The found-footage genre has fallen out of favour in recent years. But why did this happen? Maybe it was genre oversaturation or perhaps the more existentially terrifying reason is we realised our real lives had become one giant found footage-horror. Either way, people running around forests, crying and producing fear induced snot bubbles was no longer a staple in our horror movie diet.
Could that change with V/H/S 99 the fifth and latest film in the V/H/S anthology series? The V/H/S franchise has traditionally been a showcase for, at the time, relatively new directors such as Adam Wingard, Ti West and Radio Silence.
V/H/S 99 continues that tradition, giving us another five stories, by five newish directors. All with their own unique takes on the genre, each to varying degrees of success.
Each story takes place in the era that time/I would rather forget, the late 90s, where red baseball caps, oversized jeans and pop-punk ruled supreme. One of the big successes of V/H/S 99 is the way that each director leans into the time period with aplomb.
The first story, ‘Shredding’ directed by newcomer Maggie Levin is probably the weakest, while still having some enjoyable elements. In it we are introduced to a pop-punk band, complete with a CKY style skate/prank video that was all the rage in the late 90s. For some incomprehensible reason, they want to film in a club where another up-and-coming band, Bitch Cat, were trampled to death. After hazing their drummer, this mostly nasty cast of characters find themselves in trouble when things get out of hand in the club from hell.
Next we have ‘Suicide Bid’ by Johannes Roberts, which is the tale of lonely college freshman, Lily. She desperately wants to join an elite Sorority. When she gets an opportunity, it comes with a spooky catch: she has to spend the night in a coffin to earn her place.
At this point, I thought to myself ‘so far, so so’. Both stories run through the typical found-footage motions, and neither is given enough time to develop into anything special. Each ending is on-the-nose, like something you might see on a particularly spicy episode of ‘Are you Afraid of the Dark’.
However I will give credit where it’s due. Both stories nail the aesthetic of the late 90’s. The fake promotional skate/band video in “Shredding” is spot on as is the very 90’s attitude of the band Bitch Cat, definitely the kind of group you would expect to see performing at the Sunnydale Bronze.
The good stuff really kicks in with ‘Ozzy’s Dreamhouse’, directed by music producer, Flying Lotus. It starts as a parody of a 90’s kids game show, but with a surreal and malevolent air. A young contestant from Detroit sees her dream quickly turn into a nightmare resulting in an ending so random and over the top it would make Suspiria blush.
‘Gawkers’, by Tyler MacIntyre is another solid story. A group of horny 90’s teenagers start perving on their attractive new neighbour but all is not as it seems, think Rear Window meets American Pie. I don’t want to spoil the twist, but if you have seen a V/H/S film before, you know this ends with a lot of running around, casual dismemberment and camcorder based shenanigans.
‘To Hell and Back’ directed by Vanessa Winter is the perfect curtain call. On new year’s eve 1999, two videographers are hired to film a humdrum suburban demonic ritual. Things go awry and the duo are sucked into hell. Aided by their demonic sidekick, Mabel, they have 7 minutes to escape or be trapped forever. The humour and over-the-top gore had me begging for a full-length feature. This one is worth the entry price alone.
V/H/S 99 is a mixed bag, but that is the selling point of the anthology series. When one story doesn’t hit (in this case two for me) it’s not a big deal. What you do get is three really inventive, funny and very schlocky horror stories that leave you satisfied. V/H/S 99 does not break the mould, but it does reinvigorate the series with some new life.
V/H/S 99 is available on Shudder from Thursday 20th October