The film’s wrap-around “Tape 56," directed by Adam Wingard ("You’re Next"), features a crew of video-obsessed vandals breaking into an old man’s home on the hunt for one particular tape. With a sketchy sense of logic, it proceeds down a conventional found-footage path: people go where they ought not, find what they’re not supposed to (in this case, the tapes that make up the other segments) and never stop filming the entire time. It sets the schlocky bar well enough for what follows – much of which easily plays to, if not subverts, expectations of their respective genres and plots.
Take the first chapter, “Amateur Night,” from horror omnibus alum David Bruckner ("The Signal"). A gaggle of idiots arm their relatively dweeby friend with hidden-camera specs in an effort to record their own shoddy porno, cast entirely with women drunk and unaware, including one oddly infatuated female. It establishes the formula to come: mostly short-sighted characters (who are more often than not inviting their comeuppance); the subtle hints and patient build during which sensory discomfort is caused through feasibly herky-jerky motions and cuts; and the climactic carnage that unfolds over the course of a seemingly continued take. In this case, it works like gangbusters, and kicks things off with a fair share of jolts and one effectively unnatural performance in particular.
Naturally, “Second Honeymoon” by Ti West ("The Innkeepers") takes the same considered sense of pacing to follow two young lovers (indie directors Sophia Takal and Joe Swanberg) who chronicle their Arizona vacation and run afoul of a hitchhiker without even so much as leaving their hotel room. It satisfies the short-story rhythm of the overall structure at its own pace, but not without its own handful of eerie developments. Far more blatant about its influences, “Tuesday the 17th” from "I Sell the Dead" helmer Glenn McQuaid sends a bunch of sex-crazed teens into the woods where a killer once lurked and – surprise! – still does. It’s a knowing encounter, though, initiated by one of the characters and perpetuated by their willful embrace of slasher staples: drugs, pre-marital sex, etc. This one has a fairly inspired audio-visual trick up its sleeve, a development best left discovered by viewers.
The individual filmmakers reportedly didn't confer with one another, though trends begin to emerge, with many of the chapters feature male jerks who deserve what’s coming their way – the title might as well stand for “Violent Horrible Suckers” – and women can often be found taking the upper hand (though not always for long). These thematic through-lines assist in making the whole feel like slightly more than the sum of its generally successful parts and slightly better than both your typical found-footage flick and the often uneven horror anthology. All the same, "V/H/S" delivers the thrills and chills craftily and with a better batting average than usual. [B+]
This is a reprint of our review from the Sundance Film Festival.