Monday, July 11, 2022

Fourth Time's the Charm


I've gone on record as having significant problems with the 21st century horror anthology. The V/H/S franchise has certainly taken the brunt of my complaints, with The ABCs of Death scooping up what was left.

But EMILY! you might yell, horror anthologies are FUN! They condense plots into bite-sized viewing increments! They give lots of filmmakers the opportunity to tell stories! They almost always include a segment involving a killer doll!

Ah, my sweet summer child, I say with weathered lungs, they SHOULD do all of those things. But here we are heading into the FOURTH V/H/S installment and you know what? STILL NO KILLER DOLL.

Still, I'll happily concede that V/H/S: Viral was slightly less mean-spirited than V/H/S 2, which was certainly an improvement over the first installment, so maybe, just maybe, we're on an upswing. 

Quick Plot: An intriguing (but ultimately disappointing) wraparound written and directed by Jennifer Reeder pairs us with a young SWAT team as they barrel into the warehouse that served as the headquarters for a Heavens Gate-like cult. Room to room, they discover mutilated bodies and more importantly, active VCRs running some grisly home movies that comprise our segments:

1. Storm Drain
Written and directed by Chloe Okuno, this one follows an ambitious local news field reporter named Holly as she investigates the mysterious appearances of the "Rat Man". This being an anthology and every character therefore harboring a fatal flaw, Holly's drive leads her and her cameraman a little too far down a sewer tunnel. There's no turning back from a crazed batch of religious fanatics who worship the aforementioned Rat Man (or more formally, Raatma) but Holly just might have the right stuff to emerge with one helluva story.

And also, one helluva anthology segment! Storm Drain isn't the scariest 20 minutes put to film, but it understood the assignment and completed it cleanly. This is not the same story we've seen over and over again in these kinds of films, making it incredibly refreshing and with its stinger of an ending, even more satisfying.

2. The Empty Wake
You're Next scribe (and less successfully, Seance writer/director) Simon Barrett takes us through a rough day at work for Hailey, a young funeral home attendant charged with hosting her first solo gig on a dark and stormy night. Her bosses have threatened termination if she calls them, giving her plenty of reasons to try to power through an increasingly tense evening of mysterious guests and moving coffins.

I was, to put it mildly, incredibly hard on Seance, so it was a huge relief to find myself enjoying The Empty Wake. It's exactly what the second segment of a horror anthology should be, setting up a crystal clear premise and steadily increasing the volume to a perfectly timed crescendo. Nice work.

3. The Subject
Timo Tjahjanto is back from his (whaddya know?) cult segment in V/H/S 2 to tell the tale of mad scientist Dr. Suhendra, who's on a mission to create and perfect cyborg-like creatures via kidnapped strangers. His newest male and female subjects seem to be working out, so much so that they're able to violently tear through the police force that storms through the door and kills Dr. Suhendra. The female subject tries to protect Jono, the one sympathetic member of the force, eventually escaping after the rest of the team is blasted.

The Subject has some neat, gross Tetsuo-like energy that manages to throw in some unique and disturbing concepts while spraying them all in bullets and rocket launcher shots. It's a bit, how do I say it, loud, but thankfully, the beauty of the anthology format is that it can only last so long. Like his segment in V/H/S 2, The Subject is ambitious in its scope, and memorable for going places you don't normally think of in this type of movie. I have no desire to see an expanded full-length version of The Subject, but in this spot, it works just fine.

4. Terror
Written and directed by Ryan Prows, Terror follows a band of awful men attempting to make America great again before they had a slogan for it. The militia has been planning an attack on a government building with a secret weapon in hand: the very flammable blood of a captured vampire. Naturally, these are not the sharpest tools in the stolen ammunition shed, and before the next sunrise, some very violent purging of a different sort will occur.

Terror is the kind of segment I would have dreaded in an earlier V/H/S film, as hearing the racist vitriol of white men can be pretty unwatchable in the wrong hands (even if we know said awful white men will likely experience a horrific death by nature of being in a horror anthology). Thankfully, Prows doesn't overplay his hand. These men are scum, and Prows is mercifully quick in making them pay. Overall, it's a clever angle into the familiar vampire lore, and it uses its short time frame quite effectively.

So...did I finally, unabashedly, LIKE a V/H/S movie? I DID. 

No one is more surprised than me.

Lessons Learned
Maybe, just maybe, like, and I'm just throwing out a suggestion here: don't get blackout drunk around a vampire?

Yes, I'm actually encouraging you to seek out a V/H/S movie, and no, I can most certainly assure you there is not a gun being held to my head off-blog. This was good! 

Still...might have been better with a killer doll. 

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