The Decaying Found Footage Horror Anthology Injects Much-Needed Humor [TIFF]

Dec 17, 2022

1999 was a strange year for pop culture. On the one hand, there was all this fear about Y2K and the possible end of the world. Then, on the other hand, pop culture was all over the place with a film like “American Pie” reviving the “Porky’s”-esque, male-driven, R-rated sex comedy genre, the oft-discussed Woodstock ‘99 festival debacle shocking everyone, and pop music by folks like ‘NSYNC and Britney Spears providing the soundtrack. Trying to capture all the nuance of the time is a monumental task, but somehow the horror anthology “V/H/S/99” is able to do so, even if it is just as messy and chaotic as the era in which it’s set. 
Much like its predecessors, specifically last year’s “V/H/S/94,” “V/H/S/99” is a collection of horror shorts from some of the most unique voices in genre filmmaking that tries to capture the cultural zeitgeist of an era through the use of found footage scares. And again, as with the previous four films in the “V/H/S” franchise, the collection is a decidedly mixed bag. At least this time, unlike the other films, there’s a cohesiveness to these shorts that make them feel as if they belong together, down to a shared tone that sometimes pushes the horror to the backseat in favor of some campy fun. Even still, five films into this anthology franchise, the gimmick is definitely starting to wear thin.
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There are two definite standouts in the collection of five horror shorts in “V/H/S/99.” The first is “Ozzy’s Dungeon” by filmmaker Flying Lotus. This short draws its inspiration from mid-‘90s children’s game shows like “The Legend of the Hidden Temple,” as we watch a young girl compete in a weird obstacle course to earn a chance for the grand prize of a granted wish. After a mishap on TV, her family decides to take revenge on the host of the show years later, leading to “Saw”-like torture. Mixing the over-the-top camp of a children’s obstacle course gameshow with the depravity of what some horror fans call “torture porn” is a genius concept. It’s equal parts silly and nasty, as Flying Lotus plays in the horror-comedy sandbox at first before jumping into something completely strange and disturbing. 
Another standout vignette is “To Hell and Back” from filmmakers Joseph and Vanessa Winter. This short shows what might happen when a demon summoning goes terribly wrong, and instead of bringing a scary hell beast to Earth, you accidentally send two humans to Hell. Imagine a stoner comedy meets Clive Barker. Two bros from Earth, just trying to record a documentary about a demon summoning, find themselves in literal Hell trying to fend off demons and find a way back home. It’s such an ambitious and fun concept that you have to hand it to the filmmakers for even attempting it. And with that ambition, the audience can forgive some of the short’s clear faults, such as the shoddy VFX and props that look like they were just purchased from Spirit Halloween the night before. That said, it’s a short that will keep your eyes glued to the screen the whole time just to see what wild, insane thing happens next.
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A couple of the other shorts, “Suicide Bid” and “The Gawkers,” are both well-executed and interesting in their own right, but they don’t seem to rise above their premises to deliver anything truly memorable. “Suicide Bid,” directed by Johannes Roberts, comes closest but is betrayed by some truly silly monster VFX at the end. “The Gawkers,” directed by Tyler MacIntyre, lampoons the aforementioned “American Pie” and has a pretty fun little twist, but it ends so abruptly that you’re left wondering if there was actually any point to the story, at all?
The last segment to discuss is “Shredding,” by director Maggie Levin. Unfortunately, this is the segment that kicks off “V/H/S/99” and starts the anthology on a sour note. The premise is promising, as it follows a group of kids trying to make their own “Jackass”-style prank video and go to the site where a fire erupted at a club and killed the members of a punk band that was playing that night, years prior. However, when the shit hits the fan, so to speak, the zombie FX isn’t convincing, and any sort of potential scares fall flat. It then ends with a moment that is supposed to be shocking but just looks incredibly amateur and laughable. 
Compared to some of the other installments of the “V/H/S” franchise, “V/H/S/99” doesn’t reach the same heights as some of the more inspired segments like “Amateur Night” by David Bruckner (from the original film) or even Timo Tjahjanto’s batshit crazy “The Subject from “V/H/S/94.” However, the lows aren’t nearly as low as some of the downright bad shorts, either. If you’re a fan of found footage and enjoyed the previous “V/H/S” films, you’ll find enough in “V/H/S/99” to keep you entertained. However, even though the addition of more camp and comedy shows that the anthology series is still evolving, five films deep, you have to wonder how much more tape is left in the cassette in the “V/H/S” franchise? [C+]
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Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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