West, whose V/H/S segment is styled like a vacation video, prefers to shoot his films traditionally, though "I don't think found footage is going to go away," he says. "All of us in our daily lives [consume] found footage. We're so accustomed to recording videos like it's no big deal, and seeing videos recorded by amateurs. We're so conditioned by the news and reality TV. It's now just part of us, and part of our media."
He's right, of course. And when the found-footage aspect is no longer the film's biggest novelty, like it was in the Blair Witch era, there's room for other themes to emerge. V/H/S is — to use a word that doesn't exist — "bro-y." There are multiple scenes of male characters pointing the camera at clothed women, naked women, naked women who don't know they're being filmed, women the men are trying to have sex with, etc. (All of the filmmakers were male, though some female producers did work behind the scenes.)
V/H/S played multiple festivals, including Sundance, ahead of its theatrical debut this week. "I'm very curious about how mainstream audiences are going to respond," Barrett says. "I feel like in the festival world, audiences come at these films ready to find some kind of political subtext to them, which I think our film overall kind of lacks at times. And when they're trying to find out what it might be, that's when segments get accused of being misogynistic.
He adds, "I think it's an instinctive reaction to a horror film that touches on these subjects but doesn't stop to tell the audience that these things are wrong, which — by the way, I think that actually is sexist, feeling you have to stop and tell the audience that women are empowered. That's actually pretty condescending. I would rather just make a movie that does those things and hope that people get it. Which, you know, happens about half the time."
The theme of voyeurism that runs through the film was a coincidence, though Barrett thinks that once the other filmmakers saw the frame story — inspired, he says, by Romain-Gavra's "Stress" video for the band Justice, Harmony Korine's 2009 Trash Humpers, and "sharking" videos — they might have been inspired in that direction.
"It is interesting that four of the six shorts could be interpreted as having some kind of failed sex tape element to them," he says. "But I think that also just kind of organically came up, because we realized that we had total creative freedom to address the things that most found footage movies normally have to avoid. I think this was an opportunity for us to touch on these serious subjects in a goofy way. Ultimately, we just wanted to make a fun horror movie."
West, who had a tight window to make Second Honeymoon, was the first to finish his short, turning it in before Tape 56 was completed.
"[V/H/S] turned out to have this really intense, misogynistic theme that kind of just came out of nowhere. It wasn't planned," he says. "Since I was first, I wonder: if I had gone last, would I have made something different? It sounds really stupid to say we didn't know [the theme] was going on, but really everyone was very removed from each other."
Also, West points out, "The filmmakers are not like the people they depict. In a way, the movie is presenting these awful dudes and they're getting their comeuppance. So it may seem misogynistic, but actually it's kind of this feminist revenge thing. I don't know why it happened. I didn't realize it until Sundance, when I was watching it and going, 'There are some weird threads going on in this movie.'"
V/H/S opens Fri/5 in Bay Area theaters.