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Rotten Bananas: ‘VHS 94’

“VHS 94” is a step backwards, metaphorically speaking, in the found footage genre, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The anthology film, directed by multiple directors and creative teams, is the fourth installment in the found footage horror series, “VHS.” Rather than embrace its sequential nature, this film takes a trip in the way-back machine to the 1990s and each of its four shorts takes place in the 90s. The film’s shorts are “Storm Drain” directed by Chloe Okuno, “The Empty Wake” directed by Simon Barrett, “The Subject” directed by Timo Tjahjanto, and “Terror” directed by Ryan Prows. Each of the shorts plays on tropes in both society and film from the time-period.

“Storm Drain” is probably the most well-done out of the four shorts namely because it plays on a common trope of found footage and twists us into believing one outcoming but realizing another. The short features a reporter tasked with investigating sightings of the mysterious “Rat-Man,” a creature spotted around their city. She investigates in the sewers and most likely regrets what she finds. The short plays with our expectations by setting up scenes in such a way that they mimic other found footage films but once we arrive at the climactic scene that has been teased, something completely different happens and then, after the conflict has resolved, we are completely surprised once again. As always, I won’t spoil anything for the curious viewers.

The other shorts are much weaker in scope unfortunately.

“The Empty Wake” features a mortuary employee filled with dread when no one shows up to a wake and she begins hearing noises from the coffin. This short is mostly in the anthology for shock value for when we see the face of the dead man. The beats in this one are pretty textbook which is a shame because of the success of the other “VHS” films.

“The Subject” is certainly the most unsettling of the four shorts for the simple fact that we basically know what has happened to the subject before the reveal, but it still no more comfortable. It features the test subject of cruel and unusual experiments by an Indonesian mad scientist. The scientist is eventually caught and killed by police officers and when they encounter the subject, they initially try to kill her because they believe her no longer human. Viewers who are big into media analysis can make the obvious philosophical quandary but for the most part, this short is a lot of gratuitous violence.

“Terror” is probably the strangest of the four shorts for its never quite explained what’s going on even after the typical horror movie reveal is carried out. The short features a group of redneck domestic terrorists plotting to blow up a government building by using a biological weapon harvested from what can only be presumed as demonic. They monitor the creature and take its blood which explodes in sunlight. The fact the short doesn’t really explain much and leaves it mostly to the imagination is a hindrance in my opinion. A little explanation can go a long way, especially in a short film where the audience time is limited.

“VHS 94” is an interesting step for the “VHS” series. It’s certainly not a series killer but it strikes me as a bit of stumbling step. “VHS 94” receives a C-plus rating.

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