by Jason Suzuki
In Vol. 4 of Cinema Adrift I compared The ABCs of Death with its sequel on a letter-by-letter basis, seeing which letter would defeat the other and in the end put them all together to make a higher quality ABCs of Death. Having recently caught up with the V/H/S series with the third one V/H/S: Viral I thought I’d do the same. V/H/S 2 is by far the best and most consistent entry in the series but what I wanted to do was take one video from each film instead of omitting any representation from one of the films.
The Wraparound: The Strange Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger (Joe Swanberg, V/H/S)
The problem with all three entries in the series is the wraparound segments. They need to fulfill their function of getting us from video to video while also telling a story of their own. It seems with each film the wraparound became a little more ambitious but always trite. I’ve decided to forgo the convention wraparound and make this segment from the first film, which takes place entirely on a computer screen as we watch the Skype conversations between Emily (Body’s Emily Rogers) and James (Daniel Kaufman). On a side note, who would record a Skype conversation and then put it on a VHS? Wouldn’t you just put it on a flash drive or DVD if you already have the technology to have Skype conversations and record them? But the way this segment plays out, only showing an unbroken chat session at a time means we can easily divide it up, continuing the story a Skype session or two at a time in between the main segments.
Video 1: 10/31/98 (Radio Silence, V/H/S)
For me, the first film was a bit of a letdown. I was extremely looking forward to it thanks to the individuals involved. What I got was a film filmed with lazy executions and cheap ideas. It was also the start of my realization that Ti West shouldn’t make short films that was further confirmed by his segment in The ABCs of Death. This final segment in the film was the one standout in the film, there was no need felt by the filmmakers to try and shock with a twist, and the technology seemed a little more in line with the VHS concept (Skype sessions recorded, camera hidden in glasses, etc.). “Tuesday the 17th” could have been great thanks to its premise but the execution left a lot to be desired. Radio Silence’s short is all about execution following a group of friends who are going to a Halloween party but end up going into the wrong house. It was a hell of a closing segment for the first film and it could work as an opening segment to get the excitement going in this mash up.
Video 2: Parallel Monsters (Nacho Vigalondo, V/H/S: Viral)
What is easily the best segment in the third V/H/S film is Nacho Vigalondo’s tale of a scientist who creates a portal to another world and meets himself. They both agree to explore each other’s world for twenty minutes to disastrous results. It’s a high concept filmed simply and effectively. Vigalondo has experience both with short films and narratives that incorporate multiples of a character. The tension of trying to figure out what’s different about the other scientist’s world is helped by the slow burn nature of the majority of the film before he delivers a satisfying and clever end to this scientific discovery. The most heady V/H/S segment would make for a great mid-segment.
Video 3: Safe Haven (Timo Tjahjanto & Gareth Evans, V/H/S 2)
While V/H/S 2 is the best film overall from the series, this has to be the standout segment. It has a great slow burn buildup, constantly amping up the dread and impending sense of doom before it fully unleashes itself and makes for a well-executed escape sequence like 10/31/98 did at the beginning of this mashup V/H/S. It also handles the multiple camera set up very well, able to cross cut between moments when the film crew splits up. While some entries have trouble adhering to the found-footage rules with just one camera in the narrative, Safe Haven places multiple cameras and executes it flawlessly.
Let me know what your choices would be and what order you would place them to make your ideal V/H/S.
Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.