V/H/S/99. The year 1999 was a noisy, notable one for movies — it can be marked as the year the movie industry and probably the expectations of audiences at large changed forever, maybe not for the better.
After an excruciatingly protracted, admittedly revolutionary advertising campaign, in July of that year, we were finally granted access to The Blair Witch Project, a glorified video project in which some crazed capitalist maniac could see the future, wherein a trio of bumbling white kids wander into the Maryland woods in search of ... it's kind of in the title. When rumors of Blair Witch started rattling the windows, I was probably even more cynical than I am now. Additionally, I was trying to become a video-store movie nerd and had entered into a period of profound depression and unmooredness; also there was some experimentation with psychoactive compounds of many colors but, that's a story better left for another time. Anyway, the movie was a sensation before it became a sensation, trumpeted as the scariest experience of a lifetime and maybe even a genuine found-footage relic, a suggestion supported by the aforementioned ingenious marketing campaign. This was all hogwash, of course, and the movie we would eventually see was a product as much of exhaustive re-editing and the power of suggestion as it was the imaginations of its creators. From an original budget of $60,000, Blair Witch would go on to gross something like $250 million; I walked out of the theater righteously indignant — if not seasick, a common complaint in the early days of shaky-cam — into a changed landscape. The floodgates had opened, the movie '90s were over.
There followed an embarrassingly fecund period of found-footage schlock (a few examples transcend), the one positive outcome of which was the chance some genuinely creative people got for their work to be seen. The model itself, though, flying in the face of conventional cinema craft, continued to upbraid my indelicate sensibilities until, well, I'm still prattling on about it, aren't I? Over the intervening, interminable period, though, I've been broken down enough to sacrifice some of my formalist tendencies and spent enough time hungover to the point of manic catatonia in dark theaters, susceptible enough to shocks that Wreck-It-Ralph terrified me, to reach something like acceptance, if not appreciation.
Of course, I understand and acknowledge that effort and imagination required to plan and execute these things. I wouldn't cast aspersions on (most of) the people involved, I just care too much about the medium to embrace the eschewing of some of its dearest attributes. Which is preamble to my first experience of the V/H/S canon, of which 99 is apparently the fifth entry.
Harkening back a decade, V/H/S represents something of a wave within a wave, a horror anthology that cleaves to found footage while allowing for a greater degree of experimentation by telling a handful of briefer stories, loosely connected by some sort of framing device. Because 1999 was something of an alpha and an omega for eras of cinema, as well a noteworthy year in my own heart-shape-locked little book of memories, this most recent V/H/S seemed an appropriate entry point and an opportunity to get over myself.
For better and worse, 99 captures some of the pre-surveillance ambiance and lazy energy of the day, channeling the JNCO pants, rollerblades and sweaty proxy-rape vibes omnipresent but largely unexamined in the cinema of the day (American Pie, Can't Hardly Wait), combining all of that with ghouly-gory throwbacks to even more bygone eras. The result is an object of some fascination, as much for its ideas about its time and place as for the stories it presents therein.
In Shredding, written and directed by Maggie Levin, a teen pop-punk band decides to get super edgy, breaking into a shuttered venue where another, better band perished by trampling in the panic following a fire some years earlier and may still lurk.
Johannes Roberts' Suicide Bid buries an over-zealous sorority pledge alive — literally — with unpleasant but unsurprising results.
Ozzy's Dungeon — directed by super-heady hip-hop legend Flying Lotus, who co-wrote with Zoe Cooper — the nastiest and most original entry, reimagines the daytime game shows '80s and '90s kids consumed ad nauseum with their Kix and Bagel Bites as a forum for revenge upon revenge.
Tyler MacIntyre (with co-writer Chris Lee Hill) cleaves closest to the source material with The Gawkers, pitting a group of skater-bro douchebags against the object of their crude fixation, though the illusion is, as is so often the case, punctured by Gen-Z verbal tics.
To Hell and Back (Vanessa and Joseph Winter) closes out the works with a humorous palate cleanser about a pair of amateur videographers who, setting out to document a Wiccan conjuring on New Year's Eve, take an unexpected journey. NR. 109M. AMAZON PRIME, SHUDDER.
John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.
BARBARIAN. AirBnB nightmare with Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård and Justin Long. R 102M. BROADWAY.
BLACK ADAM. Dwayne Johnson suits up as the DC antihero. PG13. 125M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
DON'T WORRY DARLING. A 1950s utopian community goes awry. Starring Florence Pugh, Olivia Wilde and Harry Styles. Pick your fighter. R. 123M. BROADWAY.
HALLOWEEN ENDS. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) goes one final round with Michael Myers. Get his ass, Grandma. R. 111M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
LYLE, LYLE, CROCODILE. Live action/CG animation story of a croc living in New York City but definitely not lurking the sewers because that is an outdated stereotype. With Constance Wu and Javier Bardem. PG. 106M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
MOONAGE DAYDREAM. Dreamy documentary about David Bowie. PG13. 134M. MINOR.
PREY FOR THE DEVIL. A nun (Jaqueline Byers) breaks the glass ceiling and gets into the Catholic Church's secret exorcism school only to meet the demon who possessed her mother. PG13. 93M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
SMILE. A shrink with baggage starts seeing people with scary grins everywhere and suddenly my bitchface doesn't seem so bad, does it, people? Starring Sosie Bacon. R. 115M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
TERRIFIER 2. Slasher sequel with teens (check) and a murdery clown (check) on Halloween (check). R. 148M R. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
TICKET TO PARADISE. Anti-Parent Trap with Julia Roberts and George Clooney as exes trying to stop their kid's marriage. PG. 104M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
TILL. Danielle Deadwyler plays the mother of Emmet Till (Jalyn Hall) in the aftermath of the child's lynching. PG13. 130M. BROADWAY.
THE WOMAN KING. Viola Davis flexes on us all as general of the 19th century all-female army of West African kingdom of Dahomey. With Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch and John Boyega. PG13. 134M. BROADWAY.
For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre (707) 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.