The V/H/S/ horror anthology series returns with V/H/S/94, with contributions from the likes of Simon Barrett (Seance) and Timo Tjahjanto (The Night Comes for Us). Anthologies generally have good bits and shit bits, writes Daniel Rutledge, but this one’s very hit and miss—even within its own segments.
Horror anthologies have a chequered history but many have cult fan followings that are well deserved. The V/H/S/ series, which kicked off in 2012 and has had two sequels before this one, presented a super grimy, often really quite nasty take on the format, created by a generation of younger filmmakers who grew up during the video rental era.
By their nature, anthologies generally have good bits and shit bits, but they can become greater than the sum of their parts. That’s not the case with V/H/S/94, which is very hit and miss even within its own segments, but is overall most hurt by its wraparound tale that ties the main shorts together and bookends them. It’s the weakest part of the whole thing, but then they always are and I kind of wish this franchise just did away with them as a framing device—we don’t care why we’re seeing these short horror stories, the overarching story never makes sense and always takes away from the self-contained and not otherwise connected at all shorts.
As for the shorts themselves, V/H/S/94 is comprised of three American segments and one Indonesian one, all set in the ’90s. All of the American shorts build tension and dread well, but unfortunately drop the ball when they start revealing what was only previously alluded to. There’s also a couple of overt winks at the audience that really mess with the tone, taking things from attempted scary to attempted funny and subsequently failing at both. They’re definitely not all bad and horror fans should find the build-ups fun, even though the payoffs are letdowns.
Timo Tjahjanto’s segment is my favourite and I suspect it will be a lot of people’s, although it’s not as good as what he and Gareth Evans delivered with ‘Safe Haven’ in V/H/S/2. Set in Indonesia, ‘The Subject’ is a twisted mad scientist tale that gets pushed to a wonderful, gory extreme. It’s a cyborg thing something like Tetsuo: The Iron Man meets Neill Blomkamp, but definitely with its own weird vibe. It’s nuts, doesn’t really fit well with the other shorts and is weirdly longer than any of them, but who cares? It’s the most fun part for sure.
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The other segment that’s worth singling out is ‘Terror’ by Ryan Prows, which is set in a rural redneck terrorist cult planning a supernatural act of mass violence. Naturally, all hell breaks loose. The way this cult looks and talks, however, is somehow spot on for the ’90s setting but also smartly echoes today’s Trumpism and QAnon movement. Again, what it builds to isn’t as good as the build itself, but it’s still cool.
V/H/S/94 isn’t the dramatic improvement and reset of this franchise I was hoping it would be. It’s not even close to the best horror movie I’ve seen this year. But for horror fans open to the anthology format, it does possess some nice originality and is worth watching, so long as your expectations aren’t too high.