[Fantastic Fest 2021 Review] ‘V/H/S/94’ is a marked return for the anthology series

The V/H/S franchise returns with a brand-new assemblage of analog horrors after seven years of collecting some dust and late fees. The first three movies were released in succession between 2012 and 2014, but since that, only a feature-length version of “Siren” was produced. While significant downtime for any franchise can mean bad news, V/H/S/94 is evidence this series still has the ability to drum up top-notch, first-person POV scenarios elevated by glitchy gore and shaky-cam scares.

Like the previous movies, V/H/S/94 desires a wraparound story where characters stumble upon and view a mysterious assortment of sinister footage. The ill-fated explorers here are unaware members of a SWAT team, and their latest raid of a warehouse exposes a cult’s whole inventory of snuff films. It is not the most novel setup, but without it, there would be a lack of context. Anthology films tend to work better with a connecting element. These breaks between segments are short and not all that involving, so there is never the chance of the framing piece overstaying its welcome or upstaging the center sketches. That being said, there is an unbending amount of anticipation as these clueless agents investigate their darkened and plainly ominous surroundings.

“Top-notch, first-person POV scenarios elevated by glitchy gore and shaky-cam scares”

Opening things up is Chloe Okuno‘s “The Storm Drain”, a story about a news reporter and her cameraman venturing into the sewers and filming coverage about a local urban legend called the Ratman. It is always daunting to be the first in a horror omnibus, but Okuno’s contribution is a great start. The visual nods to Alien 3 and The Howling are never too obvious either. The second tape, “The Empty Wake”, reveals the eerie events inside a funeral home on a dark and stormy night. As a lone woman monitors an unattended funeral, she suspects something is amiss about the deceased. V/H/S alumni Simon Barrett continues to be a master of gradually built terror and startling reveals.

Timo Tjahjanto‘s “The Subject” is maybe the most awaited story considering the positive response to his and Gareth Edwards’ cult-themed micro-saga, “Safe Haven”, from V/H/S/2. This one is cut from a similar, nihilistic cloth; it is also lengthier than its neighbors, and it is told in one continuous shot once the action starts up. The thrills perform like a rollercoaster, and the ferocious mayhem is as exhausting as it is exhilarating. Although this never quite reaches the highs and consistency of “Safe Haven”, and it feels disconnected from the other stories, Tjahjanto still knows how to seize the spotlight.

“A terrifyingly designed dose of nightmare fuel”

Lastly is Ryan Prows‘s “Terror”, a topical tale that touches on the American militia movement of the ’90s. A gaggle of armed idiots decides to get wasted before the next act of domestic terrorism. In doing so, they let down their guard regarding a secret weapon; something unearthly and ultimately uncontrollable. Of all the segments, “Terror” certainly looks the most authentic. And as soon as all hell breaks loose, though, this one livens up as well as introduces a terrifyingly designed dose of nightmare fuel.

94 proves the V/H/S movies are still in a class of their own when it comes to macabre, found-footage storytelling. The wraparound runs on the sterile side, but the main attractions are thoroughly disturbing, difficult to avert the eyes from, and skillfully made. This is a significant return for the series, and the producers are encouraged to make more sequels along these same lines.

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