V/H/S/85 movie poster | ©2023 Shudder

V/H/S/85 movie poster | ©2023 Shudder

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Evie Blair, Florencia Rios, Ari Gallegos, James Ransone, Freddy Rodriguez, Dashiell Derrickson, Kelli Garner, Jordan Belfi, Chuck McCollum
Writers: Mike P. Nelson (“No Wake/Ambrosia”), Gigi Saul Guerrero (“God of Death”), Zoe Cooper (“TKNOGD,” story by Zoe Cooper & Natasha Kermani), Scott Derrickson & C. Robert Cargill (“Dreamkill”), Evan Dickson (“Total Copy,” story by David Bruckner & Evan Dickson)
Directors: Mike P. Nelson (“No Wake/Ambrosia”), Gigi Saul Guerrero (“God of Death”), Natasha Kermani (“TKNOGD”), Scott Derrickson (“Dreamkill”), David Bruckner (“Total Copy”)
Distributor: Shudder
Release Date: October 6, 2023 (Shudder)

V/H/S/85 is the latest in the horror anthology film series begun with the original V/H/S in 2012. The premise is that everything we’re watching has been shot on videotape (even if it wasn’t) in a past decade.

The first several V/H/S films had wraparound sequences relating to the finding of the tapes of the individual segments. Last year’s V/H/S/94 dispensed with this. V/H/S/85 brings back the continuing interstitial story, “Total Copy,” directed by David Bruckner, scripted by Evan Dickson, from a story by Bruckner & Dickson. In it, we watch videotapes of Rory, who was found by himself on a clifftop. Rory doesn’t communicate verbally, but is fascinated by everything he sees on television. For reasons that are gradually revealed, Rory is the subject of a scientific study. That study, which went awry, is the subject of a TV documentary.

“No Wake/Ambrosia,” written and directed by Mike P. Nelson, gives us the standard spooky set-up of teen-to-twenty-somethings off for a weekend in the woods and at a lake. There’s even a serial killer. But the killer isn’t what we might expect, and what happens to most of the group of friends is even more surprising. The makeup effects are startling and the tension is serious in the first part; the resolution has puzzle elements that snap enjoyably into place.

“God of Death” is written and directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero, who also appears as a novice TV news reporter. After seeing Spanish-language warnings that we’re watching a restricted official recording, we’re in Coyoacan, Mexico, on September 19, 1985.

Those familiar with Mexican history will recognize this as the date of a devastating earthquake in that country. We start out at 7:15 AM, at the anchor desk of a news station, just before the quake hits. We are then with camera Luis (Ari Gallegos) and a team of paramedics who include the dedicated Karla (Florencia Rios) as they search for an escape route through the continually falling debris. Their quest leads them underneath the station.

“TKNOGD” is directed by Natasha Kermani from a screenplay by Zoe Cooper, from a story by Cooper and Kermani. We are at one of those small-theatre, one-person shows, especially popular in the ‘80s, in which the performer declaims like a Greek orator. In this case, the performer (Chivonne Michelle) calls herself Ada Lovelace, after the early computer scientist/mathematician/writer. Ada is here to lecture her audience on how everyone has forsaken their previous gods for the god of technology. She is using what will later be known as VR tech to aid her in her demonstration.

In “Dreamkill,” police detective Wayne (Freddy Rodriguez) and viewers are challenged by a genuine mystery. Gruesome serial killings are being committed, and graphic videotapes of the crimes are being mailed to Wayne’s office. However, the tape of each incident arrives a week or more before each murder takes place. Eliminate time travel as a possibility (it’s not involved here), and how is this possible?

All of the segments are reasonably punchy and extremely gory. With the exception of “TKNOGD” (which invites arguments about the performer’s logic), it’s easy to see how any of the segments, including the wraparound “Total Copy,” could be expanded into features. They all have complex enough plotting and sympathetic enough characters to sustain greater length.

We also get a pleasing mixture of tone and texture, with the slow-burn revelations of “No Wake/Ambrosia” particularly gratifying. Evie Blair has great dexterity as fifteen-year-old Ruth, the focus of a family celebration, and Rodriguez has the calm, thoughtful demeanor that we’d like all police detectives to possess.

“Total Copy” doesn’t fully pay off its premise, and we can’t tell if the rest of the videos we’re seeing are part of what Rory is watching. It’s not hugely consequential to the overall project, but we become a bit distracted by keeping an eye out for connections that aren’t present.

On the flip side, we get lots of period Easter eggs, such as the generic white beer can with the blue stripe (if you know, you know). The song over the closing credits incorporates elements from pretty much all sections of V/H/S/85, which is a fun touch. V/H/S/85 is a successful entry in a death-filled yet possibly deathless franchise.

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