it makes sense that it’d be on video tape. But it’s hard to find excuses to have people continuing to record while horrific things are happening around them, so two different vignettes use a headcam… one of which is disguised as a pair of glasses.
If you’re unfamiliar with “V/H/S,” it’s an anthology of 5 short horror films within a framework of a bunch of dickbags robbing a house looking for a special VHS tape. “You’ll know it when you see it,” they’re told. Why do I say they’re dickbags? They make a living assaulting women in parking garages and restraining them while they pull their shirts up and videotape them struggling, naked breasts exposed, and selling the footage to “reality porn” websites. They also record sexual encounters without the partners being aware of the recording. And they record themselves smashing up peoples’ homes for larks or whatever. I don’t know what any of their names are. They’re violent, they’re sexual predators, and I don’t give a fuck about them. I don’t care that they broke into a creepy dark house with a dead body in it and continued to faff about watching VHS tapes in the presence of the dead body and gathering up all the other VHS tapes that were stored in the basement far away from the multiple television screens for whatever ridiculous reason. Each vignette (watched by one of the B&E dudes) is framed by spooky stuff happening to the guys. But… I don’t care about them. So big deal.
The first vignette is about a group of dudebros who have made a pair of fake glasses that takes digital video and sound. They decide to go pick up a woman and have sex with her and record it, without telling her. Again, this is the second time “videoing a woman having sex without her permission” comes up as a plausible, possible, good choice of action. They go to a bar, get super drunk, take two young women back to a hotel. One of them passes out while a guy is trying to initiate sex. His friends laughingly advise him not to rape her. He turns his attention onto the other young woman, who is pretty creepy. She turns into some kind of vampire ghoul thing and eats everyone. This is actually an interesting idea, and I’d love to watch a movie about a freaky vampire ghoul thing that looks like a human woman and eats dudes. But about 75% of the vignette is the dudes wobbling around getting drunk and bro-ing it up and just generally boring the piss out of me. Also, there’s the troubling idea that a group of men try to take advantage of a woman but she is a violent monster who eats them so everything’s ok.
The second vignette is a video of a young couple on a second honeymoon road trip. You know how people groan about other folks’ vacation photos? Remember how old sitcoms used to feature vacation photo slides as like the most horrific boring thing in existence? Imagine watching an excruciatingly dull video of two strangers on a road trip as they record the scenery dribbling past and make small talk. It was like experiencing death. There’s a creepy part where the couple goes to bed and then at night the camera clicks on and pans over the dude asleep in his bed and then it continues panning over to the gal asleep in HER bed, and the videographer strokes her ass (clad, of course, in a lace thong) with a switch blade. It was a very creepy scene, very fantastically done. Later on the same videographer comes into the room at night and records herself killing the dude and then making out with the gal, because they planned this murder-thing for whatever reason. Killer records herself making out with New Widow, and we hear New Widow asking for reassurances that the footage had been erased. Earlier, her husband tried hard to coerce her into getting naked on camera for him. I mean, he really put the pressure on. He also recorded her changing her clothing without her knowledge/permission. So again, this is the third piece that involves filming a woman without consent.
The third vignette is about a young woman who lures a group of people to an isolated vacation spot to act as bait for the serial killer/boogeyman that killed her friends previously, so he’ll come out and she can kill him. She fails. The special effects were good– he (she? it?) didn’t show up on the recording except as glitchy static-y artifacts. There was a LOT of wasted time, irritating characters, and general bad acting. As with the previous two vignettes, a woman is a predator. The guys also take close up video shots of the breasts of the other woman in the group, and constantly refer to her as a slut.
The fourth vignette is a skype/webcam exchange recorded directly to a laptop. Why the fuck would it be on a VHS tape? It’s about a guy pretending to be the long distance boyfriend (and almost a doctor!) of a young woman he’s known since childhood. She is concerned about a lump on (in) her arm, and possible ghosts in her apartment. The lump is a tracking device and the ghosts are actually aliens who’ve been using her body to host alien/human hybrids… one of which we see the fake doctor boyfriend carve out of her body. Although the fetus is pretty big, she didn’t look pregnant at all. He arranges things to have her fake-diagnosed– and medicated– as shizoaffective, leaving her even more emotionally reliant on him. She was unaware he recorded all of their conversations, including her taking off her shirt and playing with her breasts. As he closes a conversation with her, he opens another one with a different woman that plays out exactly the same way: she takes off her shirt and plays with her breasts, then picks at her arm while complaining of a lump. This is actually an interesting story with serious pacing issues, mediocre acting, and a very low believability. The set up is too complicated, the removed fetus is too big, etc. And, again, this is the fourth vignette… the fifth piece over all… that records and displays a woman’s breasts without her consent.
The fifth vignette is about a group of guys who are headed out to a Halloween party, in costume. They wander into the wrong house and although it’s extremely obvious they’re in the wrong place they explore all the rooms and then head upstairs where they see some kind of ritual involving a tied-up woman and a knife. There’s some great scary special effects, but the set up (dudes in costume wandering around what is obviously the wrong house) is so ridiculous and the guys so bland and boring not even the effects could save it. To their credit, they try to save the woman, but it turns out she’s evil and kills them. Again, woman as predator.
I watch these movies and I take notes on them as I watch. I’ve noticed that the more I like a movie, the fewer notes I take. I took 2 pages of notes for “John Dies at the End,” and 3 pages of notes for “Pontypool,” but most of those notes were ruminations on the nature of fear and zombie movies, not the actual movie. “V/H/S” resulted in six pages of notes, including notes in the margins. This is time of my life, both watching and reviewing this movie, that I’ll never get back. This time has been utterly wasted.
The acting throughout the anthology is very uneven. Characterization is almost entirely absent. When it’s present, the characters are unrepentant assholes who sexually assault women for money or fun. The editing is very poor… most of the vignettes could have stood to be half as long, literally, as they were. I get establishing a sense of normalcy and complacency before whipping out the big horror guns, but tedium is not the way to do it. “Pontypool” handled this really well, and the contrast is striking. Women are overwhelmingly treated as sexual objects, victims, or monster predators (often all three) and not human beings. A lot of the special effects are great and there’s some genuinely creepy/scary moments, but they are overwhelmingly lost in utter tedium and banality. There’s a lot of really great things like this on YouTube, but for free, and better in every possible way.
I give this movie 1 out of 5 stars.
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