V/H/S (Adam Wingard et al., 2012)
Everyone and their mothers has already weighed in on V/H/S, and they have all said the same thing: "it's too damn long." Add my voice to the chorus; this is a two-hour movie that should have been 1:40 tops. Bloody-disgusting's Brad Miska, who put the whole thing together, didn't feel the need (or have the know-how, I'm not sure which) to cut this down to a length where it would have worked. That's a shame, because a number of talented directors turned in halfway decent work here, and some of it would have benefitted from a bit of trimming.
First off, there's Adam Wingard's framing device, "Tape 56." This had the most egregious material; we could have easily lost half of the beginning segment without losing anything from the movie at all. The story involves a bunch of roustabouts who break into a house in order to steal a videotape; they find the owner dead and a whole lot of tapes, and have no idea which one they're supposed to grab, necessitating them watching a whole lot of them.
Then comes "Amateur Night", directed by David Bruckner (The Signal). Given how much I enjoyed The Signal, I'm disappointed to report this is the weakest entry in the lot, lacking Bruckner's humor and insight; it could have easily found its way to the cutting room floor complete. Bruckner does good work, he just didn't do it here.
"Second Honeymoon" is the entry from Ti West (The House of the Devil), the most accomplished filmmaker of the bunch. And up until the final few minutes, this tale of a married couple being stalked by a mysterious figure on a roadtrip is the best of the bunch; unfortunately, the "twist" ending is just ludicrous. While the rest of the short is of Innkeepers quality, the ending is The Roost quality. And Ti West is a filmmaker who should never, ever go back and revisit his roots.
Then comes Glenn McQuaid (I Sell the Dead)'s "Tuesday the 17th", in which a group of friends goes out to the woods to have a good time and finds themselves stalked by a seemingly otherworldly serial killer. It's not a bad concept, and it's not bad execution, though it's nowhere near as good as I Sell the Dead, McQuaid's sole feature-length release to date. This is one where judicious editing could have helped, but given the rest of the segments here, this one comes off as middle-of-the-road; it's not great, but it's not as bad as a few of these.
Next, "The Sick Thing that Happened to Emily When She Was Younger", helmed by Joe Swanberg (the male lead in "Second Honeymoon"); this is the one where it's most obvious a firmer hand in the cutting room would have been a great idea. Trimmed by even a few minutes, especially at the end, this would have easily been the movie's creepiest, most effective tale, about a girl who believes her apartment is haunted, told completely through Skype sessions with her husband, who's away on business. Excellent stuff that suffers from a lack of pacing throughout and a truly weak ending (had it stopped about three minutes before it does, it would have had much greater impact). Swanberg (Kissing on the Mouth) is a director with a great deal of potential, but like any director, he needs to get the right crew working with him, and he didn't have the right editor on this one.
Finally, the four-man team known as Radio Silence turn in "10/31/98", the best short here, about a group of friends who misread the address on an invitation and end up going to the wrong house indeed looking for a Halloween party. These guys did their own editorial work, and they did it very well; this is the best-paced segment of the bunch by far (though it probably still could have lost a minute or two towards the beginning), tight, funny when it's supposed to be and tense the rest of the time. A little predictable once you get to the meat of the story, but the journey, not the destination, is the thing here.
It certainly doesn't live up to all the hype, and I sincerely hope Miska, who is already wrapping up the sequel (S-VHS), learned from the mistakes that were made with this one. On the other hand, it's not as bad as you've heard, if you ignore the hype and go into it with no expectations. It certainly could have been miles worse. ** ½