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« Take Three: Samantha Morton | Main | The Seven Link Itch »
Tuesday
Sep042012

V/H/S, or The Concept of a Woman

Hi, loves! Beau here, having just caught the new horror compilation V/H/S on VOD, and spent the night ruminating on a few different elements that the film(s) brought to light for me.

V/H/S is a horror film that for me, is a game changer. And not in a good way. Were you to pull a gun to my head and ask me what genre captures my heart and my imagination more than any other, I’d say horror. It’s my Achilles heel, bloody and severed. The pulse quickens and the imagination runs rampant. You’re not limited to set tonal shifts but atypical ones. You can go anywhere in horror. And what V/H/S left me with is the sense that if we’re willing to venture into this stylized vein of storytelling, why aren’t we taking more risks inside of it? Pandora’s box is a large one, loves. She likes it that way. A girl needs a big purse.

I’ll sum it up briefly: some white guys in rural America do stupid shit, post it online, get paid for it. One of them is propositioned by a mystery man online (isn't that always the case?) to go to an old house and collect a VHS tape for a hefty sum. The guys get there, the old dude living in the house is dead, and five television sets blare static. While the rest of the crew searches around the house for any (and all) videocassettes, one guy is left to keep watch. He finds a few tapes lying around, puts one in. Then we, as the audience, watch along with him as five segments directed by five different indie filmmakers all depict some ungodly horror being inflicted on innocent (?) bystanders.

Ignoring the blatant awareness of the fact that there are absolutely no fucking characters of ethnic descent in any segment, I’m more put off by the treatment of women in this film. Swanberg’s sympathetic lead (played by a luminous Helen Rogers) notwithstanding, there is not one female here who does not exhibit behaviors commonly attributed to a victim or a villain. The male gaze, a film school staple I looked to reject in my college years, rears its ugly head here in such a way that the old adage of ‘Madonna / Whore’ perpetuates itself. We yearn for a different perspective than the ones being presented to us; why do all these women feel the same?

Even in the first segment where a man is left vulnerable and exposed, (physically and emotionally) we as the audience find ourselves split: his perverse behavior earlier on prevents us from lending him our sympathies, but hey: he’s terrified because there’s a succubus outside gnawing down on his best friend. And he knows he’s next.

We find ourselves in a moral dilemma. Do we want the fucker to live, or do we want the fucker to die? His actions have been distasteful, but the female here is not human. So our baser instincts and sympathies instinctively lend themselves to the man. How could they not? How could you not, as an audience member, relate to something that looks like you and exhibits the same emotions you would feel in this given situation? 

But that’s a cop-out.  It’s a cop-out in that the woman is not a woman. She’s a concept.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl gone haywire. Sprouted wings, slitting throats and leaving all traces of humanity behind. And a concept, something that breathes but does not bleed, does not deserve our sympathies. Which are then delegated to the man. So by the end, the man’s humanity, regrettable as it may have been, still proves more relatable than anything. So we have to feel for the bastards. Because they’re the closest thing to us. 

And therein lies the real horror.

‘V/H/S’ left me wanting. Aside from Swanberg’s involvement as an actor and director, and Radio Silence’s fun, frenzied finale, I spent the night in bed not shaking, but reflecting on the nature of man in horror.

Helen Rogers - MVP.

John Boorman’s Deliverance, released forty years ago, placed man against man. Several guys I know call it the scariest film they’ve ever seen. And you could go so far as to say that  Deliverance is really about the fear of penetration, literal and figurative. Maybe that’s the real terror surrounding V/H/S, creatively and narratively. The horror they try to deny. The horror of an incision, and the discovery of nothing even remotely resembling a man inside. Maybe just a group of boys playing with cameras. Maybe something less. Maybe nothing.

And why would any guy want to see that onscreen, when he can see boobs (literal and figurative) instead?

Have any of you guys seen V/H/S? How do you feel about the state of women in modern horror? Why aren't there more female directors who dabble in this genre?

Let's hear it.

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Reader Comments (6)

Torture porn films have always used women as victims going back to the original "Mother's Day"
Horror films now seem to mean only one thing extreme violence.

September 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

I thought it felt forced how all the women were naked and showed their tits. I don't mind that in trashy slashers, but here we are supposed to believe what we see no matter how unbelievable it is. But even that aside, the movie is crap. None of the shorts is actually good. There are two of them that are only ok (the first one and the skype) and the only other positive thing I can say about this movie is that I adored Helen Rogers. She had the only likeable character and delivered the only great performance. I'd give this movie a 4/10-

September 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

I did wonder whether or not the nudity and gore were part of some Dogmesque doctrine each director had to follow. Very, very rarely did it seem anything but forced. (Surprised though, at the fair amount of dudeity.)

I don't watch the Saw or Hostel films for torture porn reasons alone. However, the violence bordered on irresponsible. It just felt pitiable.

September 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBeau

Jaragon, that's a very simplistic stance to take on the genre. Ignoring the fact that "V/H/S" isn't a part of the so called "torture porn" subgenre, there are plenty of horror films out there that don't rely simply on gross out gore. They're just getting harder to find, is all.

As for "V/H/S", do you mind if I share my review? I found the film distinctly terrible. As you point out, its misogyny is off the charts. Not one single woman in this film is anything other than someone waiting to (needing to?) subservient herself for men, or a villainous evil being. There's even evil lesbians, you guys! It's disgusting, every one of the six stories (five shorts plus the surrounding threadline) revolves around a woman bringing evil upon men. Of course, the film is also sexist to men, presenting them all more or less as mentally incapable idiots.

Once getting away from the offensive nature of the project, the rest of it is a big ol' fail, too. The shorts aren't scary, and iin a couple of cases lack any sort of logic or reason. How did the camera survive being hit by a train in that one short that I won't mention? How did somebody record a skype conversation INCLUDING THE DESKTOP IN THE BACKGROUND? Why then was this then transfered to VHS tape? Why was the dialogue so diabolically awful in the short about the kids in the forest. "What were you just saying about 'we're all gonna die here'? I remember reading something about a bunch of kids being killed up here. What are the odds?" (etc, paraphrased, but only just). Ugh. AND THEN the final video just plays at the end, nobody presses play on the VCR... who's playing it and who's watching it?

Oh, this film is awful. AWFUL.

http://stalepopcornau.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/miff-2012-review-vhs.html

September 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

I agree 100% Glenn. I tried to make it a point not to step into spoiler territory, but many of the logistics you bring up came to my mind. The third segment was by far the worst, but the lesbian element in the second was appalling. Sexist drivel. (The men were simply buffoons, the lot of them. Except for Joe Swanberg.) I didn't mind the last two personally; Joe's (sans the ridiculous turn of events) was pretty solid, and I liked the playful attitude of the fifth (except when it turns to standard horror at the end). But it surprised me so much that this film managed any kind of acclaim coming out of Sundance; it's mediocre at best.

Jaragon: So many horror films released and produced in North America are tired remakes of mediocre originals; the rest are just tired in general. Every once in a while, something interesting will come along (Cloverfield, The Cabin in the Woods, The Mist, etc.) but very, very rarely.

September 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBeau

It's been amusing watching the reaction out of the USA. It has been generally all positive, and even the negative comments about it haven't been overtly negative. Yet here in Australia, at least after the local premiere that I attended, word of mouth of bottom of the barrel bad. People walking out, hurling abuse, true loathing. I am genuinely worried about people who like "V/H/S".

September 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn
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