The Blair Witch Project kicked off the found-footage frenzy in 1999.
Eight years later, Paranormal Activity proved it could be a billion-dollar gold mine.
Now comes the first found-footage horror anthology, V/H/S.
A rough-hewn, uneven collection of five shorts, bookended by a wraparound sixth film, it's directed by cutting-edge indie filmmakers, including Ti West and Joe Swanberg, who add a dose of authentic auteur credibility to the subgenre.
Adam Wingard (Home Sick, Autoerotic) provides the film's conceit with the wraparound story, "Tape 56," about four perpetually horny twentysomething ne'er-do-wells who make money filming girls they undress by force. They hit a big payday when they are hired to break into a house and retrieve an apparently priceless VHS tape.
They make the mistake of watching the tape, which summons up evil powers and brings disaster.
The first two pieces, both outstanding, also delve into the horny minds of pimply college-age boys. "Amateur Night," by David Bruckner (The Signal), is about three dudes who rig a miniature camera inside a pair of nerdy glasses. It's the wearer's job to capture footage of all the hot chicks they plan to pick up during a wild night of partying.
They're overjoyed (a lot of whoopin', hollerin', and high fivin') when they bring two women back to their hotel room. Things start going wrong when one of the girls bites a White Castle burger-size chunk out of one of the guys' hands. Before they know it, she transforms into an awesomely menacing creature straight out of the Middle Ages. Lots of blood and body parts fly off in the melee.
West, the minimalist horror-meister responsible for House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, delivers a chilling entry with "Second Honeymoon," about a couple on a road trip through Arizona who come upon a sweet, innocent-looking female hitchhiker. It ends with a bloodcurdling plot twist.
Swanberg, known for intelligent, observant romantic dramas Kissing on the Mouth and Nights and Weekends, is responsible for the deliciously creepy "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger." It opens as a moving love story about two childhood friends who carry on a long-distance relationship by webcam. Convinced her house is haunted, the woman becomes increasingly unhinged while her lover watches helplessly from hundreds of miles away. Is he really unable to help her? And why do the ghosts seem to know him?
The two other stories are marginally entertaining but marred by subpar special effects and dreadful acting.
Despite its moments of inspiration, V/H/S tries so hard to capture the feel of amateur found footage that it shoves in the audience's face an aggressively obnoxious mess of herky-jerky camera moves, abrupt starts and stops, and random footage. It's all the more obnoxious since the film is dominated by testosterone-choked, misogynistic adolescent guys on the make. Where are the grown-ups?
No one should be expected to endure 115 minutes of this nonsense.
V/H/S **1/2 (out of four stars)
Directed by David Bruckner, Radio Silence, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Adam Wingard. With Calvin Reeder, Hannah Fierman, Paul Natonek. Distributed by Magnolia Pictures.
Running time: 1 hour, 55 min.
Parent's guide: R (extreme violence, gore, nudity, graphic sex, drugs, smoking, profanity)
Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse
Contact Tirdad Derakhshani at 215-854-2736 or firstname.lastname@example.org.