Wednesday, October 04, 2023

V/H/S/85, on Shudder

People did not overshare in the 1980s, except for characters in indie films, who liked to keep video diaries. You could argue the V/H/S found footage anthology franchise follows in that tradition. Recording your crimes is a very post-2000 smart-phone thing to do, but in the 1980s this kind of footage was the stuff of urban legend. Fans get another batch of supposedly underground video footage in V/H/S/85, which premieres Friday on Shudder.

So far, the
V/H/S films produced for Shudder have not been as good as the initial trilogy, with the previous installment, V/H/S/99 representing an all-time series low. Happily, 85 recovers some lost ground, particularly with the first full segment, “No Wake,” written and directed by Mike P. Nelson. Ironically, this segment initially seems to repeat the sins of 99, serving up a lot of off-putting sadism, as a sniper on shore picks off a group of water-skiers. However, there is a massive twist that changes everything.

In fact, the twist will continue twisting when Nelson continues the two-part story later in the film in “Ambrosia,” which gives us a radically different perspective on the events. It is also very clever and cathartically satisfying.

Gigi Saul Guerrero’s “God of Death” pointedly depicts the petty rivalries and eccentricities of a low-budget CDMX news broadcast during the real-life earthquake of 1985. It leads to a colorful and dramatic revelation, but a lot of brutality before that seems unnecessarily nihilistic. This is a better film than
99, but it is still incredibly dark.

Natasha Kermani’s “TKNOGD” is a mildly amusing satire of Eighties hipsterism. Fittingly it takes place in the Public Theater, but it is a rather thin piece that proceeds in a straight, predictable line.

Scott Derrickson (who helmed
The Black Phone) provides another highpoint for both 85 and the Shudder trilogy (at least thus far). Again, it starts out so brutally, more sensitive viewers might give up on it, but the premise is a killer. It turns out, the police have been getting video tapes of a series of grisly murderers almost a week before they happen. If Black Phone was Derrickson's tribute to the phone company, then this is his homage to the Post Office. The twist is dark, of course, but it is lethally effective.

David Bruckner’s wrap-around segments, collectively referred to as “Total Copy,” probably feature some of the best recreations of the 80’s decade, presenting a tabloid “news” magazine, in the style of
A Current Affair. In this case, they are covering an X-Files-like research project that went very wrong. Thesps in V/H/S films are supposed to blend into the milieu rather than stand out, but Chuck McCollum is so pitch-perfect as the host, Drake Rogers, he could get hired by Inside Edition.

V/H/S/85 had been a little less violent, it probably would have been a whole lot more fun. However, it is often difficult to watch for a more practical reason. The constant attempts to replicate the fuzzy and distressed look of an old VHS tape with multiple programs recorded on top of each other becomes distracting, negatively impacting the legibility of events on screen. Still, this is an improvement, with several slyly sinister segments. Recommended as a partial return to form, V/H/S/85 starts streaming Friday (10/6) on Shudder.