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V/H/S

4

America’s scariest home videos

The problem with portmanteau films such as New York Stories (Coppola and co) and Four Rooms (Tarantino et al) is that they’re always baggy with bravado, because no one wants to waste their best work on a joint venture, or admit they’re coasting by allowing someone else to make judicious cuts.

The genius of this horror taster, which features six up-and-coming filmmakers breathing new life into the found-footage genre, is that everyone’s eager to prove themselves, so they all bring their A-game. 

Shot on actual VHS, and correspondingly hard to watch, Adam Wingard’s wraparound tale is surprisingly weak (given the maturity of his earlier work A Horrible Way To Die), a repetitive tale of burglars searching through a pile of cassettes in a spooky house.

First out of the pile – and best of the bunch – is David Bruckner’s Amateur Night.

A woozy tale of fratboy porn star wannabes on the pull, it’s as scary for what it says about internet age sexual politics as its excellent, unsettling SFX.

Ti West’s Second Honeymoon suffers by comparison, a sagging stalker tale in the wrong place for a slow-burner.

The strike rate soars in the second half.

Glenn McQuaid’s Tuesday The 17th is a witty Friday The 13th riff with an imaginatively rendered digi-villain – ironic given all the analogue.

Best scare award goes to Joe Swanberg’s nifty The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger, a series of anxious late-night Skype calls between an absent medical student and his anguished girlfriend.

Last but far from least is 10/31/98, written, directed by and starring a collective called Radio Silence, a dazzling, FX-filled haunted-house jaunt that’s all punchline and no set-up.

That’s actually a good thing in this format, where speed and scares trump narrative subtlety, and more such patterns emerge when you watch these disparate stories back-to-back.

There’s a whole university paper to be written on the troubling sexual invasiveness of young men with video cameras, for example, and it would be nice to have some female directors redress the balance.

Besides bolstering viewers’ must-watch lists (start with Bruckner’s The Signal and West’s The House Of The Devil), it’s a wholly appropriate way to hail the new masters of horror.

Verdict:

Screechy, surprising and, in places, proper scary, this glitchy genre mixtape puts invention ahead of attention span, representing a 4/6 victory for killer over filler.

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