An anthology film is a notoriously more difficult format to succeed within than your traditional narrative style film. The biggest reason for this is most likely due to the fact that a weakness within the long form narrative is more easily masked by the overall audience investment with the long term plot and characters. In the anthology form a segment that is weaker than its peers sticks out more easily and, unavoidably, bogs down the total film. If a segment doesn’t work, the film is stranded, floating in a sea of ineffectiveness until the next, hopefully more successful, segment begins. The latest horror anthology V/H/S includes a group of some of the most talented writers and directors working in modern horror, so it would be easy to slip into unbridled optimism about the results. The good news is that a large portion of this optimism is rewarded. The bad news is that it still falls into some of those same anthology pitfalls.
It’s probably best to keep any plot details to a minimum here as most of the fun is discovering the vignettes, and how they intersect, for yourself. Let us just say that V/H/S is comprised of four short horror vignettes tied together by a fifth story that explains the compilation of said vignettes. The directors included are David Bruckner(The Signal), Glenn McQuaid(Stake Land), Joe Swanberg(Hannah Takes the Stairs), Ti West(House of the Devil), Adam Wingard(A Horrible Way to Die), and a group of directors who identify themselves as Radio Silence( Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Chad Villella). In short, V/H/S is a collection of some of the most talented and exciting horror and indie filmmakers assembled under one title.
Perhaps the most striking overarching element of V/H/S is the sheer number of men who are terrible human beings, especially in their treatment of women. No worries though, there are as nearly as many murderous and evil women to even out the playing field. This literal battle of the sexes is a striking theme featured in V/H/S. This full spectrum of terrible people leads to a much more sinister and darker portrayal of horror than many members of the audience will be accustomed to. Ti West’s vignette is particularly offsetting in its portrayal of horror archetypes. We honestly have no real grasp on what the threat is or who it comes from until the final frames of that particular story. This is when V/H/S works particularly well. Unfortunately, though, there are other portions that never quite live up to this general feeling of vague dread.
These portions are what keeps V/H/S from being a truly great anthology. Like many of its type that came before, V/H/S falls prey to two common anthology pitfalls. Firstly, some stories aren’t as effective as others. This results in lulls, and eventually a bit of boredom, that betrays any tension that typically engages the viewer. Secondly, the high concept that holds the vignettes together begins to wear thin near the middle of the film. The VHS conceit combined with the found footage format is a clever way to construct an anthology. Unfortunately, that same conceit, including VHS video artifact and VCR graphics, begins to diminish the stories in a classic example of style over substance. These generated graphics and effects draw attention to themselves, and consequently, away from the content of the film.
Generally though, the content of the film is a well constructed sampler of modern horror. While some sequences may be weaker than others, there is no absolute stinker among the vignettes. Each section shows the continued promise and skill of directors who have already provided hope for indie horror. That alone is reason enough to watch and enjoy V/H/S. While it may not completely work as a self contained film, the parts within the whole elicit enough of a visceral connection with its audience that V/H/S has to be qualified as a success.