The V/H/S series is the only series I’ve had the opportunity to write about all of its films. Introduced to the horror cinema scene in 2012 as a fresh perspective, V/H/S disappeared from sight for a while but made a nice comeback in 2021. Under the banner of Shudder, V/H/S has been presenting a new film for three years now, and according to the plans, we may expect a new film each year. This year’s stop takes us back to 1985. In the six-part series, perhaps the one with the most robust directorial lineup to date, unfortunately, it may also be the weakest film in the series.
As always, I will go through each short film individually. Unlike the other films, V/H/S/85 takes a different approach to its storytelling. This time, by dividing the stories into pieces and progressing in a non-linear fashion. In this regard, it brings some innovation to the series.
The most surprising gem in the 5-part anthology of V/H/S/85 belongs to an underdog figure within the team, Mike P. Nelson. Despite the somewhat strained relations stemming from his 2021 production “Wrong Turn,” he signs his name under “No Wake,” a quintessential V/H/S piece from beginning to end. It’s within this segment that we discover a departure from the norm in terms of storytelling. When a deranged sniper systematically picks off the characters, I initially thought the film had concluded. Frankly, the ending here would have sufficed for me. What makes V/H/S captivating is the unexplained outcomes; victims falling prey to inexplicable events with no discernible answers. However, “No Wake” delivers a satisfying twist by extending the narrative even after the deaths. The final part of this 3-part “No Wake” segment evokes memories of the “Terror” short film from V/H/S94. Once again, we are thrust into a family of gun-loving, borderline-obsessed, rural folks. It seems the V/H/S series will persist in portraying America’s particularly redneck fascination with firearms. “No Wake” not only captivates with its concept but also stands out with its audacious scenes. In particular, the episode where the bride resurrects in her bedroom and refuses to die, despite being shot in the head, is arguably the highlight of V/H/S/85.
The second short film, “God of Death,” is immediately recognizable as the work of Gigi Saul Guerrero. One of the unchanging themes of the V/H/S series is the resurrection of a god or mysterious creature, and Gigi Saul Guerrero is in charge of reviving the new film’s god. People trying to escape from a building they are trapped in after a violent earthquake encounter the brutality of the Aztec death god, Mictlantecuhtli, who has been freed thanks to the earthquake. Up to a certain point, you might think that the film will proceed solely as an earthquake story, but it suddenly intensifies into a bloody ritual. Guerrero is a name we will hear more of in the future. I can’t say it’s one of the series’ best shorts, but she has done a successful job.
The third short film, “TKNOGD,” belongs to Natasha Kermani, whom I eagerly follow after her directorial work on “Lucky.” Co-written with Zoe Cooper, this short film vividly brings contemporary fears to the screen, resurrecting the theme of fear through technology that was present in the first three films of the series. The film’s most successful aspect lies in its accurate portrayal of the cringe side of underground theater. Chivonne Michelle’s acting elevates this heart-wrenching cringe theater to another level. The character’s soul-suffocating-bizarre-symphony of disconcerting sounds, disrupted by the virtual world’s savage deity, akin to Warcraft’s renowned Lich King. Particularly in the gore department, the film excels and stands out as the best in V/H/S/85.
The fourth short film, which is the weakest link in V/H/S/85 along with the fifth film, is directed by Scott Derrickson. “Dreamkill” is conceptually a true V/H/S story, but it falls short in execution. Scott Derrickson enjoys placing police officers in paranormal stories. Once again, in a story that guest stars a police investigation, we are shown cassette tapes that predict impending deaths. While the story progresses nicely until the killer’s identity is revealed, it loses its appeal in the final part. In particular, the father-son conflict and the final action conflict contradict the story initially established.
Directed by David Bruckner, the fifth short film, “Total Copy,” is presented in a fragmented form throughout the film, in line with the narrative innovation mentioned earlier. The film tells the story of an alien experiment that we see parts of between each short film. The film concludes with the alien losing control and killing everyone one by one. I got a Stranger Things vibe from this short film, but unfortunately, it didn’t provide the expected V/H/S uniqueness, which is all about unpredictable oddities. “Total Copy” is an entirely predictable story. I just want to highlight the final scene. When the creature copies what it sees, combined with Jazzercise in the finale, I burst out laughing. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I liked the film, but David Bruckner’s humor genuinely made me laugh.
In summary… V/H/S/85, in terms of narrative, is the most different but weakest film in the fictional sense. While I enjoyed the stories of Mike P. Nelson and Natasha Kermani, I was left undecided about Gigi Saul Guerrero’s short. But when it comes to David Bruckner and Scott Derrickson, I can comfortably say that their films are the weakest in the series. In my criticism of V/H/S/94 last year, I wrote the following:
“The fact that there is no inner and outer story anymore, that these stories are not combined, that none of the stories benefit from technology, and worse yet, that they do not reflect the period are the developments that upset me, who love the series very freaking much. The series, which had a richer structure under 8383 Productions and The Collective Studios, was simplified under Shudder. It wouldn’t be surprising if Shudder, known for its low-budget horrors, would shrink under it, but shrinking the vision may not be good for the series.”
Unfortunately, V/H/S is still far from the spirit of the main series. The only project that fits the theme of the main series is Natasha Kermani’s. Despite having four high-profile directors, the best film of the lot is by the most anonymous among them, Mike P. Nelson. Another standout name is Natasha Kermani, who, unlike the other three, doesn’t have as much experience in filmmaking. Perhaps it’s time for the strong directors of V/H/S to step aside and open up to the new generation of directors.
Cast & Crew
directors: David Bruckner (segment “Total Copy”), Scott Derrickson (segment “Dreamkill”), Natasha Kermani (segment “TKNOGD”), Mike P. Nelson (segment “No Wake”), Gigi Saul Guerrero (segment “God of Death”)
writers: C. Robert Cargill, Zoe Cooper, Scott Derrickson, Evan Dickson, Mike P. Nelson, Gigi Saul Guerrero
USA | 2023 | 110 MINUTES |