[TIFF Review] V/H/S/99

[TIFF Review] V/H/S/99
V/H/S/99 l Shudder
They found some more tapes and these tapes will fricassee your cerebral cortex. Welcome to V/H/S/99.

Here’s a brief synopsis: V/H/S/99 harkens back to the final punk rock analog days of VHS, while taking one giant leap forward into the hellish new millennium. In V/H/S/99, a thirsty teenager’s home video leads to a series of horrifying revelations.

One thing that I praised about the last edition of the series is the tendency that the filmmakers have to allow each new edition to grow and change. V/H/S/99 is no different. The V/H/S series has always had a conspiracy theory-based frame story built around each film’s individual stories, which I really liked. The idea is that the tapes are the tool of a mysterious cult to lure members/victims (same thing). Frame stories are common among horror anthologies, the Amicus anthology films, like The House That Dripped Blood and Vault of Horror, or “Creepshow”, with its frame story of the child who only wants to read his comic books. The V/H/S/ series filmmakers also have a real wild streak and it shows in this newest entry. I don’t want to head into spoiler territory, but the “frame story” has gone in a “different direction” which is kinda “banana pants”. You’ll have to see it to believe it but I actually went back and watched the first segment a few times because it was that *&^%#!

V/H/S/99 has five new segments. Unlike previous films in the series, none of the writers/directors from previous V/H/S films have returned and all segments come from talent not seen before in the franchise. They include Maggie Levin, director of My Valentine for Hulu & Blumhouse’s Into The Dark horror anthology who is also the second unit director of Scott Derrickson’s The Black Phone, Johannes Roberts, Johannes Roberts, director of 47 Meters Down, Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City (which I liked by the way), Flying Lotus, musician and director of Kuso, Tyler Macintyre, director of Tragedy Girls, directing team Vanessa and Joseph Winter who created the upcoming film Deadstream.

Courtesy Shudder

Without further ado, I will review the individual segments as best I can while not spoiling anything. I know what happens in this series when you are an evildoer. I assume critics who spoil films are evildoers. V/H/S/99 has less sociopolitical leanings and more of a focus on interpersonal relationships between human beings. It is, however, no less brutal, vicious, or funny than previous installments in the franchise, if anything, it’s raised the stakes in pure human nastiness.

I would love to write more about the performers and artisans in the film, but unfortunately, the film’s credits are large and not on IMDB yet, so perhaps I can add to this later, but I can say that the work is uniformly well executed and at the level of quality that one has come to expect from the series. You did a great job.

The first segment is ‘Shredding’, written and directed by Maggie Levin: Levin is said to have rock n’ roll roots, which is evident in her segment. It concerns the young members of a snotty rock band that don’t bother to practice and spend most of their time making videos to promote themselves. The lead singer is entranced with the power of her video camera and the members egg each other on to crueler and more daring stunts for the camera. At the same time, there is a rebellious and legitimate rock band called Bitch Cat. They practice and go on tour, but are met with a tragic end that is seen woven in via videotape. It’s the story of a dare that doesn’t go as planned and all of the thematic elements land. This story solidifies what I consider the unifying concept of this entry in the series, which is that bad people get what’s coming to them and one should be careful about going along with the crowd.

‘Shredding’ is well done, suitably gory, filled with ironic humor, and, best of all, it rocks.

The second segment is ‘Suicide Bid’, written and directed by Johannes Roberts. It takes the idea of college hazing and constructs a tale of claustrophobic terror and cruelty. It’s about wanting to be accepted and the lengths that some people will go to achieve that doubtful honor. Bad ideas get worse due to unforeseen circumstances and Roberts’ focus on a single human face ratchets up the intensity of the scares. The actors in this segment are really called upon to deliver and they do. It’s like a mini-version of those 90s horror films set on college campuses with hot actors but accomplishes a better result in less than half the time.

Courtesy Shudder

The third segment is ‘Ozzy’s Dungeon’, directed by Flying Lotus, and written by Flying Lotus and Zoe Cooper. This segment is one of the harshest. It takes the idea of a low-budget game show that likes to humiliate its contestants with the promise of a reward that no one has ever managed to win. The segment is concerned with avarice and the effect that the lure of the path to easy street has on the average person. ‘Ozzy’s Dungeon’ is the moment when V/H/S/99 kicks into overdrive but in a way different from the last film’s gonzo segment ‘The Subject’. The humor is macabre in ‘Ozzy’s Dungeon’, but it is still there. If anything, I was reminded of the shows in Stephen King’s novella and the film made of it, The Running Man, but then the segment goes in an entirely different direction. No, I’m serious, it really goes somewhere else. The final image in the film is pretty terrifying, all on its own.

The fourth segment is ‘The Gawkers’, directed by Tyler MacIntyre, and written by MacIntyre and Chris Lee Hill (Tragedy Girls). This segment takes the idea, used frequently during the 80s and 90s, that “boys just want to have fun” and part of that “fun” is trying to sneak looks at women’s and girls’ private parts without them knowing. All of the young male actors in the segment are suitably single-minded horndogs with one requisite computer nerd around. During the nineties, this behavior would have been accepted with howls of approval from the audience and gales of laughter, but the segment, once again, suddenly diverts to another unexpected path. This one is funny and “harmless” until it isn’t and it befits the subject matter. It asks you, like some of the other segments, who are the real monsters?

The fifth and final official segment is ‘To Hell And Back’, written and directed by Vanessa and Joseph Winters. I think it is most likely that you haven’t seen their hilarious feature Deadstream yet, but their segment here is every bit as batshit and funny as Deadstream is. I really recommend that you give Deadstream a look too when it is released on Shudder next month. The Winters are very good at taking an ordinary situation and dropping the characters and the audience into a pit of comedic horror that will tickle your funny bone just as much as it makes your eyes bulge out of your head.

Courtesy Shudder

They have a similar aesthetic to Evil Dead-era Raimi, the part about people doing things that they haven’t really thought through well and which then go monstrously wrong. This segment is really quite amazing because they pull off a cinematic magic trick that doesn’t seem like it should work, but it works like gangbusters. This segment has everything including go-gurt. The two lead actors, Joseph Winters and Archelaus Crisanto work wonderfully well as a bickering set of videographers, and Melanie Stone, who is also in Deadstream, joins in the fun as Mabel. I don’t know if there’s going to be another breakout character like Raatma this year, but Mabel is a strong contender.

Also, who doesn’t love Y2K Granny?

V/H/S/99 amps up the comedy and the mercilessness while going in a new direction that is not only true to the series’ aims, and the time period in which it is set, but is a challenge to its audience. It’s very punk rock/rock and roll in that respect. The film defiantly looks you in the eye and says, “We made what we wanted to make.” It would have been easy to do more of the same in the mold of the incredibly successful V/H/S/94 or the rest of the series, but they made the artistically valid yet dangerous choice of doing it their way and reaching for more. That’s as punk rock as it gets. The unifying premise of the film is aptly described by its end credits song. It asks if you really want to cross the line into true evil and the film kind of answers the question for you. The next question is this. Will you listen?

V/H/S/99 had its world premiere at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. It will drop on Shudder next month on October 20, 2022.

Dolores Quintana
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