[Editor's Note: This article was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the film being discussed here wouldn't exist.]
I’m loving this new tradition of a new V/H/S entry every fall. After a quiet period following V/H/S Viral in 2014, the series re-emerged with V/H/S/94 two years ago and has consistently delivered fun entries. The latest, V/H/S/85 is no exception. It once again brings together a group of talented filmmakers that offer a collection of fun and inventive stories.
No Wake: The first segment comes from Michael P. Nelson. “No Wake” is an interesting entry in that it is split over two different segments. It opens with a group of twenty-somethings on a camping trip. We join them in their RV as they make their way to a secluded lake. When they get there, one of them finds several old, dilapidated wooden signs in the woods. They were likely properly posted at one point in time, but now lie forgotten on the forest floor. Some are so old they are indecipherable, but the idea seems to be Keep Away, No Swimming and the like.
But, like any good twenty-somethings, our protagonist ignores them and the group heads into the lake for some water skiing. Soon, a shot rings out. It takes the stunned group a few moments to realize that they are under attack. Soon, they are hiding in the boat, trying to protect themselves against whoever is attacking them from shore.
The story goes a bit further (and into spoiler territory, which I will avoid) before breaking and resuming later in the anthology. And when it does, it comes out swinging. It’s a fun way to tell this particular tale and it does some interesting things for the overall pacing of the film as a whole. We get to return to a story in progress and see how everything fits together from a slightly different angle.
God of Death: Gigi Saul Guerrero’s entry is massively entertaining. It begins in a news studio as an anchorwoman gets her final touch-ups from the make-up artist and prepares to begin her broadcast. As the show begins, the studio starts to shake. The staff try to steady themselves, but the earthquake only intensifies, bringing down the ceiling and crushing the anchorwoman in her seat. Soon, rescue workers show up and try to lead the few remaining survivors to safety, including cameraman Luis.
Their escape path through the wreckage of the building is like going through a terrifying funhouse. There is damage and debris everywhere. The structure of the building is no longer sound, so hallways are crooked, doorways are blocked and they have to scramble to find safe passage any way they can. Eventually, their path takes them underground, where they realize that the disaster was less the cause of Mother Nature, and more due to the rebirth of an ancient Indigenous god.
Guerrero’s entry is great because it balances both the thrill ride of watching our survivors trying to find their way out of the building wreckage with the supernatural elements that come in toward the end of the story. There’s a lot going on here, but you’re never bored, and she does a wonderful job of weaving these elements together.
TKNOGD: Natasha Kermani’s segment focuses on a performance artist delivering her latest work to a small audience. She opens by addressing the audience members and discussing the various faces and incarnations of God, before moving on to her thesis: In our modern world, we have killed the God of old and replaced him with a new god - the god of technology. Through her performance, she seeks to explore our relationship to this brand new deity. But what she really does, is to help create it and to bring it into her performance space.
This piece is a lot of fun because it incorporates a very 80s, very rudimentary understanding of the virtual space that we now comfortably inhabit online. But 40 years ago, when the things that we have today were more parts science-fiction than reality, the layman's understanding of what the virtual space could be and how we could use it were a bit different. Kermani leans into this in a way that is both creative and, at times, really funny.
Dreamkill: From frequent collaborators Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, Dreamkill was probably my favorite of the bunch. It manages, in its short time, to be a mystery and a supernatural tale all rolled together. A series of video tapes begin showing up at a police precinct, each one depicting a violent murder. The catch is that these murders haven’t happened yet. They take place a day or two later, leaving the police perplexed. When the source of the videos finally comes to light, the investigation team (played to perfection by Freddy Rodriguez and James Ransone) have to try to square their very grounded mindset with the otherworldly forces they find themselves facing.
The story is great, but Derrickson also incorporates a lot of interesting lighting and sound choices that pull everything together in a very creepy way. The video footage of the murders is unsettling, but there are some visual flourishes here and there that make the footage look particularly unsettling. It harkens back to some of the visual language that he used in Sinister, to similar effect.
Total Copy: Finally, there is David Bruckner’s segment, which serves as the connective tissue, trying everything together. Less a wrap-around and more a story that is just told in multiple pieces, it focuses on a group of scientists who have stumbled across an unknown species. One that is capable of growth, learning, and most frighteningly, replication. They have it confined to the lab and the project leader is obsessed with continuing to grow and develop the species, despite knowing nothing about it. He would call himself “determined” and “trailblazing,” while his colleagues would likely use words more along the lines of “obsessed” and “unethical.” Either way, it’s a fun segment with a pretty fantastic payoff.
Much like the last entry (V/H/S/99), this one heavily utilizes the timeframe and incorporates it in unique and fun ways. The various segments are set in 1985, and more than just in a surface-level set design. One of the most fun things about this is the fact that the segments actually look like they were pulled off of 1980s cassette tapes. They’re not just aged, but the color, the light, the clothing…it all feels authentic.
Like all anthologies, there are going to be segments that might appeal to one viewer more than another, but in all honesty, this is a really solid group of stories overall. There’s no obvious weak link and it really feels like the filmmakers are all bringing their A game to this installment. The segments are all really clever, creative and entertaining. If you have been enjoying the latest wave of anthology horror with this series, you’re definitely in for a treat. If anything, V/H/S/85 is proof that this series is far from over, and I’m hoping we continue to see new additions every Halloween.
Movie Score: 5/5