V / H / S / 94, 2021.
Directed by Simon Barrett, Timo Tjahjanto, Jennifer Reeder, Ryan Prows and Chloe Okuno.
A SWAT police team investigates a mysterious VHS tape and uncovers a sinister cult that contains prerecorded material revealing a nightmarish conspiracy.
As much as horror anthologies tend to be rather hit and miss matters, the V / H / S The franchise – created by Bloody Disgusting founder Brad Miska – has managed to fill an untapped niche, mixing thrills and clear nostalgia for the heyday of miserable horror films on videotape.
But after two solid entries, the terrible third film, V / H / S: viral, caused the franchise to explode in 2014, long before its time really felt up to the task. Yet with the recent boom in streaming media providing a low-maintenance platform for horror filmmakers to see their work, it’s not too surprising that a fourth V / H / S the film is now here, having been shot in secret during the ongoing pandemic.
The big deviation from previous films is that the entire script for the anthology would have been written by one person; David Bruckner (The night house), who also directed the short film “Amateur Night” of the first V / H / S.
And while the pre-release hype has made much of the fact that this anthology’s story takes place on a more singular continuity, it’s entirely fair to say that V / H / S / 94 is still a fractured assortment of four stories glued together by a wrap. As such, this new entry doesn’t feel so much like a reinvention of the original formula, but rather a playful remix.
The wraparound, “Holy Hell” (produced by Knives & Skin‘s Jennifer Reeder), follows a SWAT team that raids a filthy drug lab only to come face to face with a much more sinister foe, who is tasked with displaying the other four stories we witness throughout the ‘anthology.
In order, the four segments are; “Storm Drain” (by Chloe Okuno), where a reporter (Anna Hopkins) enters a storm drain to try and photograph the mythical creature known as “Rat Man”; “The empty wake” (from You are next writer Simon Barrett), following a young funeral home attendant who oversees a nighttime awakening for a man; “The subject” (from The night is coming for us‘Timo Tjahjanto), illustrating the experiments of a mad scientist with the fusion of man and machine; and “Terror” (from Lowlife ‘s Ryan Prows), where a white militia attempts to use a captured supernatural entity to carry out a terrorist attack on the US government.
First of all, fans can rest easy because V / H / S / 94 is a fun time, and certainly miles from the previous failed entry. Much more a funhouse of frights than a particularly inventive or original merry-go-round, it should deliver the goods for those who preferred the more thoughtful sensations of the first two. V / H / S movies.
If there’s one gripe about this polished take, it’s that having one writer to handle all segments deprives filmmakers of the opportunity to put their own artistic imprint on their work. Timo Tjahjanto’s certified crazy shorts are truly the only one among the group to have a distinct personality, and given that the pleasure of the best V / H / S movies watched filmmakers experiment within the constraints of short storytelling, it’s hardly worth hiring five directors to tell a story from the mind of one creator.
But while you can forgive some of the sometimes cringe-worthy dialogue – especially during Team SWAT wrap-up, which almost deliberately feels indebted to ’90s FMV video games – there’s a lot of fun to be had here. Bruckner and his team of directors pull off a largely winning fusion of sweet creep, foul-smelling disgust, and recurring perverse comedy – the latter particularly in the segment that satirically targets white American militias.
But above all, V / H / S / 94 is a sensory triumph; the stretch-wrapped aesthetic of the VHS tape is perfectly captured here, while the series’ signature glitch video conveys leaps between ‘scenes’. It all feels real rather than looking like high definition digital video that has been downgraded in post-production, with the filmmakers apparently using video equipment from the time to make it as authentic as possible.
Beyond that, ’90s touchstones are brilliantly captured; The reports are shot in the stylistic conventions of the day, retro computer graphics and all, and a fake infomercial for a “Veggie Masher” is so surprisingly believable that I had to verify that it wasn’t in fact a real one. advertising. Elsewhere, expect to see plenty of CRT TVs, occasional glimpses of the earlier internet, and of course the inevitable presence of grunge music.
All of this is extremely effective in generating the desired ambience, and the low-fi presentation also helps mask the limitations of visual effects and inexpensive sets, many of which would have been built into hotel rooms and conference rooms. Add in the complications of producing such a movie during a pandemic and it is truly impressive how much ambition V / H / S / 94 gets with some of its production elements, rough around the edges although they can be – although sometimes intentionally.
Fans of skull destruction should be especially happy with some of the ultra-violence on display here, as the filmmakers artfully blend practical effects with digital assistance to get the job done. This is especially important in Tjahjanto’s short, the longest and most technically difficult of the bunch.
The press-preselected version of the film without opening titles is 103 minutes long and could have used a few quick nips and folds – easily disguised by digital glitches – to shorten some of the longer downtime than the ideal. The wrap-around’s final resolution also looks relatively deflated, like Bruckner hitting a writer’s block wall, but at the very least leaves the door open for the future. V / H / S volumes.
Despite Bruckner overseeing the entire project, giving it a theoretically holistic feel, there is still an air of inconsistency in the project, with Simon Barret’s funeral home being by far the weakest of the lot. The other three main shorts, however, strike a fairly harmonious balance of edgy suspense and bullet-to-wall action, aided by the efforts of a strong ensemble cast.
While the more traditional anthology format, with each filmmaker writing their own story, is both more complicated and more interesting, this new take is still an encouraging step back on solid ground for a franchise we sorely miss. Flawed but fun, V / H / S / 94 is a marked return to form for the horror anthology series and hopefully indicates that it’s back – especially with horror streamer Shudder co-producing the project for release on their platform. . More of that, please.
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Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more cinematic ramblings.