Though it’s not a home run, there’s enough that’s interesting in V/H/S/85 to warrant a watch, especially for fans of this popular series.
V/H/S, the ongoing found-footage horror anthology franchise produced by Bloody Disgusting, has reared its head once again this year with V/H/S/85, the sixth film in the series.
Ever since its rebooting by Shudder in 2021, the V/H/S franchise has gained more followers and detractors. Some praise these films for their unique structure and their historical exploration of media. Others dismiss the movies as boring and wildly uneven in tone and quality.
V/H/S/85 falls somewhere in the middle for me.
It hits its stride in the final third, with a handful of creepy moments and genuine tension (especially in the last segment and the wraparound narrative). The first half doesn’t work quite as well in terms of horror and tension, though it does provide a bit of dark humor (some unintentional), which I appreciated.
The first full segment of V/H/S/85, “No Wake,” is actually the first of two narratively connected shorts. The other, “Ambrosia,” occurs in the second half of the film, but I’ll discuss them together since they form one story.
Directed by Mike P. Nelson, “No Wake” and “Ambrosia” are neither scary nor particularly clever, but they do provide a little dose of mystery and humor, both of which slowly come to the surface.
In “No Wake,” a group of seven friends take an RV trip to an isolated lake. They drink beer, go swimming and water-skiing, and then get shot at by an unknown assailant. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that there’s a funny twist in this one that involves the lake itself.
When the plot continues in “Ambrosia,” we are introduced to a new set of characters throwing some kind of party for their daughter. This segment includes a bombastic shootout, which felt so rushed and unnatural that it failed to increase my adrenaline. But like “No Wake,” there’s a fun twist in this one.
“No Wake” is followed by “God of Death,” which takes place during an infamous earthquake that rocked Mexico City in September 1985.
This segment was created by Gigi Saul Guerrero, director of the politically canny, heavy-handed Culture Shock from 2019.
“God of Death” has very little plot. Instead, it’s structured around the initiating event and a moment of revelation. The earthquake happens, and people try to escape the rubble and crumbling buildings. The characters make their way deeper underground and encounter an ancient evil that may be the real culprit behind the quake.
While this segment is narratively sparse and feels a bit slapdash, it does manage to be decently creepy at the end.
Then we get “TKNOGD” (pronounced, I assume, “techno-god”), directed by Natasha Kermani. This was my least favorite segment.
The short is presented as a kind of cyberpunk performance-art piece, in which a narrator stands on stage and describes how we’ve all started worshiping a new digital god. She then enters the VR space to look for said god. “TKNOGD” doesn’t work for several reasons. First of all, it features one of my least favorite film techniques: the monologue.
Having a character simply talk at the audience for extended periods of time always feels forced, a violation of show-don’t-tell.
I understand that there’s an additional level of mediation here, that we’re meant to be watching a performance within which the monologue takes place. But the actual content of the monologue itself is melodramatic and dull.
A second issue with “TKNOGD” is that it’s entirely predictable. There’s not much sense of mystery here, and therefore almost no suspense. Will our character encounter the new digital god? And will that god be something horrifying? The answer to these questions is obvious.
While I thought this segment was silly and underwhelming, at least it had some very good gore effects, especially in the final frames.
The last standalone segment of V/H/S/85 is “Dreamkill,” directed by veteran horror filmmaker Scott Derrickson (whose other credits include Sinister, The Black Phone, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and the underrated Hellraiser: Inferno).
“Dreamkill” is definitely the most narratively complex of the segments.
It begins with a scene of terrifying home-invasion murder, only to reveal that this scene is actually found footage within the world of the movie.
The murder is on one of several videotapes that are being sent to the local police department, and each tape shows a murder happening weeks before it actually occurs in real life. Combining police procedural with the paranormal (a Derrickson trademark), “Dreamkill” mostly works despite somewhat cartoonish characters and one absolutely ham-fisted revelation scene.
It works by keeping a sense of mystery and mounting tension throughout, a feeling of narrative build and release often missing from the V/H/S segments as a whole.
This might be the best (or at least, most competently made) short of V/H/S/85, though the conventionality of its premise might not inspire much awe in the seasoned horror viewer.
Finally, the wraparound narrative “Total Copy” punctuates and rounds out V/H/S/85. This segment was created by David Bruckner, the director behind The Ritual and The Night House.
While his previous films (with the exception of 2022’s Hellraiser) are suitably drenched in tension, “Total Copy” can only maintain that tension for a short time. In the first couple of bits of narrative, we are introduced to a team of scientists studying some kind of shape-shifting entity.
Initially, the creature takes the form of a small boy. The scientists force the entity to watch hours upon hours of banal television, hoping that it will try to imitate or communicate with humans.
There’s plenty of mystery at the beginning of “Total Copy,” but by the end, it becomes very cliché, another run-through of an idea explored better in John Carpenter’s The Thing. However, despite its lack of originality, the very last shot of “Total Copy” is one of the most genuinely surprising and blackly humorous moments in the entire movie. It’s worth watching just for that.
V/H/S/85 is a mixed bag. At 110 minutes, it might test the patience of viewers accustomed to more traditionally narrative horror films. But like most of the V/H/S movies, this one has several stand-out moments that probably justify checking it out if you’re at all curious.