Found footage fans everywhere know of V/H/S, a subgenre shakeup first debuting in the horror scene in 2012. As such, V/H/S/85 has been highly anticipated by franchise lovers. The talent attached to the project is surely impressive. Each of the five directors tackles a unique story. David Bruckner opens the anthology with “Total Copy,” a segment that acts as the movie’s throughline. From there, V/H/S/85 cycles through Mike P. Nelson’s “No Wake,” Gigi Saul Guerrero’s “God of Death, “Natasha Kermani’s “TKNOGD,” and Scott Derrickson’s “Dreamkill.”
While these are no doubt talented directors, the total package feels off. At its highs, V/H/S/85 excels in authenticity. The video quality’s muted colors, static, and general fuzziness replicate the experience of watching the worst kind of archive footage from the ’80s. And while the vibe and gore are on point, the movie fails to compensate for pacing issues, non-existent character development, and overplayed tropes that are sure to elicit a few eye rolls among even the most devoted fans.
It’s Hard to Invest in Underdeveloped Characters
Most anthology films suffer from uneven installments. V/H/S/85 is no exception. Mike P. Nelson’s “No Wake” is one of the standouts, partly from being the first full entry and partly from having its story told across two segments. Gigi Saul Guerrero’s “God of Death” is a close second, offering a disaster story with a dark, godly twist. These shorts work because they put spins on familiar tropes. Nelson’s “No Wake” starts as a Friday the 13th or, perhaps more appropriately, Wrong Turn-style camping trip gone horribly wrong but has an intriguing twist that sees the story end in an entirely different place. The same can be said about “God of Death.” Just when it starts to feel like The Descent, it delivers something fresh: an ancient Aztec reveal, undoubtedly featuring the movie’s most compelling “creature” design.
However, even these standouts suffer from issues, with the biggest being character development. Whether it’s from a limited runtime or forced plot development, V/H/S/85’s characters feel lifeless, which in turn creates a disconnect for the audience. Not every movie needs an Ash Williams or Laurie Strode to root for, but being asked to care about unlikable or stagnant characters is a tough sell for anyone.
V/H/S/85 Makes Gore Its Highlight
While the characters leave much to be desired, V/H/S/85 makes up for it with gore. Blood and guts certainly aren’t anything new to the franchise, from V/H/S 2’s famous “Safe Haven” to the original movie’s “Amature Night.” Thus, it should be no surprise that V/H/S/85 continues the trend of making viewers wince. “TKNOGD’s” final reveal is as equally shocking as it is gorey. Sinister fans already know Scott Derrickson is a master of shock and awe, and he proves it once more in “Dreamkill,” even if the handheld camera doesn’t quite make sense here.
Once again, the movie confirms its strengths lie in cinematography and special effects. Would this tape be terrifying if found on some dusty back shelf of a video store? Of course. The issue is believability. V/H/S/85 does little to connect its segments both thematically and in-universe. It’s never entirely explained how they all came to be on the same tape. “Total Copy” is billed as a documentary, a neat idea that falls apart when wondering how something that violent made it to TV. Likewise, there’s no theme that ties everything together with a neat bow. It’s not to say every anthology movie needs connective tissue a la Trick ‘r Treat, but Nelson’s “No Wake” proves a more cohesive story could transform the franchise for the better.
Early reviews are overwhelmingly positive, suggesting V/H/S/85 is a movie that knows its audience. Found footage enjoyers will likely find a lot they like inside these grainy reels. Those looking for profound storytelling or a deep thematic message probably won’t. That never seemed to be V/H/S 85’s intention, anyway. It’s always been a franchise that embraces shock, and this new installment doubles down on that trend.