Directors: Johannes Roberts, Maggie Levin, Flying Lotus, Vanessa Winter, Joseph Winter, Tyler MacIntyre
Stars: Steven Ogg, Alexia Ioannides, Melanie Stone
A couple of years ago, the V/H/S found footage anthology series seemed as dead as the media platform it supposedly revolves around. That was until horror streamer Shudder got hold of it. Now we’re treated to a fifth excursion (the second in a year or so) with a sixth set already well underway. Crashing onto the network’s roster just in time for Halloween again, one senses a new annual tradition in the making.
V/H/S is a wonderful platform for up-and-coming horror filmmakers (and a few well-seasoned pros) to springboard themselves to greater things, but one also wonders how much mileage the format has left in it. And, at the current rate of curatorship, how much gold is left in the pan.
V/H/S/99 is the usual mixed bag of surprising results. Inauspiciously aping the series’ prior weak spot V/H/S/Viral, this collection dispenses with an integral wraparound story and dives straight in with Maggie Levin’s “Shredding”, which certainly adheres to the era-specific mandate. Here a band of Jackass-style skate rockers present their latest video prank; breaking into the condemned site of a former LA venue where a punk outfit were burned alive. Their Indian cohort Ankur (Keanush Tafreshi) urges them against desecrating said space, but this only invites ridicule. What follows is, unfortunately, mundane in the extreme, with only the racially and culturally motivated bullying sticking in the mind.
Next up – and far more promising – Johannes Roberts (47 Metres Down Uncaged, The Strangers: Prey at Night) entertains with “Suicide Bid”, a slice of poppy sorority horror. Lily (Ally Ioannides) submits to a hazing in the hopes of joining her preferred sisterhood… which entails breaking into a mausoleum and spending the night in a coffin at the local cemetery. Roberts’ piece pushes into claustrophobia reminiscent of Ryan Reynolds one-man-show Buried or the Bride’s ordeal in Kill Bill Vol. 2. Ioannides gives it her all, and Roberts throws in a nasty surprise or two, achieving something pretty punchy even before resorting to scares from supernatural sources. There’s a nice little sting in the tale, too.
“Ozzy’s Dungeon” comes courtesy of Flying Lotus, who troubled so many a few years back with his feature length video nasty Kuso. Here a kid’s TV show hosted by Steven Ogg goes haywire thanks to lax health and safety. Appropriately zany and hyperactive given its setting (which nails the ’90s god-awful indulgence of over-bright pastels), Lotus’ section is scattershot as hell, bidding for laughs that even a live studio audience wouldn’t respond to. It feels like an Adult Swim skit. Things improve once the short moves into its second phase of crazed retribution in which Sonya Eddy’s embittered parent holds court. Still, it’s about as nuanced as a Rob Zombie toothache and is perhaps emblematic of V/H/S‘s shift toward gonzo weirdness over eerie suggestion.
Tyler MacIntyre’s “The Gawkers” returns to the topic of insufferable pranksters as a bunch of skater kids perv on neighbours and try to snatch up-skirt shots of local teens. Too busy namechecking late ’90s fads (rollerblading, Y2K paranoia, Limp Bizkit), it’s too often like a handheld American Pie movie. Pale kid Brady (Ethan Pogue) tries to score with blonde bombshell Sandra (Emily Sweet) while his geek friends spy on them from across the road. Again, the turn this one takes is sillier than it is suspenseful.
Finally, Joseph and Vanessa Winter take us right to the end of the millennium with a New Year’s Eve gathering that goes seriously awry. “To Hell and Back” sees a doolally cult preparing to summon the essence of demon Ukoban into the body of a willing vessel. A bunch of skeptical documentarians capture the kooky incantation only to find themselves dragged – literally – into hell. As out-of-this-world as V/H/S has ever gotten, the extreme silliness of “To Hell and Back” confirms what’s become increasingly evident throughout both of Shudder’s variants on the franchise; that the found footage series has had a slight shift in philosophy toward trick or treat hijinks as opposed to the kind of low-grade atmospherics that dominated its origins.
What’s wrong with having a good time? Well, nothing, really. V/H/S/99 is the series’ most comedic collection by quite some distance, and Halloween parties looking for low-stakes entertainment this October 31st could do worse for popcorn munching background. But it also feels like the slightest entry so far, even if its individual segments all show degrees of creativity where it matters. V/H/S/99 ultimately feels disposable in the extreme. A lot less than the sum of its parts, themselves as sporadically impressive as they are frequently irksome.
The film ends with a ‘battery low’ symbol flashing on the screen.
Yeah. Time for a recharge.