V/H/S/99 (2022)

Director: Maggie Levin, Johannes Roberts, Flying Lotus, Tyler MacIntyre, Vanessa Winter, Joseph Winter

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Starring: Jesse LaTourette, Keanush Tafreshi, Jackson Kelly, Dashiell Derrickson, Alexia Ioannides, Steven Ogg, Amelia Ann, Emily Sweet, Ethan Pogue, Luke Mullen, Joseph Winter, Archelaus Crisanto, Melanie Stone

One-year after after releasing the terrific V/H/S/94, Shudder have continued revitalizing this previously dormant franchise with another excellent instalment. Instead of a wraparound forcing the various directors' shorts to connect, the film presents itself as a mix-tape recorded over numerous times to depict various tales set in 1999.

The first segment, Shredding, arrives from director Maggie Levin and follows a punk rock group called RACK (an acronym for the group member's names). Their antics include skateboarding and playing music, which gets recorded for their online fans. The group's latest video involves them breaking into an underground colony, to shoot a music video where a band horrifically died. From their glee at disrespecting the dead musicians, to justifying bullying a band-member as "just a joke", there's a toxicity at this group's core. It's a rather one-note journey in the company of unbearable figures, although there's catharsis to the ending.

Following that is Suicide Bid, from director Johannes Roberts. It opens on a video being recorded by Lily (Ally Ioannides), a freshman with high hopes to enter the popular sorority. She boldly makes it her only choice, known as a suicide bid, which grabs the attention of the sorority members. They play a nasty trick, telling Lily she can become a member by spending one night buried in a coffin. Roberts has crafted a nail-biting morality tale, where the lead disregarded her only friend to join the popular crowd, only to be buried alive. The situation goes from bad to worse as panic sets in, where common fears and sorority folklore come alive in unsettling ways. There's one bit of exposition which feels unfortunately tacked on, although it's a small issue with this terrifying portion.

Next is Flying Lotus' segment, Ozzy's Dungeon. The title refers to the sparkly suited Ozzy (Steven Ogg), resembling a TV evangelist as he hosts a strange kids show where children battle each-other to have any wish granted. One contestant is Donna (Amelia Ann), a determined young girl whose family are relying on her, although she faces an unfair system within a competition designed to be rigged. As the crux of this tale is revealed, things take an unsettling turn and secrets are gradually revealed to bizarre effect. It's an exceptional segment which holds ones attention, particularly involving a hilarious line about the Sahara desert. What Flying Lotus and co-writer Zoe Cooper have delivered is a nasty, and fitting tale of revenge.

Before each prior segment, stop-motion interludes play involving toy soldiers. These are revealed as part of Tyler MacIntyre's The Gawkers, filmed by the young Brady (Ethan Pogue). His camera is taken by his bullying older brother, Dylan (Luke Pogue), who records his friends playing pranks and harassing girls. They particularly focus on the next-door neighbour, Sandra (Emily Sweet), as their disgusting behaviour keeps escalating. MacIntyre and co-writer Chris Lee Hill present an interesting myth where the boy's perverted behaviour is their undoing, although it's an idea which unfortunately feels dragged out.

Closing the film is To Hell And Back, as Vanessa and Joseph Winter yet again show why they're directors worth watching out for. On New Year's Eve, videographers Nate and Troy (Archelaus Crisanto and Joseph Winter) film a summoning ritual performed by witches, although things go wrong when the pair are accidentally dragged to hell. The nightmarish landscape is captured through simple ideas, yet the creepy whispers, blood red sky, and tremendous practical effects sell the horrors lying in wait. The friends try finding a way back while dealing with old resentments resurfacing. Guiding them is Mabel, a combination of Gollum and Imperator Furiosa captured with wide-eyed wildness by Melanie Stone. It's an effective ending to the anthology, and leaves viewers with a long wait for the secretly filmed V/H/S/85.

V/H/S/99 is available on Shudder now