Sundance 2013 Review: S-VHS Brings Even More Screams and Squeals

Editor, Festivals; Los Angeles, California (@RylandAldrich)
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Sundance 2013 Review: S-VHS Brings Even More Screams and Squeals

Though perhaps not the very most consistent of films, V/H/S set a high bar for found footage anthology chillers. Only one year later and the team that brought us that film is back with the follow-up, S-VHS. Of the original directors, only Adam Wingard (You're Next) returns. Writer Simon Barrett takes his first turn in the director's chair for the segments that wrap around shorts from Wingard, Gregg Hale & Eduardo Sanchez (Blair Witch Project), Gareth Evans (The Raid) & Timo Tjahjanto (Macabre), and Jason Eisener (Hobo With A Shotgun). With only four shorts plus the wrap around, the finished product is a tighter, more entertaining, and more consistent film. Consider the bar raised.

Barrett's wrap around segment follows a pair of private dicks looking for a lost boy. What they find is an abandoned apartment full of tapes. These segments are much less manic than V/H/S and could stand alone as a segment. As a wrap around, it does the job without getting in the way.

Wingard's segment is shot from the perspective of an accident victim (played by Wingard) whose eye is replaced with a cybernetic organ set to record everywhere he looks. Unfortunately, that includes the ghoulish visions that the implant allows the recipient to see. The trend in S-VHS is to mostly abandon the notion of "found footage." It's more accurate to call it POV horror.

This POV idea continues in Hale and Sanchez's piece that has one of the simplest and most innovative concepts. A guy straps a GoPro to his helmet and takes his mountain bike into the woods. Along the way he is attacked by and turned into a zombie. Now we have a zombie with a GoPro on his head. If you think that sounds awesome, it is. Some really impressive stunts and effects make this short a total blast.

It's difficult not to get silly raving about the incredible short from Evans and Tjahjanto. The plot follows a documentary crew as they visit the compound of a doomsday cult. It turns out the cult leader had some less than noble reasons for granting the crew permission and the day of doom might be closer than anyone on the crew expects. Incredible practical effects and remarkable storytelling skill make this the segment that has gotten the most attention, even if it did seem noticeably longer than the other pieces.

The final segment belongs to Mr. Nova Scotia himself, Jason Eisener. This might be the dark horse of the bunch and it's certainly the funniest. The story involves some kids left home alone at their lakeside house one weekend. The boys get up to no good with their video camera as the older sister lets her teenage hormones rage with her friends and boyfriend. Hell breaks loose when a flash of light in the sky brings an unknown danger down on the kids. Eisener does a remarkable job portraying the boys, right at that tender, voice-cracking age, showcasing a real talent that could be put to good use in a bigger, young-person-driven film (think: Goonies with a Shotgun).

It's pretty obvious the producers of V/H/S took note that the pieces that were the most successful were the ones with the best senses of humor. All of the segments in S-VHS have a levity to them that makes the jolts of horror all the more fun. This is greatly aided by the sound design, which is consistently excellent across all the pieces. With its streamlined approach and group of ridiculously talented filmmakers at the helm, S-VHS is a total success, and there will surely be more to come.

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Adam WingardAnthologyFound Footagegareth evansjason eisenerSundanceSundance 2013

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StephenJanuary 21, 2013 11:31 AM

I have to admit, I wasn't too impressed with the first "VHS". While I'll admit the first story was an effectively intense ride, everything else just petered out. It was either because of unlikeable characters, nonsensical plots, horrible acting, or all of the above. The wrap-around segment was just pointless, and it really didn't need to be there. That said, I think I may be convinced to check out S-VHS based on this review, since it seems like it rectified much of what went wrong with VHS.

Stephen LambrechtsJanuary 21, 2013 6:16 PM

Kinda hated the first VHS, but these are mostly different, and much better directors, so my distaste for the original doesn't enter into it at all.

harumphJanuary 21, 2013 7:15 PM

I don't know. You begin by claiming, "V/H/S set a high bar for found footage anthology chillers," so call me skeptical about S-VHS. I thought V/H/S was easily one of the worst examples of the sub-genre. And I definitely didn't see any of the segments has having an appealing sense of humor. Nearly every segment was populated by completely unlikable frat douche bags acting like misogynistic idiots. Were we really supposed to find humor in any of their antics? The final segment was the only one where the protagonists weren't depicted as hateful pigs.

dangJanuary 21, 2013 8:42 PM

I thought I was the only one that thought the original was garbage.

betterthanyouineverywaypossiblJune 25, 2013 5:53 PM

All you who "hack" this amazing film, only do because you are not ready for the evolution of horror, like your not ready for dub-step....Sundance winner people....that should say something about the film...i went in expecting nothing...and for the first time in years i was on the edge of utter amazement...and in my opinion, better than the second v/h/s/...mainly because the first was more "hobo with a shotgun" low budget type that won me over...the second was more like "lets spend way more money in effects" kinda ruined the originallity...but I am exited to see where this genre will go...and to all who prolly thought insidious, and paranormal activity where "great" films....GO FUCK YERSELF.....NEXT TIME YOU GOOFS WANNA trash a film, go trash something that hasnt won festivals that make or break movies...