Why are there two slashes added to the three-letter acronym for “Video Home System”? Maybe they refer to smashcuts in the lo-fi video that’s assembled from no-tech, zero-technique shooters of shitty footage. “V/H/S” is faux found nonfiction anthology fare where horror befalls those who seek and see the likes of “V/H/S.” Or are those typographical slashes there to cue the bloody cuts to flesh that are to come? Recurrent dialogue, whether uttered by unlikely-to-live characters in ‘live’ video or by those later watching them on playback, is: “What the fuck?” and “What the fuck was that?” and “What the fuck was that?” Six segments by six directors, with the one called Radio Silence comprised of four co-directors, are framed by a trip to some old man’s house one night to steal some videotape that someone wants. He looks dead in his easy chair. Smells it, too. In front of him is a stack of old TVs filled with bluish static. One of the trespassers inserts a cassette and places his camcorder atop the deck. This reverse shot lets us watch him watch the found tape. And take in a bad thing or two behind his back. Each piece of video chronicles an outlandish horrific occurrence as recorded in real time by the original participants. There is no unifying evil in “V/H/S” other than vague revenge against voyeurs. In a rare departure for the horror genre, you can find no reason to care anything about anyone here. One of the directors claims in the press notes: “It’s not just gratuitous to be gratuitous. It’s about gratuity.” Yeah, right. This is simply really good sicko shit. Directed by Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, & Radio Silence. With Calvin Reeder, Hannah Fierman, Joe Swanberg, Norma C. Quinones, Helen Rogers, Chad Villella. 115m. (Bill Stamets)
“V/H/S” opens Friday at Landmark Century.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.