Day 12: Netflix Roulette – V/H/S Viral

I’ve been fighting though bout of insomnia for the past week or so… the good news is that it’s actually due more to excitement and eagerness than anything scary or negative. Either way, though, I knew I was in no condition to do some thoughtful movie analysis. It seemed like a good day to play a round of Netflix roulette. I somehow ended up with the perfect movie for my sleep-deprived brain… V/H/S Viral (apparently the third and final installment (though I’m sure this could change at the whim of the filmmaker and/or studio) of the franchise) would keep nearly anyone awake… simply due to it frenetic and random collection of stories. Don’t get me wrong, this movie is awful… and while there may be a couple of moments of inspiration, they are too few and too far between to merit a recommendation.

Well, I’ve already ruined my overall thoughts on the film before even talking about the plot. Here’s the thing, V/H/S Viral (and seriously what’s up with the forward slashes separating each letter (I’m not trying to be quippy, I’m truly asking… I don’t think that’s the proper presentation of VHS (and a quick google search seemed to confirm that)… is it something that’s explained in an earlier installment (oh, yeah, I guess this would be a good time to mention that this is the first movie in the installment I’ve seen))) is an anthology horror movie that plays with the found-footage sub-genre. Therefore, I don’t really want to spend too much real-estate summarizing the movie. There is an inscrutable wrap-around story (again, maybe it would make more sense if I’d seen the previous two installments), the first short, that has a failing magician finding a cloak with dark powers, the second short, shot entirely in Spanish and deals with a dark, alternate dimension, and the final short, which finds a group of skateboards running into a death cult (or something like that) in Mexico.

Like any anthology movie, some segments work better than others. Before I get there, though, let’s talk about V/H/S Viral as a whole. The movie falls into nearly every trap that a found-footage film can. Each segment has that why-are-they-still-holding-the-camera moment (or in some cases, multiple moments)… some shorts fall prey to this (I’m looking at you magician short) more than others (way to go (for the most part), skater short). There are also odd soundtrack cues, which drives me nuts in these movies. Apparently, as viewers we’re to believe that someone found these movies, edited them, added a soundtrack, and then released them to the world. Finally, not one of the segments is able to demonstrate what’s most effective about found-footage films: the increased feeling of realness and believability that adds to the viewer’s feelings of dread and fear. This is due to two factors. First, the special effects (especially in the first installment and the interstitials) are god-awful. They rely far too heavily on digital effects, but clearly had no budget. One of the greatest advantages of using the found-footage angle is that you can shoot around these limitations. Second, most films in this subgenre build off of an at least somewhat grounded and believable(ish) premise… that’s not the case here. Each segment is more fanciful than the last. Therefore, as a viewer, I never really settled into the sense of truly watching found footage. So, if you’re looking for scares, there’s nothing here… if you’re looking for gore, there’s a bit of that, but it’s so clearly digital that it doesn’t work either. Then there’s the issue of the whole conceit of the film… it has something to do with a V/H/S recording (kind of)… well, here’s the problem, less than two minutes into the movie I was asking myself “why would someone, especially a young person, be using a VHS camera in this day and age”. It seemed especially weird since they are making it a point that the movie is contemporary… this is made clear by the technology used throughout as well as the (lazy and inconsistent) focus on people’s obsessions with “going viral”. Luckily, this conceit is only present in the interstitials. Therefore, the viewer is not really worrying about it during the individual segments.

There are a couple of, let’s say, interesting things about the movie as a whole. I was going to say “things that work”, but that’s not entirely accurate, since, as I’ve been processing it for nearly a day, and I still can’t determine how I feel. The tone of the movie is odd… in a what that may or may not work for you. It’s not quite a horror-comedy, but it is definitely tongue-in-check (this is most apparent in the second segment (which, is, by far, the high point of the film (which, is still fairly low))). It gets a bit broad at times, but when it works, it can be fun. Also, there is a feeling of punk-rock filmmaking here. The filmmakers (they vary by segments, and therefore, too many to list here) clearly had a vision, stuck with it, and filmed it on the fly. Again, the success of this varies widely from segment to segment. Finally, and this is generally true of all anthology movies, it keeps your attention and if something isn’t working (again, looking at you magician segment) you don’t need to wait very long for it to be over. Plus, it allows the filmmakers to play with ideas and concepts that wouldn’t sustain for a feature-length.

Here’s a quick break-down of each segment:

  • Dante the Great: Nothing worthwhile here. It’s a shame that’s this is where they decided to start. It left a taste in my mouth that affected my view of the rest of the movie. Seriously, you can just fast-forward through this one.
  • Parallel Monsters: This is that weird and wonderful short that is shot in Spanish. It doesn’t work as a whole. However, I guarantee that there are things here you’ve never seen before. I won’t say another word. Though, it may be worth watching this one on its own.
  • Bonestorm: The filmmakers clearly found skaters who wanted to try acting as opposed to actors who can also skate. At times it’s charming, while, at others, it is almost unwatchable. However, it is the segment that works best as a found footage film and it is strange, tonally. This is the one that say with me the most and I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

Here’s my end thought: I can’t recommend this movie, though, it makes me want to watch the first two installments, which I’ve heard have something to offer.

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