July 11, 7 p.m. and 9:45 p.m at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.
An American movie making its Canadian premiere at Toronto After Dark’s second summer screening at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema this week, V/H/S attempts to wrench fresh shocks from well-plundered found-footage tropes. Cooked up by the Bloody Disgusting horror news site, the project unites such filmmakers as Ti West (The Innkeepers), David Bruckner (The Signal), and Glenn McQuaid (I Sell the Dead), with Adam Wingard (You’re Next) handling the wraparound storyline about thieves who discover the mysterious set of videotapes whose contents we soon witness. (Despite the retro title, the segments include footage shot on digital camera and even using video chat.)
The movie’s many moments of ingenuity and overall effectiveness are impressive not only because the pseudo-doc premise is so exhausted, but because of the hit-and-miss nature of omnibus films of any genre. Actually, the shaky-cam aesthetic that’s grown so annoying in studio dreck like Chernobyl Diaries works in the film’s favour by lending cohesion to an effort that features a wide variety of tones. These range from the gonzo-porn-gone-wrong weirdness of Bruckner’s opener to the mumblecore dread of West’s episode to the gleeful carnage of McQuaid’s contribution, a slice of backwoods horror that puts a nifty spin on the premise by deploying a killer whose image literally cannot be captured.
As a shocker that’s smart enough to eviscerate its genre’s own clichés, V/H/S is well-complemented on Toronto After Dark’s double bill with Detention, a horror comedy that makes its downtown debut after a dismally underpublicized run at the Empress Walk in April. (You’d think that having Hunger Games hunk Josh Hutcherson in the lead would earn a movie more attention.) Then again, this frantic pastiche of high-school comedy and slasher flick by Joseph Kahn is too damn meta for mass consumption. Spitting out cheeky pop-culture references at a rate that will awe even a Family Guy writer, it borrows liberally from the disparate likes of Scream, The Fly, Roadhouse, and The Karate Kid. Yet what the result most evokes is Gregg Araki’s ’90s cycle of apocalyptic teen flicks—not for nothing does a character declare 1992 to be the coolest year ever. Admirers of Detention’s nostalgic brand of po-mo mayhem may agree.