V/H/S 99 | Shrug-worthy Sequel Fails to revive Stale Franchise
The V/H/S franchise is one of the longest running franchises in the found footage subgenre of horror cinema, bested only by Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch. In terms of quality, found footage movies are almost always a gamble. It’s double or nothing, then, for found footage anthologies. The V/H/S series has always been wildly uneven between both the films themselves and the segments within the films. V/H/S 99 feels strangely even in its tone and mood which, antithetically, is not necessarily a good thing.
Composed of five segments – ‘Shredding’, ‘Suicide Bid’, ‘Ozzy’s Dungeon’, ‘The Gawkers’ and ‘To Hell and Back’ – V/H/S 99 does away with the often needless wraparound story, instead replacing it with a couple of amusing stop motion skits starring some lazy toy soldiers. ‘Shredding’ follows a foursome of edgy teens with punk dreams getting more than they bargained for when they investigate an underground venue abandoned after a fiery stampede killed another, much more authentic punk band. ‘Suicide Bid’ shows how wrong a sorority hazing can go, especially when coffins, rain water and vengeful spirits are involved. ‘Ozzy’s Dungeon’ skirts the boundaries of taste with a children’s gameshow turned around on its host with torturous results. ‘The Gawkers’ involves four horny boys, the girl next door and a bucket of gore. ‘To Hell and Back’ is pretty self-explanatory, as two bickering videographers get sent to hell and try to get back with the help of a scuttling little freak called Mabel.
So which one is the best? Well, first of all, nothing in V/H/S 99 compares to the segment ‘Safe Haven’ directed by Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto in 2013’s V/H/S 2. The kineticism, mystery and gratuitous violence set the high bar for the series and hasn’t been matched in almost 10 years. With that said, Flying Lotus’ segment ‘Ozzy’s Dungeon’ is also pretty gratuitous and is the only one of these segments that feels relatively natural and real. Fair warning though, Flying Lotus pulls no punches and takes great delight in torturing his characters, one of whom is played by GTA V’s Stephen Ogg.
The main issue with V/H/S 99 is that all of its segments hover around the same middling level of quality. There’s plenty of gore and practical effects and some decent visual effects too, but there’s plenty of that in V/H/S Viral, and that’s the worst of the bunch. None of the performances feel especially revelatory, though it is clear that everyone is having fun even when they’re being torn apart by ghosts, gorgons or ghouls. The two videographers – Joseph Winter and Archelaus Crisanto – in ‘To Hell and back’ are funny in that they have a very snippy argument about one’s flaws while Satan towers high above the plains of Hell.
Maybe it’s franchise fatigue for me personally, having watched all of the five V/H/S movies within the last year, but these films do feel a little rote at this stage. Many of the other films had compelling characters, particularly V/H/S 94, whereas V/H/S 99 has almost none. It’s unfortunate but V/H/S 99’s attempt to smooth out the rough edges of its formula serves only to make it the least interesting of the series so far.