V/H/S 85 movie art

V/H/S/85 (Movie Review)

The V/H/S found footage franchise is unusual in that it has managed to churn out numerous entries despite none of them being solid. As an anthology series, there is a decent short story here or there, and a couple that are actually good, but the totality of each film is that of a rickety old cart that shambles its way to the end of tracks while barely holding together. The latest in the series, V/H/S/85, released on October 6, 2023 on Shudder, is a slight improvement in the overall track record, but still lacks the cohesion that it tries to establish.

As usual, there is a wraparound story, this one focusing on an alien/shape-shifting being named ‘Rory,’ and the scientists studying and trying to figure him out while in captivity. It is a good enough premise, and there are some creepy moments, but by the end it doesn’t quite pack the punch it needs to. There is little knowledge or explanation of anything or anyone in the story, which is a problem that has persisted throughout the series, and makes it difficult for anything to stick in the mind beyond the first watch.

The first story is an interesting opener and sets a good pace for what these films should be. A group of friends enjoying a day out on a lake, swimming, jet-skiing and the like. They suddenly come under attack from an unseen assailant, but that isn’t the only mystery. The results of the attack and one of the subsequent shorts will be somewhat explained, but like the wraparound story, it leaves much to be desired. The audience wants to care more about the characters than they are allowed to, which might be an artistic choice on the part of the creators, but it is a let down that we never learn more.

In another story, a powerful earthquake strikes Mexico while a daytime show is being filmed. Rescue workers arrive to guide the lone survivor out of the crumbling building, but as they are detoured amid collapse and aftershocks, they are forced to delve deep into the underground of the city, where ancient horrors are awakened. The journey for this one is excellent, with the right amount of immediate danger and foreboding dread at whatever will be found at the bottom. It is one of the better entries in that regard, but the ending falters somewhat, and we’re once again left wondering ‘what else?’

Perhaps the best of the lot is Dreamkill, in which a home invasion and murder is seen recorded through the point of view of the killer. Detectives show up and investigate, but the thing is, the lead detective says he received a videotape in the mail some days prior to the murder, which is theoretically impossible since the 911 call and state of the body firmly establish the kill happening that very night. Additional tapes are sent, suspects are questioned, and the pacing throughout keeps the audience guessing, as it should. This is a great idea that probably could have worked as its own movie, but the time constraints of the short shackle it to a rather abrupt end that could have used more time to breathe.

In all, V/H/S/85 has some heavyweight Horror directors behind its stories including David Bruckner (The Ritual 2017, The Night House 2020), and Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose 2005, Sinister 2012); and their talent is on display. The camerawork and cinematography are good and have never really been an issue in the series, nor have the actors, who mostly deliver good performances. It’s always the same things that prevent V/H/S from becoming a truly memorable anthology series.

A good anthology series does not leave the audience wanting too much more, but V/H/S for the most part has struggled to let its viewers have something to hold on to. A lot of it feels like half-baked ideas that rolled around in someone’s head but never properly went through a rewriting process before being put to screen, resulting in a finished product that cannot reach the best version of those ideas. 

This latest entry is better than most of the previous ones overall, but still cannot shake the old problems that have hampered it from the start. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives V/H/S/85, 2.5 out of 5 stars.

V/H/S 85 movie poster
V/H/S/ 85 / Shudder (2023)

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