- Flying Lotus, Johannes Roberts, Joseph Winter, Maggie Levin, Tyler MacIntyre, Vanessa Winter
- Alexia Ioannides, Steven Ogg, Dashiell Derrickson, Verona Blue, Tybee Diskin, Jackson Kelly, Sonya Eddy, Luke Mullen, Emily Sweet, Tyler Lofton, Duncan Anderson, Joseph Winter, Archelaus Crisanto, Melanie Stone
- 99 min.
- Release Date
More significant than the sum of its parts, the V/H/S series has been around for a decade and produced five entries of wavering quality. But that’s to be expected from anthologies of found-footage horror. Anthologies often prove uneven because, invariably, some stories are better than others. As a result, they tend to feel like a mixed bag, offering one or two unforgettable segments scattered amid others of mediocre quality. V/H/S (2012) and its sequels have even more challenging circumstances to overcome, given that they’re comprised of several found footage shorts made to look like tape recordings, which by design, end badly. Launched by mumblegore filmmakers such as Ti West, Adam Wingard, and Joe Swanberg, the movies deploy grainy images and sometimes rudimentary cameras to create an intended low-fi appearance, delivering what ultimately amounts to a mock snuff film. Although I tend to feel unsatisfied when they’re over and write about them from a mostly disappointed perspective, I reflect on them fondly, if only because the individual segments that worked for me have a place in my memory banks while everything else has been deleted. Fortunately, V/H/S/99 delivers a higher-than-average number of worthwhile segments.
The new sequel arrives after last year’s V/H/S/94, easily the worst of this series. Whereas the first three V/H/S titles debuted between 2012 and 2014 in rapid succession, 2021’s V/H/S/94 felt like a desperate attempt to revive and approximate what had come before. Its directors obviously shot their segments with digital cameras and software that tried to mimic the appearance of a 1990s-era cassette, albeit unconvincingly. The resulting shorts never looked like anything except products of today and, indeed, never convinced us of their 1994 camcorder origins. After all, the V/H/S series is best when it’s showing us things that make us feel unclean—as though we stumbled upon an old tape only to discover that its contents harbor something horrific we cannot unsee. V/H/S/99 features the snowy tape scramble familiar to anyone who ever recorded and re-recorded onto a cassette, leaving brief visual traces of its various contents scattered in the video fuzz. If it’s a digital effect designed to look analog, it seems authentic.
V/H/S/99 also boasts an impressive roster of filmmakers. Among the best is Johannes Roberts, whose Strangers: Prey at Night (2018) and Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021) remain underrated. The husband-and-wife team of Vanessa and Joseph Winter, whose Deadstream is one of the best examples of found footage in recent memory, also prove they’re talents to watch. The first segment comes from Maggie Levin, who wrote and directed “My Valentine” for Hulu’s Into the Dark series. Her short called “Shredding” captures the restless energy of teen fuckabouts who wreak havoc in their local skate park and have a garage band. They admire a fellow band reminiscent of Hole that burned to death during a concert in an underground facility. So they plan to record a performance on the site of the group’s demise, despite a warning not to upset or disrespect the dead. What unfolds is a rockers-from-Hell experience with some creepy-looking monsters.
My favorite segment comes from Roberts. “Suicide Bid” is about a desperate college student (Ally Ioannides) who applies to a sorority only to be coerced into a cruel hazing ritual: she has to spend the night in a coffin, buried alive. Between the claustrophobia, spiders, and spirit of a dead student, it’s a memorable night—and it made me squirm in my seat. Then comes the sole outlier, “Ozzy’s Dungeon” by writer-director Flying Lotus, which isn’t bad so much as a wildly uneven and random entry that involves a Nickelodeon-style gameshow, torture porn, and a cosmic beast. Director Tyler MacIntyre, who helmed the entertaining Tragedy Girls (2019) and the 2020 Into the Dark episode “Good Boy” starring Judy Greer, fares better with “The Gawkers,” a tale about a group of horny teen voyeurs who receive their comeuppance. Finally, the Winters deliver “To Hell and Back,” a formally inspired story about two videographers recording a witch seance when they’re accidentally transported to Hell. The production values deliver a convincing view of a hellscape with jagged terrain and various demons. But like Deadstream, Joseph Winters’ goofball performance keeps the gory material somewhat lighthearted.
While the interlaced story—about one teen’s disturbing stop-motion-animated home video starring plastic army men—is insubstantial, it’s effectively woven into one of the segments. Unfortunately, as usual with this series, the connective tissue between the segments is the least considered aspect of V/H/S/99. Regardless, the movie leaves us buzzing from the Winters’ wildly inventive, funny, and horrifying segment, which, along with “Suicide Bid,” easily belongs in the Pantheon of the V/H/S franchise’s best shorts—up there with “Amateur Night” and “10/31/98” from the original, and “Safe Haven” from the first sequel. And given that “Ozzy’s Dungeon” and the wraparound story are the only portions to disappoint, whereas the others each have clear arcs and genuine scares, V/H/S/99 becomes perhaps the best entry overall in terms of its win-to-loss ratio. The movie debuts on Shudder, and so will its follow-up, titled V/H/S/85, which is already slated for next year.
(Note: This review was originally suggested on and posted to Patreon on October 18, 2022.)