VHYes (2019)

Director: Jack Henry Robbins
Writer: Nunzio Randazzo, Jack Henry Robbins
Cast: Mason McNulty, Rahm Braslaw, Jake Head, Christian Drerup, Kerri Kenney, Mark Proksch, Thomas Lennon, Courtney Pauroso, Charlyne Yi, Madeline Zima, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins
Part of: SLASH Filmfestival
Seen on: 20.9.2020

Ralph (Mason McNulty) gets a VHS recorder for Christmas. He grabs the next tape he finds – unfortunately, apparently, his parents’ (Jake Head, Christian Drerup) wedding tape – and starts recording whatever he finds of interest, from his adventures with his best friend Josh (Rahm Braslaw) to the usually forbidden to him late night TV – where he learns about a haunted house in town.

VHYes is a beautiful love letter to TV of the 80s, and VHS, managing a unique blend of funny and unsettling that I absolutely loved. I think it was one of my favorites of this year’s festival.

The film poster showing a VHS tape with "Ralph's Tape" written on it, as well as a collage of various film characters.

VHYes is a pretty high concept film. And high concept films always have one drawback: just because the concept is good, doesn’t mean the film is and people often get hung up on the former and forget about the latter. So it’s particularly awesome to see when a film does both: do the concept justice and work as a film as well.

In this case, the film really is the random collection of things that a videotape by a 12-year-old (or so) would mount up to be, and still unfolds a rather compelling story in those glimpses and moments. Shot entirely on VHS and betacam, and with incredibly detail-oriented set design and costumes, the film also perfectly recreates the look of the time.

Painting with Joan (Kerri Kenney).

But there is always a little or a big twist here. The shopping channel sells drug baggies. The learn to paint show paints spaceships into its mountain range (and more). The object guessing show talks about objects for botched heart surgeries. The effect of these distortions is equally funny and unsettling – and every once in a while, things get very political, using the set-in-the-past aspect to full advantage.

If the film had just been the excerpts from late night TV, I would have had my fun. But the framing story with Ralph who catches how his parents’ marriage starts to crumble while glimpses from the wedding tape he is using keep showing that things may have been different at one point, gives us a red thread through what otherwise would have been very unconnected. And the ending, where both strands of the film merge, was pretty effective.

All this culminates in a funny and charming film that had me laughing out loud, while also giving me the creeps a little. An absolutely winning combination.

Tony V (Thomas Lennon) and Cindy (Courtney Pauroso) selling what looks supsiciously like drugs on the shopping channel.

Summarizing: Lovely.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.