It’s hard to imagine a more bizarre experimental movie I’ve come across in years. Jack Henry Robbins’ film “VHYes” at its best is a funny, smart, experiment with nostalgia, while at its worst, it feels like a weak pilot for Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim expanded in to a near feature length movie. Some might appreciate the jarring changes in tone and bite size comedy that is peppered throughout “VHYes” and while I thought it left much to be desired, it also had a lot going for it, with some fascinating commentary about nostalgia and memories. It really wants to be “Amazon Women on the Moon,” at the end of the day, but it ends as a mildly fascinating meshing of genres, and comedic bits.
In Christmas 1987, 12-year-old Ralph (Mason McNulty) has just received a VHS camcorder from his parents. Along with his best friend Josh, Ralph sporadically tapes his adventures around his house and also tapes random shows off cable television. Everything from a Home Shopping Channel to a Painting Show, a Sleeping Show, and really Bad Porn it’s all interspersed with footage of his parents’ wedding. But Ralph decides to take his camcorder and investigate an abandoned allegedly haunted sorority house that was the scene of a murder, and decides to investigate.
Director Jack Henry Robbins films the movie with actual VHS and digital Betamax and the aesthetic feels genuine. Even with the segments that fall flat, Robbins is able to depict a poorly taped EP VHS recording of cable television beautifully, right down to the weird VHS artifacts and uneven sound. The movie isn’t all aesthetic and novelty, thankfully, as Robbins has a great time satirizing a lot of the late night cable oddities you’d have found in 1987. I especially enjoyed Thomas Lennon as a TV salesman who touts some of the weirdest merchandise. I also liked the attempts to mimic bad softcore porn with the redundant dialogue and god awful acting.
That said, “VHYes” is almost too devoted to its source material to where it’s incredibly niche and only nostalgia buffs will fully understand what he’s going for here. There’s a long dull segment involving Charlene Yi who is hosting a public access rock show, as well as a weird sitcom involving clones. In either case, Robbins has a lot to say about the inherent meaningless of this kind of nostalgia and how it’s often both absolutely interesting and yet utterly pointless when in the grand scheme of things. Sure, there’s fun in preserving the TV listings channel, and antique shows, but—is there really? “VHYes” takes a jarring turn in the climax which may or may not register with some. While I kind of appreciated what Robbins was going for, the whole of breaking reality and fully embracing the inherent eeriness of the surrealism was fascinating, if anything.
Robbins definitely knows how to create mood, and he delivers on the nagging feeling that all of these skits are leading to something. At barely seventy five minutes in length, “VHYes” is one of the more interesting cinematic oddities of 2020 so far. It’s not grade A comedy, but I respected it for being so flat out bizarre.
Now in theaters in Limited Release.