I have a complex relationship with the found-footage horror genre. The first one I ever watched was The Blair Witch, and it left a profound, but fleeting impact on me. I genuinely believed I was witnessing the harrowing ordeal of three college students facing a malevolent forest spirit or (at the very least) a sinister cult. This is the kind of impact a well-executed “found footage” movie can have on its audience.
However, for every Blair Witch, there’s a Lake Mungo. I’m not saying Lake Mungo is terrible, but it’s often viewed as a somewhat underwhelming horror film.
One of the mainstays in this genre has been the V/H/S series. Comprising a series of found-footage shorts, each installment of the franchise offers a diverse range of terrifying tales, all connected by the overarching theme of disturbing and often supernatural occurrences. With its blend of subgenres, the V/H/S films bring together elements of suspense, gore and supernatural horror, offering something for most horror fans. The series, as a whole, has garnered a dedicated fanbase and is recognized for its willingness to take risks, pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved within the found-footage genre.
The most recent addition to the series, V/H/S/85, made its exclusive debut on Shudder earlier this month. The film is structured as an anthology, offering a collection of distinct stories within its runtime.
The first tale unfolds as a mockumentary, introducing Rory, a shapeshifting creature. Following that, we are immersed in the harrowing account of a group of friends who miraculously recover from a fatal encounter while on a lake trip. The narrative then shifts to a news team reporting from the aftermath of an earthquake at an Aztec tomb, unearthing ominous mysteries.
Viewers are then confronted with the perils of provoking techno-gods. Subsequently, a family of murderers faces the heat when the police arrive, but their escape plan is disrupted by a figure from their past. In the final segment, the audience gains a first-person perspective on the deeds of a serial killer through videotapes. As the events on tape transpire before the actual murders, the suspense mounts: Can the police intervene in time to prevent the killer from committing his next crime?
V/H/S/85 stands out as a robust addition to the series. I discovered myself becoming deeply engrossed in each of the segments, with a few of them holding the potential to become compelling standalone films, notably, the tales centered around the lake trip (“No Wake”), the family of murderers in “Ambrosia,” and the videotape narrative of “Dreamkill.” It’s worth noting that “Dreamkill” was initially a short story that served as a follow-up to The Black Phone. Directed by Scott Derrickson, this segment unfolds seven years after the events of the feature film and features Gunther (Dashiell Derrickson) recounting the experiences of his cousin, Gwen. It wouldn’t be surprising to see these shorts expanded upon in the future.
I do have a critique regarding V/H/S/85. The overarching storyline of the shapeshifting entity, Rory, is fragmented across all the other segments of the film. This division creates a significant issue, as it forces the plot to be split into a total of six parts. Unfortunately, this approach weakens the overall narrative, making it challenging to develop a genuine connection with the characters. Just as I began to grasp the unfolding events, the story would abruptly transition to another tale, necessitating me to recollect the specifics of the Rory storyline.
This structural choice felt like a substantial misstep, significantly impacting the enjoyment of a story that was evidently intended to be the primary focal point of the film.
V/H/S/85 earns four out of five stars. I really like the offerings this anthology brings to the table. The only thing holding the film back from being perfect in my book is the editing of one of the stories. Other than that, I was thoroughly entertained. V/H/S/85 will definitely be on my Halloween playlist going forward.