“V/H/S” fans can rejoice as the franchise is back with “V/H/S/99” – its follow up to last year’s acclaimed “V/H/S/94” outing. What started as a simple anthology concept has evolved into a genre staple as Shudder streaming has taken over the development of the last two efforts meant to platform some of horror’s upcoming directing masterminds.
It’s pretty incredible to look at the level of talent littered throughout the credits of the original “V/H/S” films. Ti West, Adam Wingard, David Bruckner and others have all contributed fascinating and remarkably fresh visions to the short story fueled collection of grainy, low-resolution bits meant to freak out and terrorize viewers with their dark and gawky imagery.
When the series was announced to be getting another outing following the cult-like success of “V/H/S/94,” it felt like a no-brainer. These films are made at a cheap rate and are a near-guarantee to be a financial hit. Each film normally is grounded by a wraparound framing narrative that guides the viewer between story and story. In “V/H/S/99,” however, the framing narrative is discarded, and the franchise feels like its anthology choices are strong enough to carry the weight by themselves.
And in a way, they aren’t wrong. While the framing narratives have always felt like important crutches that help place a viewer in the world of each “V/H/S” film, they always feel like the lacking, or least-polished, part of the runtime. Instead, “V/H/S/99” uses extremely short intermission points disguised as army men toys in stop-motion animation. These snippets preface one of “V/H/S/99’s” five short stories – each with its own style and hook.
Anthologies will always have the stigma that, at some point, the film is going to lose steam. How does a filmmaker keep an audience’s attention for three or more stories (let alone FIVE) and have them successfully tie in in a way that satisfies and rewards the time spent? This has been an issue that “V/H/S” has had to confront for quite some time now. It was my biggest issue with last year’s “V/H/S/94” due to Chloe Okuno’s Storm Drain and Simon Barrett’s The Empty Wake tales being the best that film had to offer and being placed towards the beginning.
Unfortunately, while it does have its moments like the other films in the series, “V/H/S/99” also suffers many of the same faults that its weaker outings couldn’t quite recover from. It has a few remarkably tense and twisted moments, but the film’s lesser stories make for a disjointed and sometimes frustrating and unengaging watch.
“V/H/S/99” opens with Maggie Levin’s Shredding – a story of an underground rock band attempting to film their newest music video in an abandoned performance venue rumored to be haunted. It’s a rather simple premise that plays out exactly how you’d expect. While Shredding feels extremely punk and fits in well with the 1999 theme at play, it doesn’t’ do nearly enough to grab outsiders not yet acclimated to the anthology series they may be experiencing for the first time.
Johannes Roberts’ Suicide Bid and Flying Lotus and Zoe Cooper’s Ozzy’s Dungeon are arguably the two best segments “V/H/S/99” has to offer, but even the latter feels too frontloaded in a style that plays up the camp perfectly, only to be a clunky, head-scratching revenge tale. It’s good, but I can’t say it matches up with the best that “V/H/S/94” delivered.
And maybe that is just the problem I had with this year’s “V/H/S” entrée. While it has a few eye-popping images and scenes, its plotlines and ideas aren’t nearly as fresh as the best this franchise has to offer. It doesn’t hit the highs that its predecessors have, and its lows are eye-rollers that take the wind out of it. Vanessa and Joseph Winter’s is perhaps the worst closer the franchise has had as it struggles with the same screenwriting issues that their full-length “Deadstream” film had on Shudder this year.
“V/H/S/99” isn’t a complete dud as a few of the ideas do hold some weight, but it doesn’t hit the same gas pedal as the peak films did, and for an anthology, that can lead to casual viewers turning away. Fans of the franchise should still check it out, but for now it sits somewhere in the middle for me on the ranking for these movies.