A new approach and a bigger budget allows for more graphic visuals
With V/H/S/94 reawakening the slumbering found footage property and delivering a return to form for the once struggling franchise, following that entry up couldn’t have been an easy task. But it was a challenge producers Josh Goldbloom, Brad Miska and Kurtis David Harder met head on as they decided to take their latest entry in a slightly less nihilistic direction, fuelled by the latest nostalgia dujour (the late ‘90s) in the aptly titled V/H/S/99. That being the case, this entry really feels like a fresh beginning as well. With the last film tying up the cult of V/H/S thread that ran through the first few films, this new compilation tape feels like the producers are finally getting to flex their creative muscles, delivering an entry that is both a glorious celebration of the ‘90s and a self indulgent crowd pleaser.
A bit of context: in the late ‘90s video cameras were not only leaps and bounds better quality-wise, but they were also more affordable than ever. Because of this proliferation in consumer households, video as a form of self expression became a very real and organic thing to people growing up in homes with these devices. They weren’t just for weddings and special events anymore. Thanks to the drop in price they ended up in a younger generation’s hands looking to mimic the burgeoning reality TV video, skate videos or prank/stunt comps that would eventually rule the airwaves in a few more years. V/H/S/99 uses this as its setting for its assignment to its latest batch of directors, who unlike previous entries were probably alive during this time and it really shows with some of the segments gleefully recreating the tropes of this time, usually with a rather malicious twist.
This new direction is evident right off the bat as we are treated to what I think is usually the most divisive segment in any entry: the wraparound, which here is a teenager’s hilarious and rather grotesque stop motion home movie that features a group of toy soldiers who befall one tragic fate after another and even encounter Raatma! We then transition to the first segment Shredding, which continues that more playful thread giving an idea of what’s to come. It lulls you into a false sense of security as we watch what appears to be a group of teens in a band sort of aping that Real World aesthetic. They are documenting the exploration of an underground venue where a band on the cusp of stardom were trampled to death after a show. I am not even going to lie, thanks to the playful tone Maggie Levin establishes, I wasn’t expecting what eventually befalls our protagonists and it literally left me gobsmacked.
This segment really sets the speed for this group of shorts ahead, they’re playful but aren’t afraid to be self indulgent or even crowd pleasing. But when the time comes for whatever befalls our subjects, you better be ready. All these segments are also showers not growers, and that’s thanks to Shudder or whoever bankrolled this new batch, because they are easily the most ambitious we’ve ever seen so far. Thanks to the time period of the series, the previous filmmakers usually relied on the format to help hide the seams or obvious lack of budget and would simply end a segment to leave it more ambiguous. That is definitely not the case here. The camera just keeps rolling and we are forced to endure everything playing out; and it’s no doubt as terrifying as anything we could have imagined. We really get to see the boogiemen thanks to some truly terrifying practical effects and creature designs here.
My favorite segment of the batch has to be one that hit that nostalgic sweet spot for me, which was Flying Lotus’ segment about a Legend of the Hidden Temple knock off called Ozzy’s Dungeon, where kids compete and are mortally wounded in physical challenges to win any one wish their heart desires. Here we meet a family who track down the host sometime after the show was canceled to get payback for their daughter who was relegated to a wheelchair after having her leg garishly broken on the obstacle course — right before winning. If you’ve seen Kuso, you’re well aware the Lotus holds nothing back and that makes this entry nothing short of glorious to behold — the script, the humor, the gore, digging in an inflatable pool full of slime for a flag, it’s all here. Coming up as a close second for me was Johannes Roberts’ Suicide Bid, about a young woman looking to belong and pledging to a sorority, who has to endure being buried alive overnight as part of a sadistic hazing ritual. It’s a bit tropey for sure, but the acting here is what sold me on this piece.
V/H/S/99 has the relaunched series really coming into its own with its new custodians, who definitely show this formula still has a lot of blood left to spill. While delivering another solid batch of segments they manage to pull off what I think V/H/S: Viral failed to do: updating its premise that was locked into an analog hell. I also think given the late ‘90s are now what the ‘80s were when the original V/H/S films debuted, it makes sense to keep edging forward and changing up the assignment. I mean, given the last few years, it’s a very welcome change for these films to ease up on the nihilism, and go all in on escapism. This is on full display in the final segment where a group of documentarians are accidentally sent to Hell while filming a ritual that can only be done once a millennia, finishing the film off with with some Y2K hysteria. V/H/S/99 is one hell of a blast, literally.
All hail our new V/H/S overlords!