V/H/S review: The buzz was way more exciting (and likable)

As a big fan of horror, as well as the found-footage subgenre, I was really excited to see V/H/S, a found-footage horror anthology. After it screened at Sundance, it got a lot of buzz -- people were passing out, leaving the theater, men and women gnashing their teeth, etc. So you can imagine my disappointment when I realized I was glad I'd stayed home and paid about half the price of a theater ticket to get it on demand. Despite a few genuinely scary moments, it was hard to get past the fact that I wanted every single character in V/H/S to die a horrible death so I wouldn't have to watch them anymore.

If you have your heart absolutely set on seeing V/H/S, then by all means, see it. But if you're on the fence or having any doubts, let me share what I didn't like, and maybe you'll share my opinion. (If not, that's also cool.)

My problems with V/H/S started within the first ten minutes of the first segment, "Tape 56." For one thing, and maybe I'm just an old pearl-clutching biddy, the twentysomething dudes who are trashing things for the sake of trashing things -- I'm sorry, but they're in their twenties, and this is all they can find to do? -- and using the word "fuck" as a prefix and suffix for every word they say are not going to curry favor with me. Ten minutes in, I want them all to be viciously murdered, just so I don't have to hear the word "fuck" anymore. And I love the word "fuck"! But I don't like to hear it abused like this, thrown around wantonly, its glorious impact and value discarded like spit. The hazards of being unscripted.

I also don't particularly enjoy watching delinquent ne'er-do-wells breaking the law for fun. ("Oh god -- youths!") I had the same problem with Attack the Block -- why should I care about characters who are giving me no reason to like them? In Attack the Block, this issue is resolved. In V/H/S, it's not. In fact, on top of being remorseless brats, the first characters we meet (who are also the glue that binds the movie together between segments) are amateur "reality pornographers." Joe Francis wannabes (BARF), assaulting an unsuspecting woman in a parking garage and forcefully pinning her arms behind her back while exposing her breasts for the camera. And then saying "We should be doing up-skirt shots, you guys." Our heroes, ladies and gentlemen!

In the midst of so much character-hate, there is one redeeming instance in the second segment, "Amateur Night," when a drunken male douche chooses not to rape a drunken female douche who has passed out, although he has to be reminded by his fellow douches not to do it. (When traveling in packs, drunken douches often follow the lead of the alpha douche.) Of course, he then takes it upon himself to have sex with the other female in the room, who (spoiler) turns into a succubus and rips him to shreds. So, that was a relief. Watching terrible characters meeting a horrific fate can be fun, for sure, but usually there's someone else around to like. Not in V/H/S.

Then there's the whole "crazy bitches being crazy" thing. While there is definitely a fair share of horrible male characters in V/H/S (i.e., all of them), the way the women are portrayed was problematic for me. At times, it felt like this movie was conceived by a frustrated 15-year-old boy with a camcorder and a pirated copy of Final Draft. If the girls weren't there to be sexual objects, they were the monsters ruining everything for everybody. The one exception was the horribly titled segment, "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger." While Emily was a victim, she was a victim of terrifying weirdness, which is perfectly acceptable in a movie about terrifying weirdness. I'd even give a pass to the end of that segment, when she is beaten by the boyfriend who did the terrifying weirdness to her, in an attempt to cover up said weirdness, because the gender roles could have easily been reversed. But she did have to show her boobs on Skype first.

I will say that V/H/S definitely has very cool, creepy scenes in it. The stories, when discounting the characters, were actually interesting. "The Sick Thing" was good, reminiscent of The X-Files. But my favorite was "10/31/98," about four guys in Halloween costumes in a house of horrors. (One of them was the Unabomber! Oh, 1998!) The found-footage style served this segment really well. What I like about found-footage is that when something scary starts happening, and it's not cinematically shot, it looks less like a special effect and more like a supernatural thing happening in a natural setting. (See: Paranormal Activity.) That's what we got in that segment (and in "Amateur Night"), and I dug that. I was also a fan of the killer in "Tuesday the 17th." Very creepy and effective, and, of course, I was happy to see all those idiots die.

And that is the crux of my V/H/S criticism -- decent horror stories in a fun format, ruined by astoundingly unlikable characters. If you want to see it for yourself, don't let me stop you. In fact, here is a positive review for a counterpoint. However, take advantage of being able to stay home and spend less money to see it on demand. Personally, I've always preferred watching found-footage movies at home, late at night, when there is no "walk to the parking lot, drive home" buffer, and I can really freak myself out. V/H/S didn't accomplish that for me, but it might for you.

Photo credit: V/H/S Official Site