After the poor reception of V/H/S: Viral in 2014, the fledgling horror anthology franchise seemed like it would be coming to an end after 3 entries. Fans needn’t have worried however, because if there’s anything Hollywood hates, it’s leaving IP unused for too long. And so it is that we have once again been gifted with a collection of found footage shorts stitched together by a minimally developed wraparound story that only exists to explain why anyone would have 4 seemingly disparate “snuff” movies in their possession in the first place.
The connective story this time focuses on a SWAT time raiding an old warehouse and stumbling upon what seems to be a cult that collects videotapes of horrific events. It starts out promising enough but becomes less coherent and interesting in between each segment before closing the movie on a somewhat sour note. The first individual story however is a strong one. Writer / director Chloe Okuno’s “Storm Drain” begins with what looks like an old local news segment, with the anchors throwing the broadcast out to field reporter Holly Marciano and her cameraman Jeff. The two are reporting on alleged sightings of a legendary figure known as Rat Man. There is a well-handled transition from the on-air tone to a behind-the-scenes feel as we then follow the pair into the sewers where things get increasingly tense leading up to a satisfyingly creepy encounter with the well-designed monster itself.
After that we get Simon Barrett’s “The Empty Wake”, which focuses on young woman Hayley (Kyal Legend) who has been assigned to manage an evening wake at the funeral home she works for. It should be easy enough, but there’s a severe storm raging outside, no one seems to be showing up for the service, and it looks like the coffin might be moving on its own. Seen only through tripod mounted cameras set up to record the service, it’s a well-handled segment that, if not exactly the most original story in the world, still provides plenty of tension.
Perhaps trying to replicate the success of the stellar V/H/S/2, the most unpredictably bonkers segment takes spot number 3. And like that movie’s “Safe Haven”, this installment’s “The Subject” is written and directed by Timo Tjahjanto (though without prior collaborator Gareth Evans). This story primarily follows one of the victims of a mad scientist, who abducts people in order to replace parts of their body with robotics. As one would imagine, the local government isn’t too keen on this idea and has dispatched a military force to deal with him, who arrive after not too long and execute him, only to discover that some of his creations have been set up to take revenge in the event of his death. Nonstop mayhem ensues after that, which we witness mostly through the eyes (now replaced by a camera) of our main character as she tries to escape. It is thrillingly off the wall at times, and the frenetic, video game like energy afforded by the camera’s position bolsters the chaotic energy, but you can only see so many soldiers explode before it starts to feel a bit dull, and the segment feels like it goes on about 10 minutes too long.
Do things pick up with the final part of the anthology? Ryan Prows’ “Terror” takes us along with a group of white supremacist Michiganders calling themselves the First Patriots Movement Militia as they plot to blow up a nearby government building. They aren’t just using any homegrown bomb however, instead using the blood from a captured vampire they’re keeping in a shed (it ignites when exposed to sunlight). It’s actually a pretty clever idea, and the bumbling nature of the militiamen provides a surprising number of laughs, but if you’re aiming to pull off any genuine scares, it’s rarely a good idea to make your “protagonists” completely unlikable, and so when their plan unsurprisingly goes wrong, even a scary-looking monster isn’t enough to illicit any fear.
All in all this is a pretty solid return to form for the series. It isn’t perfect, as anthologies rarely are, but it’s consistently entertaining throughout. The heavy focus on cults feels like its tapping directly into our current fears about some of our recent national discourse, which only serves to make everything feel just that little bit more unsettling. Fans of the series will have a good time, but newcomers would probably best be served by starting off with either of the first two. ★★★
Available on Shudder.
Not Rated. Contains severe horror violence mayhem and gore, grisly images throughout, disturbing thematic material / content, and strong language.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor