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V/H/S/85 (2023): Shudder Film Review

V/H/S/85 is the best franchise entry to date. It blends nostalgic horror themes with inventive storytelling to provide a high-quality found footage anthology.

The V/H/S horror franchise returns, this time with ‘80s aerobics and grainy family video footage. V/H/S/85 is one of the best installments yet. Blending its found footage anthology style with nostalgic 1980s horror themes, V/H/S/85 is as classic as it is creative. It is split into five segments, which loosely relate to each other. The Shudder Original has excessive gore, but not for lack of good storytelling. Produced by Bloody Disgusting, it easily earns its place in their corpus alongside one of the goriest films in recent years, Terrifier 2.

Found footage horror films require a different outlook on filmmaking. Nothing should be crisp or symmetrical; shaky cameras and improvised dialogue contribute to the tangibility of the viewer’s experience. This requires incredible talent from actors and filmmakers for their ability to produce a more raw portrayal of horror and the stories they wish to tell. V/H/S/85 bridges the gap between lo-fi found footage and high-quality filmmaking to nurture a truly terrifying experience. Each segment has a supernatural aspect to it, but the analog medium makes the film as a whole close to home, more realistic than other horror films.

The first segment, directed by David Bruckner, is interposed throughout the other segments, and takes place in a lab studying a supposed extraterrestrial creature. Other segments include “No Wake,” directed by Mike P. Nelson, a day at the lake gone horribly wrong; “God of Death,” directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero, a Spanish-language horror involving a natural disaster; “Tknogod,” directed by Natasha Kermani, an exploration of theatre and virtual reality; and finally, “Dreamkill,” directed by the lauded Scott Derrickson, which is about a mysterious string of gruesome murders left on tape for the police to investigate.

As with the rest of the franchise, V/H/S/85’s segments are satisfactory on their own, but subtly build upon each other to provide an eerily connected story across different scenarios. “God of Death” particularly stands out among other franchise segments, as it entirely takes place in a Spanish-speaking country. A horror segment entirely in Spanish is original and diverse for the franchise, further supporting impressive writing and acting from the cast.

A man with a torchlight in the 2023 film V/H/S/85
V/H/S/85 (Shudder)

Perhaps “Tknogod” is the weakest segment in the film. It utilizes a single location (a one-woman theatre show) to its advantage, but its drawn out script and makeup and costume design were a bit weak in comparison with the rest of the film’s entries. Nevertheless, it has a chilling ending which makes the segment worth watching. Along with “God of Death,” this segment also has little coherence with the overarching story. Within the anthology is excusable, but I would have enjoyed at least a slight connection to the broader story to make up for the weaker segment.

The most recognized contributor to the film is Scott Derrickson, and he directed the strongest segment. C. Robert Cargill (who co-wrote The Black Phone‘s screenplay) partnered with Derrickson again to bring a stellar piece of horror cinema to life. “Dreamkill” is haunting and confusing, eerie and stomach-wrenching. Derrickson somehow distills what feels like a feature length story into a well executed fragment in the film. His segment and “No Wake,” offer some of the most gory moments in the film, as well as mysterious supernatural occurrences.

V/H/S films in the past have struggled with providing a strong finish, but V/H/S/85 avoids this pitfall with a satisfactory—and somewhat ironic—ending. It feels slightly less impressive following the stellar “Dreamkill” segment but still provides the perfect ending for the film. Most of the segments tie together enough to provide coherence, but stand alone well to maintain an element of mystery. Concerning quality in storytelling, acting, and all-around entertainment, V/H/S/85 is the best installment yet. It once again proves that both found footage and anthology films have a place in high-quality filmmaking.

V/H/S/85 is now available to watch on Shudder.

V/H/S/85: Trailer (Shudder)
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