Directed by: Jack Henry Robbins
Premise: Set in 1987, a twelve year old boy (Mason McNulty) uses his family’s VHS video camera. Taping over his parent’s wedding video, the boy records events happening in his life as well as strange commercials and programs broadcast on television.
What Works: VHYes is a found footage movie but it brings a slightly different approach to the format. Most found footage pictures operate within a narrative framework; they present events from a subjective point of view but the content of these films usually follows a familiar storytelling structure. VHYes takes a different tack. There is the barest of narrative skeletons here but that’s not really the point. VHYes is reminiscent of films like Kentucky Fried Movie in that it is mostly a string of skits and other odds and ends. Most of the picture consists of video clips that the camera operator has recorded off of a television including a gender-flipped Bob Ross-like painter as well as infomercials and news broadcasts and pornography. The movie intercuts the different sources as well as the tape’s original wedding footage, creating the impression of channel surfing. Some of the programs are satirical and many have an askew tone reminiscent of films like Eraserhead and Videodrome. VHYes is impressive in its craftsmanship. The filmmakers successfully recreate the analog look of the 1980s as well as the style of broadcast media from that time. Beyond that, VHYes is a collage that represents the way we experience life through media. The experience is splintered; we only experience snippets of programs but those pieces create a whole that is odd and constitutes its own reality. By placing the film in 1987, VHYes constructs a period piece that envisions the home video camera and the VHS tape as a presage to the contemporary YouTube era.
What Doesn’t: The audience for VHYes is going to be very small. The movie is only likely to play for viewers who grew up in the 1980s and early 90s and had an affinity for media technology and late night television. And even within those parameters, the movie’s style is probably going to appeal to a particular sensibility. At seventy-two minutes, this is barely a feature film and its pieces don’t really cohere. Unlike similar films such as UHF, there is no through line connecting all of these sketches and what it has to say about technology and reality isn’t especially insightful. The movie is clearly going for David Lynch inspired surrealism but it doesn’t possess the same enigmatic mystery as Lynch’s work.
DVD extras: Short films, an extended scene, and a trailer.
Bottom Line: VHYes is primed to become a cult title. The movie is an avant-garde exercise in filmmaking craft and its nostalgia for the media and technology of the 1980s may appeal to cinephiles of a certain age. But it also plays like an elaborate student film, for better and for worse.
Episode: #815 (August 30, 2020)