V/H/S premiered at the Sundance Film Festival about a week and a half ago, and it seems to have generated quite a buzz. Then again, that might just be with the people I follow on twitter, several of whom are actually the makers of the film. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve been hearing all about the disaster that occurred during the screenings and the sale of this low budget horror film to Magnolia. And frankly, the whole thing has me captivated.
V/H/S is an anthology horror film about a group of criminals who break into a house and accidentally uncover a trove of horrifying video tapes, all containing documentation of snuff like violence and bizarre supernatural occurrences.
Anthology films are a weird niche kind of thing. They’re rarely taken seriously and seem to barely exist in other genres, but they are a staple of the low budget horror world. The found footage sub-genre is on its way to developing a pretty unsavory reputation as well. So, I’m sure many viewers balked at the notion of a found footage anthology, but I personally have a nice list of reasons to be excited about this one. First of all, it sounds like a film that’s actually getting the found footage genre right, philosophically. Yes, the frame is going to be silly, but found footage horror should not be about the spectacle of big budget monsters in a setting that looks like a first person shooter. It’s a perfect vessel to delve into the fear of the unknown, confronting it, and the terrifying depths of evil that regular people can sink to. It’s about being observational of film and of life. My other reasons are: Adam Wingard, Simon Barrett, Glenn McQuaid, David Bruckner, Joe Swanberg, and Ti West. Let’s discuss.
Wingard and Barrett first worked together on A Horrible Way To Die, a striking yet simple horror film about a woman who discovered her boyfriend was a serial killer, and how she is attempting to piece her live back together when he escapes prison. The synopsis sounds like much more of a thriller than the film actually is. It’s a slow paced, meditative portrait of a horrific series of events, and far more intimate than a Hollywood thriller would ever allow itself to be. Since then, they made a slasher film called You’re Next, and I’m sure they’ve got more planned. Barrett writes, Wingard directs and photographs, and their talents blend supremely. I’m kind of a creep, and I rave about how great they are too often.
Continuing down the list, Glenn McQuaid is one of the Glass Eye Pix fellows. Anything related to Glass Eye piques my interest. His previous feature was the fun and inventive I Sell The Dead. David Bruckner is one of the three filmmakers behind the imperfect, but fully commendable The Signal. Joe Swanberg is a mumblecore darling who has recently been revealing his true nature as a horror freak, acting in previous features by several of his co-directors on V/H/S, and making a horror film of his own, Silver Bullets. I haven’t seen it yet, but, duh, I want to. And then there’s Ti West. Don’t even get me started on Ti West. I have a lot of feelings there, many of which will come across in this interview I did with him a few weeks ago.
The big story about the premiere of V/H/S is the couple that died as a result of viewing the film. Wait, I’m sorry, they didn’t die. One passed out and the other vomited, and EMTs were brought in to make sure they were okay. Sensational news like that always manages to get a lot of people talking; it’s the best marketing a low budget horror film could ask for. The film was so scary, so intense, that someone literally fainted. Writer Simon Barrett, who was alerting many of the event as it happened via twitter, said the next day, “Dude who fainted at V/H/S last night was tired, hadn’t eaten and was suffering from the altitude. Our film was a quaternary factor, if that.”
Last year, in the same film program, Lucky McKee’s The Woman caused a similar fuss when an irate viewer stormed out, ranting and raving in the lobby about the heinous content of the film and the cruelty towards women it depicted. Many have accused the filmmaker and the organizers of staging this happening, but I don’t for a second believe that man was a plant. I’m sure he was just a self-loving jackass, who values his opinions far too highly, and needs his voice to be heard to a point at which it’s just plain disrespectful. It would have happened at any film that didn’t fit into that viewer’s narrow-minded concept of what cinema should represent. It was uncomfortable, but The Woman got lucky.
I know it’s been a year, and I haven’t seen The Woman yet, but I feel comfortable enough in my assessment of McKee as a feminist filmmaker to declare that fool totally wrong.
Just like I’m sure Simon Barrett was right, and that poor couple was just suffering from altitude sickness. The graphic gore of V/H/S was just a trigger. But, that’s fine, it’s great. You can’t have better luck than that at the premiere. A lot of thrill seekers who may not have been aware of the existence of V/H/S before the story of the fainting man and his vomiting girlfriend appeared on the homepage of that blog they read are now going to see the movie.
Even better is how available the film is going to be, Magnolia scooped it up before the end of the festival for over a million dollars. Magnolia is one of the premiere distribution companies for indie features these days, giving small movies a chance to be seen by massive audiences, especially now that VOD is beginning to blossom into a really great distribution tool. Ti West’s previous film, The Innkeepers, is also being distributed by Magnolia. The Innkeepers is opening in limited release today, and has been available on VOD for over a month now and doing nicely. But go see it in theaters if you have the chance, everything is better on 35mm!
I foresee V/H/S getting a similar treatment, which is so good. Especially because I haven’t even seen it yet, and this guarantees I’m going to get a chance soon. And when I do, I’m sure you’ll hear about it. Because I just can’t contain my excitement about indie horror.