V/H/S/99 changes things up from the standard V/H/S movie. Normally, V/H/S movies have had the formula of a wraparound story that is used as an excuse to string together a bunch of shorts. This time they’ve forgone the overarching wraparound plot and given that excess time to the actual shorts, the closest we get to a wraparound is a set of stop-motion skits of army men that are actually part of the 4th segment of V/H/S/99. As usual with this franchise, we have 5 segments, each one handled by a different director and all assembled in seemingly random order.
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V/H/S/99 Review: Let the Madness Begin!
The first segment of V/H/S/99, Shredding (Directed by Maggie Levin), is a prime example of a short that holds its scares till the end. The short follows a punk rock band called R.A.C.K, named after their members Rachel (Jesse LaTourette), Ankur (Keanush Tafreshi), Chris (Dashiell Derrickson) and Kaleb (Jackson Kelly), who decide to break into a music venue that burned down during a performance by the band Bitch Cat, an accident that ended up killing all the members of Bitch Cat.
Most of the short is just watching these grossly unlikeable characters doing annoying shit and making jokes about the death of the band Bitch Cat before Bitch Cat rises from the dead for some revenge. It’s certainly got some cool imagery and use of the format, a few shots of VHS glitching are particularly creative but it takes so long to get to an actual scary moment that by the time it happens, it’s a little hard to give a damn.
The second segment of V/H/S/99 is Suicide Bid (Directed by Johannes Roberts) which follows Lily (Ally Ioannides) who wants to join a sorority, doing something known as a ‘suicide bid’ where you only apply for one sorority. Fortunately for Lily some of the sisters in the sorority are willing to give her a chance as long as she passes the initiation, spending a night buried in a coffin that’s at the bottom of a freshly dug grave.
This short works pretty well for the most part. It’s got a pretty creative idea and there’s a decent reason for them to keep a camera rolling the entire time however it ruins a lot of momentum by constantly cutting from inside the coffin to outside, ruining the illusion of a random found video of a horrific event which is the core conceit of this franchise. If the camera just stayed inside the coffin then this short would have some tension but it doesn’t, shame because it’s probably the best acted out of the 5 shorts.
The third segment of V/H/S/99, Ozzy’s Dungeon (Directed by Flying Lotus), takes place on the set of a game show that can only be described as “Double Dare from Hell” where kids compete to be granted a single wish by the mysterious Ozzy. When one contestant is injured during the competition, that contestant’s mother goes insane and kidnaps the host of the show (whom she blames for her child’s injuries) and forces him to go through a nightmarish version of the very course her daughter got injured on.
This short has the most interesting and disturbing concept of the film, the idea lets the audience question where their sympathies lie. It makes you question if the host deserves this for what he did or if the mother is going too far… or you would have that question if the contestant’s injury was deadly. It’s not, it’s a very severe leg break that put her in a wheelchair but she’s alive and while it would be a hard adjustment, it’s not worth making someone crawl through a tunnel of shit for.
This short would have a better impact if the kid died, a wild sentence to type but it’s the only major problem this short has. You end up spending the entire time going “OK you’re overreacting to the situation here, this isn’t needed on any level”. Other than that, it’s a genuinely good short but it’s just so hard to connect with.
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The next segment, The Gawkers (Directed by Tyler MacIntyre) starts with Brady (Ethan Pogue) who has been animating the little segments that have popped up between previous shorts but is soon taken over by his older brother Dylan (Luke Mullen) who owns the camera and wants to use it to spy on the hot neighbour Sandra (Emily Sweet) in an attempt to see her naked because they’re teenage boys and this is 1999, internet porn hadn’t been invented yet. Naturally, they see something they shouldn’t and things get messed up.
This might be the first segment that works from start to finish. It feels like something a bunch of stupid teenage boys might do when they got a new camera, it’s wrong but it’s also sadly logical that one of their big ideas would be to look at girls who think they aren’t being watched. It builds the tension fairly effectively and the big final reveal of the short is honestly really well done with a fantastic set of final effects that have an effective and creative final scare that fits in the theme.
The final V/H/S/99 segment is To Hell And Back (Directed by Vanessa & Joseph Winter), where videographers Nate (Archelaus Crisanto) and Troy (Joseph Winter) are filming a ritual that a group of witches are performing. It seems to be going quite well right up until a strange demonic-looking creature appears out of nowhere and drags Nate, Troy and their camera into Hell. The two idiots must now try to escape the nightmare they’ve found themselves in and get back to their world.
This is easily the best short in V/H/S/99 by a mile. Its simple concept lends itself well to the format and it’s insanely impressive visually by creating a version of hell that’s pretty instantly off-putting and terrifying. With the reason to keep filming everything pretty clear (That camera has a light on it and they’ll need that to get around) the short is just an assault of freaky imagery, some of it cleverly done just by a flickering light revealing a shadow of something terrifying.
It has its moments of silliness, that is a little hard to avoid considering the general concept, but they don’t distract from the fun of the short. It’s just a good time with some creative ideas and a lot of genuinely great visuals.
V/H/S/99’s idea of removing the wraparound works on at least one level, it gives V/H/S/99 the vibe of an old video cassette that’s been reused over and over again with no real care about what’s being taped over, which is a fun and interesting way of presenting this film. The franchise has always worked best when it feels like we’re watching a very sketchy tape that’s been copied about 14 times by someone who left it on the table at a swap meet to freak out some unsuspecting passer-by, this has that exact vibe plus you don’t end up being put in the awkward position of trying to remember plot details from 3 short films ago.
V/H/S/99 also lives up to the best films in the franchise in keeping everything looking era-appropriate and having some fantastic ideas for each of the shorts, every single one being linked through the idea of demons and monsters gives V/H/S/99 a pretty consistent feel throughout. The link might be tenuous and at times tacked on, but it works and every short feels like it fits the very specific tone of this franchise.
V/H/S/99’s major problem is that the shorts might be consistent in tone or theme, but most of them aren’t that scary and tend to drag on a little longer than normal. It’s not unheard of for V/H/S segments to be a little long, but normally they make up for that by having fairly consistent scares or tension throughout the entire short. For a lot of these shorts, the actual scare happens in the last few minutes or a strange choice will be made that kills the tension that could be built up.
In general, V/H/S/99 isn’t as good as the last movie in this franchise, indeed it’s a little more miss than hit when it comes to the actual shorts that make up its content, but it’s still got enough to at least be interesting. There’s enough creativity on display to at least keep your interest and it picks up steam considerably in the later half but the franchise has done better (hell, V/H/S/99 is following the legitimately fantastic V/H/S/94, which is a benchmark entry for the franchise) and hopefully will do better in future. V/H/S/99 is just kind of OK and V/H/S can often be quite a lot better than merely OK.
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