V/H/S is a faux-found-footage anthology film featuring the work of a number of directors associated with modern horror, such as Ti West (HOUSE OF THE DEVIL) and one who has no such associations, Joe Swanberg, who stars in one episode and directs another.
One thing than has to be said is that any anthology will benefit if the writers read each others’ scripts. Two of the shorts feature scenes where a guy trips and falls downstairs while being chased by an undead ghoul, which then slowly descends upon him. Worse, nearly all the shorts either hinge upon or make reference to the idea of shooting nude footage of women — both the framing structure and the first episode feature scenarios where loutish males try to film their sexual encounters without the knowledge of their partners. The repetitiveness is uninspiring.
In fact, it strikes me as harmful that all the army of directors and writers are male. “Are so many of the characters in these things obnoxious and dumb because the filmmakers are obnoxious and dumb?” asked one critic friend. Maybe not, but it seems to me a Bad Thing to have a horror movie where we’re rooting for the characters to die as swiftly and horribly as possible.
There’s a moderately amusing spoof slasher here, which is the first faint ray of light after ugly and uninspired early episodes, but then Joe Swanberg’s episode as director, scripted by Simon Barrett, turns out to be the best story and the scariest film — twisty and twisted, suspenseful, and with a unique Skype-inflected take on the found footage gimmick. I never thought I’d like Swanberg’s work, but this was funny and gross and creepy. Then the last episode, directed by Radio Silence (a bunch of guys who work together under that collective name) is an effects-laden thrill-ride with a lot of neat visuals and, for once, a group of male characters who aren’t total dickwads.
Horror of an altogether more subtle timbre was on display in BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO, the new film from Peter Strickland, who made the acclaimed KATALINA VARGA, which played Edinburgh a couple of years back. This one stars the renowned actor/pouch Toby Jones as a sound mixer at work on a horror movie in Italy in the seventies, whose grasp of reality seems to disintegrate under the oppression of his nasty employers. Very atmospherically shot, with beautiful sound design and a trippy way of messing with reality that recalls THE TENANT, this ultimately feels a touch overlong and repetitive, and once the film’s tenuous hold on reality has been relinquished, there’s nowhere left for it to go in narrative terms. But the analysis of the dynamics of workplace bullying is dead-on, and often funny. There’s also a terrific fake title sequence (for a SUSPIRIAesque thriller called, wonderfully, THE EQUESTRIAN VORTEX) which seems to cram in a decade’s worth of spaghetti horror tropes without tumbling into broad pastiche. Despite the total lack of onscreen violence, the serious giallo fans in attendance — and there were many — seemed well satisfied.
Katalin Varga [DVD] (2009)