The apocalyptic dread of Y2K, captured by the last era of camcorder users, looms large in V/H/S/99, the fifth in the V/H/S found-footage horror anthology series. Unlike last year’s V/H/S/94, this installment gathers five unconnected stories, mashed together by an unseen editor who has a good instinct for saving the best for last.
That’s not to say there’s dead weight here—it’s just that not every segment is outstandingly memorable, and the wildest one happens to be at the end. Though there’s no framing story, we do get a few interspersed vignettes of toy soldiers meeting gruesome stop-motion ends, a darkly comic touch that reflects the “haha/eww” vibe of the entire enterprise. As for the entries themselves, Maggie Levin’s “Shredding” kicks things off by following a quartet of teens, a band that keeps a video diary of their wacky pranks—something that would’ve made them darlings of YouTube if only YouTube existed in 1999. “Shredding” oozes major ‘90s nostalgia and that’s really its best element; the kids’ latest stunt is to break into a concert venue that’s been shuttered since a crowd stampede killed the last band (also a quartet of teens) that performed there, and the faux promo video for the doomed musicians expertly evokes the pop culture of the era like MTV’s 120 Minutes.
You can probably guess how it goes for the obnoxious young rockers once they bring their goofballery to a probably-haunted venue; you may also guess the ending of Johannes Roberts’ “Suicide Bid,” about a college student so desperate to get into her preferred sorority that she agrees to a cruel hazing stunt that involves spending the night in a coffin. But you will absolutely not be able to see where Flying Lotus’ “Ozzy’s Dungeon” is going, which starts off with a kiddie game show that’s like a grosser, more dangerous mash-up of Double Dare and Legends of the Hidden Temple, with a host (Snowpiercer’s Steven Ogg) who’s equal parts smarmy and sinister. Where it turns next we will not spoil, but extreme levels of WTF are achieved, commendably so.
After that, we get Tyler MacIntyre’s “The Gawkers,” a cautionary tale for young Peeping Toms everywhere that really captures that final generation of bored suburban kids who didn’t have cell phone cameras and social media at their fingertips to maximize their stalking. But the pièce de résistance of V/H/S/99 is “To Hell and Back” from Vanessa and Joseph Winter, the same duo who made the recent Shudder addition Deadstream, an entertaining found-footage Evil Dead homage. Joseph Winter and his Deadstream co-star Melanie Stone (who is especially fantastic here) reunite for this saga of documentarians who get way more than they bargained for while shadowing a doomsday cult on New Year’s Eve. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say the creature design alone would make this entry the standout of the film, but its clever story helps make it a standout of the entire V/H/S series.
What does it say about V/H/S/99 that the best segments (“Ozzy’s Dungeon” and “To Hell and Back”) are the only two that don’t focus on young-adult protagonists? Maybe that the series is trying too hard to focus its efforts on who it hopes will watch the movie, or maybe that’s just a byproduct of setting your film in 1999. As technology was starting to upgrade, many kids still had easy access to camcorders, not to mention the most urgent need to document themselves acting like idiots for an imagined audience. In V/H/S/99's case, of course, the audience is real, and we get to see comeuppance rain down as each mini-morality tale—the tagline of V/H/S as a franchise could be “Do not fuck with the supernatural!”—reaches its grainy, static-filled conclusion.
V/H/S/99 hits Shudder on October 20.
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