The genre pigeonhole that the utterly bizarre and joyously unique film VHYes has been shoved into is ‘comedy’, but really, that’s too broad a category for this brilliantly bonkers genre-orgy of a film. Director Jack Henry Robbins crams an eighties aesthetic into his magnificent feature debut that blasts apart families, nostalgia, capitalism, art, and just about everything else that can be tarnished with the brush of absurd kookiness. Spinning every thirty seconds like a 20-sided die pepped up on Jolt Cola, VHYes is an experience that you simply must embark on.

Robbins masterfully weaves a frenetic narrative across the tapestry of a young kid recording stories and shows on a VHS camcorder, evoking the tangible era of hardbody video tapes perfectly. Ralph (Mason McNulty) is gifted the camcorder for Christmas from his parents, and being the eighties upstart that he is, he simply can’t wait to get recording. As such, the blank tape he thinks he’s recording on is his parents wedding tape, of which we get to see snippets of as the narrative videotape vomits itself across the packed 72-minute runtime. 

Interstitial moments of wedding bliss cut into footage of Ralph and his best bud, Josh (Rahm Braslaw), doing whatever it is that young boys would do in the eighties: muck around, talk crap, ask serious questions like ‘do you want to get married’, and traipse around in possibly haunted burnt out sorority houses. In-between these moments are clips that Ralph has recorded directly from the TV, capturing the devoutly eighties world of late night television, with everything from infomercials, to aerobics workouts, to bands thrashing their punk music in living rooms, to crime procedurals. 

I hit play on VHYes minutes before midnight in the midst of a pandemic thanks to Perth’s Revelation Film Festival online fest, Couched, and honestly, this felt like the most perfect way to absorb myself in the world of madness that Robbins has created. Your mind is at a point where it’s fighting to stay awake, cataloguing everything you’re watching and listening to for a possible Hieronymus Bosch-esque dream-scape that it’ll unexpectedly chuck you into while you try and rest via sleep. Then there’s the off-kilter sketch show vibe that Robbins has going on with the clips he shows. 

It’s worthwhile mentioning that Jack Henry Robbins is the son of Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, both of whom appear in VHYes in different capacities, alongside a wealth of familiar face actors. Take Kerri Kenney-Silver’s creepy moments as Joan, a woman preparing herself to go to bed. Her moments are filled with straight eye contact driven shots of Joan going through the motions of getting ready to go to bed, all the while talking to the viewer like they’re a child. On paper it sounds banal, but in the moment it’s deeply, darkly hilarious. 

Which is how most of the ‘clips’ that make up the film are like. Off-kilter awkward, occasionally unsettling, frequently uncomfortable, and as the film nears its rapid conclusion, downright terrifying. There’s a level of brilliance working within VHYes that hits layer upon layer of societal condemnation. Robbins affords himself the luxury of setting the film in the eighties, allowing the guise of a prescient commentary on modern society through a shoulder-pad adorned lens. 

Given how deeply political Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon are, it makes sense that their son would apply equally acidic assessments of politics within his work, as is highlighted in a talk show scene where a woman talks about how VHS cameras will change the way people see reality, and eventually reality itself. It could feel on the nose, and maybe for viewers who struggle to get on the same VHF as the film it will be, but in the moment, it’s downright excellent. 

VHSYes feels like the kind of film that would have been handed around to friends via copied copies of VHS tapes in the nineties. There’d be a hush-hush tone when discussing it, and then when you found out a friend hadn’t seen it, there’d be a loud exclamation of you haven’t seen VHYes! Man! You gotta fix that!. It’s that kind of film. 

If this is what Jack Henry Robbins, and co-writer Nunzio Randazzo, are going to put out for a first feature, then damn, we’ve got some exciting work to look forward to. Dig on in. 

Director: Jack Henry Robbins

Cast: Mason McNulty, Rahm Braslaw, Kerri Kenney-Silver

Writers: Jack Henry Robbins, Nunzio Randazzo