A passel of rising indie horror helmers and writers, plus a couple of talents new to the genre, put several spins on found-footage fright in “V/H/S.” Omnibus feature brings energy and diverse story ideas to the subgenre kickstarted by “The Blair Witch Project” and kept commercially viable these days by “Paranormal Activity” sequels, but the segments vary in quality and the whole overstays its welcome at nearly two hours. Some trimming (perhaps relegating a weaker episode to a DVD extra) would increase theatrical chances, though inevitably this ode to the videocassette will reach most of its fanboy aud via home formats.
Wraparound thread is introduced with four twenty-something louts (Adam Wingard, Calvin Reeder, Kentucker Audley, Lane Hughes) going about their everyday business, which consists of playing mean pranks, vandalizing, robbing residences and pulling other stunts they dutifully tape for their own beery amusement. They also anonymously post the evidence online.
A mystery “fan” hires them to break into a house and steal a videocassette, saying only, “You’ll know it when you see it.” But upon entering the premises, they find it’s full of VHS tapes, as well as an older man who apparently expired some days ago in front of several TV monitors. While others search the rest of the building, each perp watches one of the cassettes, which constitute the films within the film.
First and best is “Amateur Night” by David Brucker, also a writing-directing contributor to 2007’s ingenious horror omnibus “The Signal.” With visuals as wildly unsteady as its party-hearty protags, the pic follows three frat types (Drew Sawyer, Mike Donlan, Joe Sykes) out on the town, intending to make some stealth porn using spy-cam eyeglasses. Umpteen drinks later, they land in a hotel room with one passed-out cutie and another (wide-eyed Hannah Fierman) who is a little … off. This rocket ride toward Planet Succubus is a bloody slam dunk.
Ti West (“House of the Devil,” “The Innkeepers”) goes for a slower, creepier vibe with “Second Honeymoon,” in which an ordinary young couple (Joe Swanberg, Sophia Takal) on a Southwest road trip is trailed by a malevolent stranger. There’s something undeniably chilling about sleeping people being filmed unawares by an intruder, though the tale’s resolution is inane.
Weakest link is “Tuesday the 17th” by Ireland’s Glenn McQuaid (“I Sell the Dead”). Though it has a visually cool menace in a phantom identified as “the Glitch” (for the effect it has on videotape), this tale of four teens traipsing out to the site of a long-ago lakeside slaughter is routine slasher fodder.
Swanberg and scenarist Simon Barrett’s “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” diverges from the project’s overall shaky-cam aesthetic. Pic plays out mostly as a series of Skype-type chats between long-distance lovers, as Emily (Helen Rogers) complains of physical ailments and ghostly disturbances to medical student James (Daniel Kaufmann). There’s a good, insidious twist, although plenty of questions are left hanging.
In “10/31/98,” members of the Los Angeles-based online-comedy-shorts collective Radio Silence are cast as yet another loutish young male quartet out for alcoholic fun — this time in costume at a far-flung Halloween party. The most f/x-laden episode of the bunch, this energetic seg would play better if the viewer weren’t suffering faux-found-footage fatigue by that point.
Perfs are generally good, production values and design aspects smart (esp. in terms of videotape rolling and glitching). Astute audio contributions allow for an ominous rumble to disrupt the found-sound concept when things get unpleasant.