Thursday, October 14, 2021

V/H/S 94


After the much maligned and totally forgettable V/H/S Viral, it took 7 years for the follow-up V/H/S 94. One would hope that they filmmakers behind the project would have taken that time to reflect on the mistakes of their previous outing, and better hone in on their strengths. V/H/S as a franchise, since its inception, has been identifying up and coming filmmakers, and giving them the opportunity to showcase their skills within their anthologies. But also since the series' start, the name of the game for horror fans has been identifying the wheat amongst the chaff. I'm sad to say, that V/H/S seems to have not learned any new lessons going into V/H/S 94, because it offers nothing but more of the same.

The overarching narrative that acts as the connective tissue between the different segments itself, seems like an afterthought; another holdover from the previous films. It involves a SWAT team raid, where they find dozens of dead bodies, and even more old television sets playing different VHS tapes. The acting in these portions of the film is way over the top in some cases, and very understated in others. No one seems to be on the same page, and it makes it very hard to come to terms with what kind of tone is supposed to be derived from what we are watching.

Another completely distracting aspect that effects the entire film is the filmmakers feeling the need to put a VHS-esque filter over the entirety of every segment. Instead of it feeling retro or nostalgic, it simply serves to make the composition of shots, which are already largely shot in darkness, even harder to see. 

From here, I'll talk about each vignette individually.

Storm Drain directed by Chloe Okuno

The film opens with one of the better segments, from director Chloe Okuno. It follows a news correspondent on the rise, looking for a story that will propel her to the stratosphere. She finds this opportunity in a small town where the legend of a "Rat Man" that lives in the sewer has permeated, with many of the locals claiming to have had sightings. This is a trope that has been well trodden, but Okuno finds a way to subvert expectations and deliver something much more haunting than just a sewer dwelling man. This is one of the segments that better copes with the hinderance of the VHS filter crudely laid over the footage, and uses it to the advantage of the film. Okuno uses it to intentionally obscuring figures in a way that makes them more haunting, instead of hiding them entirely. There is camp sprinkled in amongst some of the segments, to levels of varying success, but Okuno also strikes a perfect balance between terror and silliness. All in all, I'd say this ranks pretty high amongst the segments from the history of the series.

The Empty Wake directed by Simon Barrett

I'm a huge fan of Simon Barrett's early working in writing for film. You're Next and The Guest are films I have a tremendous affection for. I do think that in his more recent works, he has lost the thread a little bit. 2016's Blair Witch, written by Barrett, was a huge whiff, and really only served the purpose of taking away from the subtlety and restraint that made the original The Blair Witch Project such a special movie. Much to my dismay, Barrett continues his series of missteps with his segment The Empty Wake. It's hard to even really dissect this vignette, because not very much happens at all. Largely, it is about a woman sitting around in an empty funeral home, That is, until the last moments where the scares start in an erratically shot, nearly incomprehensible sequence that starts too late, and ends too early. Without spoiling the "twist" of the thing is difficult to say much about this, and even with that context it totally escapes me what the short is trying say, if it is trying to say anything at all.

The Subject directed by Timo Tjahjanto

Tjahjanto first caught my attention with V/H/S 2, where he codirected the segment "Safe Haven" with Gareth Evans. For my money, it was the very best portion of that movie, and so I started paying attention. The next time I saw his work was with 2018's The Night Comes for Us, which I really liked. Needless to say, I was very excited to see that he returned again for a segment on V/H/S 94, and he once again delivered with the best vignette of the bunch with The Subject. The short is a perfect blend for his excellently choreographed action, and his undeniable horror chops. It is the story of a mad scientist, who is willing to do whatever it takes to perfect his vision of a perfect fusion of man and machine. We are subjected to the horrors that his victims must endure at the hands of his pursuit. The closest parallel I can come up with to describe the tone of this short is not found in the film space, but in the realm of video games. To me this film is shares a strong resemblance to games in the Resident Evil franchise. That is to say, it is a little bit over the top, full of disturbing body horror, and with an hint of a military element. That isn't the only thing the film has in common with video games, either. A portion of the film takes place in a first person perspective, with a gun in the lower right of the frame, as if plucked right from DOOM or Call of Duty. It finds the necessary story conceit to warrant the perspective, and unlike other films that have tried the same thing, it keeps the action clean and easy to follow. All of these elements come together to form something very fun, and very original.

Terror directed by Ryan Prows

V/H/S 94 ends, confusingly, with its worst offering in Ryan Prows' Terror. In it, a group of corn fed backwoods rednecks devise a plan to weaponize a creature to enact a ill-advised act of domestic terrorism. The short does nothing to provide any insight that the majority of the world doesn't know: the MAGA supporting troglodytes are ignorant, hateful, and willing to exploit whatever they can to get their way, not unlike petulant children. We watch them drunkenly stumble around, making stupid decisions, and getting killed. And, in our sad state of life, this is not totally unlike what we see turning on the news on any given day. And it does this without adding anything new or helpful to the conversation, and thus did not connect with me on any level.

Horror anthologies can be good, and are often great. But so far, none of the V/H/S movies have cleared that bar. There are individual portions of them that I can easily recommend. But as a whole, the disparate elements don't come together to form a cohesive whole. V/H/S 94 is no exception, with a handful of great individual shorts, but sandwiched in between a whole lot of mess.