A six-film found footage anthology with one of those films as a wrap-around narrative, the undeniably effective and deservedly hyped V/H/S – featuring some of the genre’s rising stars like The Innkeepers‘ Ti West and A Horrible Way To Die‘s Adam Wingard – accidentally pushes us into debate as completely independently of one another all but one director, in varying degrees, has depicted men forcing themselves on women through their shaky, found-footage lens.
It’s always been a component within horror – most slasher movies essentially revolving around faceless, mute men chasing topless cheerleaders around for the satisfaction of whooping meatheads – but as we’ve grown more desensitised as an audience, the intensity of the sexual violence – as with all violence – has increased.
The opening volley ‘Amateur Night’ (directed by David Bruckner) is perhaps the most overt in this regard – along with the intro wraparound segment – following a trio of douchebag jocks on the prowl, picking up girls and taking them back to their motel where even loss of consciousness doesn’t deter alphabro Shane (Mike Donlan). The second short, ‘Second Honeymoon’ by the aforementioned Ti West, is by far the more disquieting through its context, as honeymooning husband Sam (Joe Swanberg) tries to entice his clearly uncomfortable young wife to strip on camera. That both sets get their suitably visceral comeuppance doesn’t take away from the unease of the earlier scenes, and V/H/S most definitely isn’t for everyone – as is the case with most horror, regardless of who’s stabbing who with a rusty clothes hanger.
The recurring sexual violence isn’t titillating though, that’s the difference between say this, and tamer scenes and sideboobs in less controversial movies – it’s all part of V/H/S‘ overriding urge to unsettle and disturb. Horror is supposed to take us outside of our comfort zones, but the genre has become so watered down by cartoonish gore films with zero emotional engagement that it’s a shock when a horror movie actually horrifies. Yes, it’s horrible to watch – and it should be horrible to watch a man in a funny mask cut someone’s throat, but decades of oversaturation has sort of ruined that for us.
Whether it’s the jaw-dropping bait-and-switch of slasher subversion ‘Tuesday The 17th’ (directed by Glenn McQuaid), the stomachchurning WTF?-fest of ‘The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger’ or the aforementioned, troubling ‘Amateur Night’, V/H/S continues to perfect the voyeuristic realism of the likes of 1986’s Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer, 1980’s Cannibal Holocaust, and hey, maybe even Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho – and like those efforts it’s ground its nails down the blackboard of taboo, and some will find the screech more painful than others – it’s certainly unfortunate that the first few shorts focus so heavily on such loaded scenes.
And that’s perfectly alright, but if you can stand the pitch V/H/S is a consistently chilling buffet of concept-driven horror for you to pick over, the weakest offerings – the overlong and one-note ‘Second Honeymoon’ – more than eclipsed by the fright factor of the strongest.