Yes, it's 2012 and this horror anthology is pretending that each non-VHS-recorded tale of terror you see on screen has somehow been uploaded to a computer and then transferred back onto VHS tape (even Skype exchanges preserved for evil posterity) so that a gang of young, analog-fixated, mustache-creep tape thieves can break into a dark old spookyhouse and find a huge cache of the vintage format in a room where a decomposing dead man sits facing multiple TV monitors. Then those crime-bros sit and watch the tapes and record themselves doing so. Fix that in your brain for a minute. They are tape robbers who are taping themselves robbing tapes. LOOK, IT COULD TOO HAPPEN THAT WAY.
Now shake it out. Forget the premise. It's idiotic. But everything else? Kind of great. Five stories from filmmakers like Ti West (House of The Devil), Glenn McQuaid (I Sell The Dead), Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes The Stairs) and an inventive collective known as Radio Silence (their short Mountain Devil Prank Fails Horribly has a respectable near-2 million hits on YouTube), all of them visually based on the tech-social moment we live in now, where even mundane nothingness finds itself recorded and shared with the entire internet. That means it all looks like an excellently, intentionally garbled mess and feels as off-the-cuff as each short's atmospheric, dialogue-is-for-old-people chatter sounds. Feel that headache coming on...
There's a tightly knit group of inarticulate, sub-Girls Gone Wild opportunists who stumble across a black-tongued lady who resents their inherently disrespectful stance toward all women. There's a young couple on a road trip whose money is stolen and toothbrushes are toilet-grossed in the night as a precursor to an even greater motel intrusion. There's some broad daylight, post-Cabin In The Woods-ing as a mysterious digital forest-thing gets in the way of weekend getaway chillwaves. There are little dwarf ghosts causing a paranormal activity (or are there?) and an old-school haunted house on Halloween -- the kind with floating chairs, terror-basements and hallways full of grabby arms.
Like horror should, the scares bloom out of the everyday anxiety of bad relationships, moral laxity, male privilege causing specific deafness to the word "no," closet homosexuality, presumption of the right to party without boundaries and, of course, The Devil just deciding to bring you some pain. And also like horror should, the payoffs involve really awesome stabbing and gouging of everybody, everywhere.
Best of all, the impressive, shoestring-budget shocks are more than fresh tweaks of traditionalist slasher/stalker/succubus stories. They also come formally packaged in visually expressive approaches that shove the already dull cliches of found footage horror out of the way to make room for moments that approach the avant garde. Seriously. It's enough to make you want to give them a pass for the silly retro marketing gimmick. Or just go ahead and allow them to redefine what VHS means entirely.