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rochefort [Film Festival 03.24.12] horror thriller



Year: 2012
Directors: David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid), Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Adam Wingard
Writers: David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Ti West & Simon Barrett, Justin Martinez, Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Nicholas Tecosky
IMDB: link
Trailer: N/A
Review by: rochefort
Rating: 3 out of 10

It happens at pretty much every festival I've been to; at least one movie comes along that everybody's talking about, fueled by hype and buzz, the lines reaching around the block and every screening packed, but once I leave the theater I end up feeling like I've been witness to yet another case of temporary mass hysteria.

A group of thugs break into an old man's house, told that a rare vhs tape inside will net them some major cash, and find a corpse seated in front of a massive stack of unlabeled videos. They dig in and start reviewing the tapes one by one, at first unaware of the figures in the shadows and that their numbers are dwindling. The first high-profile found-footage anthology, "V/H/S" collects six horror shorts from directors David Bruckner to Adam Wingard, and helps to prove not only that found footage movies are going to be around for a while, but also that this probably isn't a good thing.

It happens at pretty much every festival I've been to; at least one movie comes along that everybody's talking about, fueled by hype and buzz, the lines reaching around the block and every screening packed, but once I leave the theater I end up feeling like I've been witness to yet another case of temporary mass hysteria. "V/H/S" is definitely this year's model for bloated hype, bolstered further by the news of fainting attacks and adverse crowd reactions at Sundance, and I can't help but wonder if those reports should be filed under the P.T. Barnum School of Marketing Tactics.



The film consists of the main framing story and five of the videos they watch throughout the course of the break-in, each essentially a vignette that uses the found footage approach to create a short, sharp shock, and in theory it's a smart approach. The long-form standard-bearers like "Blair Witch" and "Paranormal Activity", while wholly effective the first time around, don't hold up so well on repeat viewing, so perhaps what we need is a machine-gunned collection of 1st-person "rollercoaster rides", right? Unfortunately, no. Not if one's focus is so squarely on the disposable cheap thrill aspect that you ignore the need for interesting characters, convincing and immersive atmosphere, and plot developments that don't feel as contrived and rushed as the poorly-improvised dialogue.

Once the framing story has settled in the first stand-alone piece plays, one in which a trio of college-aged guys head out to find some girls for some motel love, and the oddball goth girl they land ends up being a very different and very dangerous kind of lady. It's the best of the collection by far, followed by pieces about a couple on vacation and the stalker girl who stands vigil outside their window, a quartet of teens who take a trip to the very woods where a mass murderer killed a similar group of kids the year before, a video chat session between a med student and his seemingly haunted girlfriend, and a trip to a party in a house possessed by a host of demonic forces.

The characters in each story are all college age, most of them vapid and preoccupied with getting drunk and laid, and there's a pervasive sense throughout that the entire film has been strategically constructed to play favorably to the frat/sorority crowd. It all feels frustratingly familiar, full of dimwitted, unlikable, entitled brats who have zero common sense, and despite the occasional attempt to update a cliche here and there it's well nigh impossible to care about a single one of them. Think of every moron character you hated from all those sequels to "Friday the 13th", "Halloween", "Nightmare on Elm Street", etc., and trust me, their equally idiotic descendant is in this movie. And the blame should be evenly distributed; for every bad performance there's an equally preposterous plot device (especially in the multiple "twists"), and with each climax I found myself perplexed that this was really all they could come up with.

I was never a fan of most knock-off 80's horror pics, not when they were new and not after the years had made it okay for some to re-evaluate them from a perspective of nostalgic detachment, so in that sense I'm not really the ideal target audience for "V/H/S". But I'll always give a chance to a well-written and -executed horror flick, and there are all kinds of reasons to appreciate a good one. Moody, intense, or just plain fun, all I ask is that is that the viewing experience doesn't feel like a thinly-veiled excuse to cash in on a fad or formula. The found footage approach doesn't have to be as limiting a gimmick as 3d, since it's as much a limitation on story structure as it is a visual one, and the best filmmakers can thrive in such circumstances, like we saw in the recent and superb "Chronicle". "V/H/S" has all the polish of a Mr. Plinkett video, but without an ounce of the wit. But if your idea of an awesome Saturday night is a marathon of "Two Girls, One Cup" and "Bum Fights", well then break open the cold beer and buffalo wings and dig in.

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j.j. (5 years ago) Reply

Again I have to ask - which festival programmer traded blow jobs in order to program this at Sundance?


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