Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Horrible People Meeting Horrible Fates: Some Comments on the V/H/S Omnibus Film

Most young American men don’t know how to talk.  I’ve seen them, I’ve befriended them, I’ve watched movies starring them, and they just don’t know how to talk.  Or they don’t know how to not sound like douchebags.  They have this strange affectless grunting way of talking, like they’re consciously afraid of putting too much emotion or inflection into their voice because they think it would sound effeminate.  Every other word is some variant of “fuck” (and don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of “fuck,” but I use it creatively).  We are a nation of homophobes who don’t know how to talk.

This is just one of the take-aways from V/H/S, a horror omnibus directed by Adam Wingard, Ti West (The House of the Devil), Joe Swanberg (LOL, Bagheads, Hannah Takes the Stairs, and like ten other movies with Greta Gerwig), and some other people I’d never heard of before.  Actually, I’d never heard of Wingard either, but he gets top billing and it looks like the whole projected was his idea.

I rarely watch American movies, much less review them, because I’m pretentious and I think I’m better than you.  But I have a certain weakness for the “found footage” horror genre (the first two Rec movies—I haven’t seen the third one, I hear that it’s a travesty—and Koji Shiraishi’s The Curse being personal favorites), and all six of the films in this collection were made in that format.

And it’s excellent.  This is the first horror movie I’ve seen in a long time that left me feeling uneasy afterwards (the first one since Valhalla Rising, actually, which is definitely a horror movie, even if it’s not usually classified that way).

Oh, what’s V/H/S about? The frame story is this: four horrible young white men (I call attention to this because there were zero people of color in this movie) who go around assaulting women and smashing houses and filming themselves doing it, because they’re awful, are offered a large sum of money to break into a house and steal a certain VHS tape.  Obviously, they decide to film themselves doing this for some reason, because if they didn’t, we wouldn’t have a movie.  And when they get into the house they discover (a) the owner of the house dead in his chair in front of a bunch of flickering television monitors and (b) there are a bunch of tapes, and they don’t know which one they’re looking for, and so they end up watching several of them, and these are the other films in the omnibus.

I don’t want to discuss too much about these films, as they offer pleasures best experienced without knowing what to expect, but here are some premises: douchebags at a bar who pick up the wrong demonic entity; Joe Swanberg as an idiot husband with his wife on a road trip so banal that it has to end catastrophically; a final girl returning to the scene of a previous massacre; an excellent Swanberg-directed film about a girl in a seemingly haunted apartment who tries to document the paranormal phenomenon via webcam chats with her boyfriend; and four male idiots (a trend emerges) who show up at a haunted house on Halloween only to discover—shock of shocks—it really is haunted (and that’s not a spoiler, that’s just glaringly obvious).

One could argue that these films are often misogynistic, but the men perpetrating the misogyny tend to get theirs, and in spades.  Like, if you want to see a sexually predatory bro get some of his organs ripped out, then you really need to see this.  They’re misogynistic only if you think depicting misogyny is inherently an endorsement of it.

Finally, there’s the pleasure of watching how each director makes use of the film medium itself (ostensibly the old-school VHS tape) to tell his story.  And, to their credit, I think they all use it; none of these movies are made in such a way where it looks like a normal movie except one of the characters is carrying a camera around for no fucking reason.  And it has the look and sound of VHS; this is the only horror movie I’ve ever seen that could conceivably be confused for a lost episode from Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoire(s) du Cinéma.

V/H/S is found footage horror at its best and should serve as a model for how to do it right (because God knows there are so many ways to fuck it up).  I hope to see more horror movies like this in the future.

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