In the faux-found-footage horror anthology V/H/S (containing material directed by Joe Swanberg, Adam Wingard, Ti West, and others), a crew of droogs given to videotaping its acts of vandalism is hired to break into a house and steal a VHS tape. Once inside, they find a corpse blanked out in front of a TV and a stash of unmarked analog bricks; the movie essentially consists of the handful of vids that can be popped into the VCR before the framing device falls into itself. Almost all of the segments are faux-snuff films; most of them play on hoary horror-movie tropes involving the punishment of the young and horny; all of them aim to mimic the filmed artifacts of the social life and communication of the “video or it didn’t happen” generation. The stylistic consistencies between the segments (POV camera work, video deterioration masking cuts and smoothing over special effects) only draw attention to the inconsistencies in performance. In too many of the shorts, bad acting quickly undermines the “authenticity” the aesthetics labor to achieve. In form and performance, the framing story is the most convincingly realistic, even as its narrative strains credibility: It’s hard to imagine some of these segments would sustain the attention of the treasure hunters. The most engaging stand-alone piece, Swanberg’s mysterious, Cronenbergian iChat document of supernatural experimentation is the only short in which the actors convincingly approximate real people—and thus, make us care whether they live or die.
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