Sundance 2012 Review: V/H/S Brings the Lo-Def Chills

Ryland Aldrich, Festivals Editor

What happens when you give a handful of today's most talented young genre directors a mission: go out and make a short horror flick that looks like it was shot on Dad's old camcorder? In this case you get a fun and fairly terrifying collection of featurettes that both entertain and provide insight into the genre. This is the horror anthology V/H/S. Prepare to be scared.

The brains behind V/H/S belong to producer/horror impresario Brad Miska. His idea of creating POV horror series launched the project. From there he assembled his impressive team, beginning with You're Next and A Horrible Way to Die directing/writing duo Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. Their segments serve as the wrap around and inject a tiny bit of plot to link together each of the separate segments.

That plot involves a gang of hoodlums who make spare cash in nefarious means involving boobies and video tapes. The guys are hired by a video collector to break into a house and steal a particularly valuable tape. Inside they find far more than they are expecting, leading both us and the thieves into watching the V/H/S segments.

As a wrap around, Wingard and Barrett's segments work well. So well, in fact, that I found myself a bit disappointed that this world wasn't explored more. It's easy to understand the time constraints of a project like this, but word is there is more in the can (well, on the cassettes) and it could have been fun to delve in a bit deeper. This is also the case for the hilarious sex tape segments that serve as comic relief, putting the midnight audience in stitches.

The segments themselves are all expertly executed. David Bruckner's (The Signal) Amateur Night (co-written by Nick Tecosky) starts things out with a rousing story of some douchey dudes out to score. Ti West (The Innkeepers, The House of the Devil) turns in a scary love tale starring Joe Swanberg, Kate Lyn Sheil, and Sophia Takal called Second Honeymoon. Glenn McQuaid's (I Sell the Dead), Tuesday the 17th bring the chills into a haunted forest. Joe Swanberg and co-writer Simon Barrett take things in a slightly different direction with their The Strange Thing that Happened to Emily When She Was Younger, using web chat interfaces to great effect in their freaky story. Finally, it falls on the guys that make up Radio Silence (Matt Bettinelliolpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martin, Chad Villella) to bring the package home with their super awesome haunted house horror.

Considering the segments were, for the most part, created without coordination, it is particularly interesting to see what themes emerge. Sex and douchebags seem to be go-tos for the guys. During the Q&A, the filmmakers commented on finding these similarities fascinating as well.

The lo-def format plays up the nostalgia elements to great effect. Some scares hit harder than others and like any anthology, a few of the shorts are stronger. While there are some genuine scares, the focus here is squarely on keeping things entertaining. This is a great midnight movie experience and all the guys involved should be commended for putting together a tidy package of horror fun.

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