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New Release Review - VHS

Directed by: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Chad Villella, Ti West, Adam Wingard
Starring: Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes, Adam Wingard, Hannah Fierman, Mike Donlan, Joe Sykes 

Anthology of six horror stories told from a found footage perspective.
The anthology format has always been a staple of the horror genre so it was simply a matter of time before we were treated to a found footage variation on the concept. The good thing about anthologies is that if one of the segments is bad at least you know it's not going to run very long. That knowledge is this movie's best ally as you wouldn't be able to stick with any of these entries for any longer than twenty minutes.
As is usually the case there's a wraparound segment, here directed by Wingard. A bunch of sociopaths who make money forcing women to flash their breasts break into a house looking for a mysterious VHS tape which someone is willing to pay good money for. Once inside they discover the corpse of a recently deceased old man and a variety of tapes. They begin to look through the tapes and thus we get the five segments.
First up is "Amateur Night", directed by Bruckner. This features some of the most annoying frat-boy stereotypes my ears have had the displeasure of listening to. These characters are enough to make you want to skip to the next segment. Although it's only twenty minutes or so, this one really drags on with it's unoriginal tale of a creepy girl with a secret and the ending gets ridiculously over the top. In it's favor it does have a clever way of ensuring it's protagonist keeps filming throughout.
West's segment "Second Honeymoon" is next and his contribution is the one I was most curious about. My criticism of West has always been that his films are all build-up and no pay-off. With only twenty minutes to tell his tale he'd have to quicken the pace but this is just like any of his feature length films. A couple are being followed by a girl as they vacation in the SouthWest, even being filmed by her one night as they sleep. There's a twist ending but it's a dull affair throughout, and steals liberally from movies like "The Strangers" and "Vacancy".
"Tuesday the 17th" is Irish director McQuaid's contribution and probably the one with most potential. Four stereotypical slasher victims go camping in the woods unaware that one of them has invited the others along for a sinister reason. This has a clever gimmick of static interference on the camera whenever the killer is nearby which does create some tension. I think McQuaid should have developed this into a feature film. There's definite potential here but it just feels far too rushed as a short and the ending is very weak.
The next segment is the only one which comes close to being effective. Swanburg gives us "The Strange Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Young" which cleverly uses a series of web-cam chats between a guy and his girlfriend whose new apartment appears to be haunted by the ghost of a child. There are some creepy moments and a nice twist but like so many haunted house tales it's just not credible that anyone would remain in a house where such creepy things are happening. Had this plot-hole been ironed out this would have been a decent little flick.
The film-making collective known as Radio Silence conclude things with "10/31/98" which is just an excuse to show off some admittedly impressive effects. Another bunch of annoying jocks turn up at the wrong house for a Halloween party and discover some people take the festival a bit too seriously. As I said the effects are top notch for a low budget movie but that's all it really has going for it.
Most of the film-makers involved seem to have interesting ideas but as I say so often, the biggest problem with modern cinema is the lack of good writing. What made "The Twilight Zone" work was the scripts, written by some of the best storytellers of it's time. That said, there are very few quality anthology movies and this might add a new concept to the sub-genre but nothing more.
3/10

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