V/H/S (2012)

VHSReleased: September 6, 2012. Directed by: Various (including Ti West, Adam Wingard). Starring: Adam Wingard, Joe Swanberg, Helen Rogers. Runtime: 116 min.

V/H/S is a found-footage anthology film featuring five main short films built around a frame narrative, that also works as its own short film experienced in snippets. As with most found-footage films, the cinematography is all over the place, but at least the shaky cam shots are well-edited. How the filmmakers make an excuse for taking the found-footage approach, meaning the reason why the characters are using hand-held cameras, are unique. In one segment, the story is shown from a main character’s glasses that have a hidden camera in them; in others they’re just documenting experiences; and one uses a Skype approach.

I’ll tell you a bit about each segment answering if they’re scary or not, but I’ll try not to spoil too much – it’s just the basics, really. The film opens with a gang of unlikable hoodlums wreaking havoc upon unsuspecting citizens and ugly old buildings. They are tasked by an unknown third party to enter a house and recover a rare VHS tape (apparently we’re living in the 1990s), but in order to find the correct one they have to watch the footage on the tapes, because there’s unfortunately no title on any of them saying “It’s this one!” This segment is the one experienced in short snippets; it’s not very interesting or scary, but having a frame narrative is better than not having one at all, because it gives the appearance that the film is more focused.

Onto the segment that made me scream like a little schoolgirl at a drive-in. Well, not really, but I did have to turn it off three times and catch my cool the first time I tried watching this film. This segment, called “Amateur Night,” follows a group of teens who go out to a party to pick up women. The main guy named Shane has the glasses that captures everything on video. It seems to me that he is doing it so he can either watch his sex film for his personal pleasure or just sell it if she’s hot enough, or just post it on the internet. These guys are simply a bunch of drunk college kids trying to get lucky, but the point-of-view is intriguing. The plot basically teaches me that I shouldn’t pick up women from bars who have strange feet or only say “I like you.” Kudos to the actress and the special effects in this segment. This segment is awesome and truly scary (in my eyes, at least), but I doubt I’ll re-watch it because it’s really too freaky for me and experiencing it twice is enough. Definitely one of the best segments and a really good fifteen minutes (estimated) of cinema.

The second segment is called “Second Honeymoon” and is directed by Ti West. This one is a simple short with a boring build-up, okay characters, an awkward chemistry and no great pay-off. It’s not very smart and West largely handles this dully and it’s not scary at all. The only other works by West I’m familiar with are his awful short segment in The ABCs of Death, the god-awful Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever (I should review that soon), and his great film that premiered at TIFF in September, The Sacrament. Apparently he’s not good at directing or writing shorts at all, because this one isn’t impressive.

The third segment is a mysterious one called “Tuesday the 17th”; it’s gory and fun and seems to promise a simple camping getaway premise. The foreshadowing is well done, leading up to an okay pay-off. The execution by writer/director Glenn McQuaid is pretty good. It’s about as scary as a regular slasher flick, which is to say it’s more thrilling then terrifying.

v_h_s-06The fourth segment is my favourite. It’s freaky and ultimately quite scary. It’s not as scary as the first segment, but it’s entertaining and has an interesting ending. It’s effective during its brief runtime. I like the camera angles, too, where the webcam films whatever is happening – and there are two cameras, one capturing what’s happening on Emily’s side, and what is happening on her boyfriend’s side (as pictured above). Kudos to the Emily character (portrayed by Helen Rogers) for staying in a creepy and potentially haunted apartment for so long. Rogers is a cute actress who captures paranoia well; and she strikes me as an older-looking and brunette version of Chloë Grace Moretz.

The final segment is a haunted house premise (like the  previous segment), where a few party animals walk into a house where a party is supposed to be happening. Craziness follows and I think the execution is pretty good. It doesn’t make the most sense or gets fully explained, but it’s creative. Some static in the cinematography adds an unsettling layer. It’s at least much scarier than Ti West’s attempt.

When I like four out of six segments, I think it’s a mild success. This is largely an experimental film, and while the cinematography is overall weak, it’s an enjoyable horror experience. Another weak aspect are the characters who really suck, but keep in mind there’s no time for development because of the limited time for each segment. The segments range from not scary at all to very scary, but I think there’s at least one or two segments most horror fans will like; besides, if you don’t like one segment, you might like the next.

Score60/100

Question: What was your favourite segment?

Advertisements

The ABCs of Death (2013)

abcs of deathReleased: March 8, 2013. Directed by: Various including Angela Bettis, Ti West and Ben Wheatley. Starring: Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Iván González, Kyra Zagorsky. Runtime: 129 min.

Anthology films are a series of shorts compiled together, and the only thing they have in common is the genre they portray. A few anthology films from 2013 include this, Movie 43 and V/H/S/ 2 and since two of the three I’ve seen (this, The ABCs of Death, and M43) have been awful, state just how crappy anthology films can be. Movie 43 is a crappy compilation of crappy comedies, which are very rarely funny; ABCs is a lazy compilation of 26 chapters chronicling the vicious wonder and brutal beauty of death. The commonplace for the segments in this film it that someone dies in all of them (well, for the most part oddly), the majority of them are dull, and they’re supposedly trying to portray the horror genre. The thing is, not one is scary. They just exploit violence and there’s just a whole lot of blood.

I don’t have much of a problem with violence in cinema when it’s done well; and I really don’t mind gore. I like them both in good movies. This anthology flick is just stupid as anything, and there’s not even a story that ties them all together – V/H/S/ at least has the courtesy to feature a frame narrative. The poster makes it seem like maybe Death himself is reading a bunch of short tales to a weird little baby, but sadly we don’t get anything like that. Instead each short gets separated by a simple fade to a red background with those alphabet blocks kids play with saying something like “A is for…,” and then on to the next one. Anyway, a lot of these are original, and a good change of pace from the usual horror fare, but I couldn’t get into this. But almost every short film in this is very bizarre, and there’s only about five okay shorts, and one really good one.

They are ‘Q’, a mildly clever short where a pair of directors discuss what their sketch is going to be for such a hard letter. They discuss how they’ll stand out, but it’s hard for any of these sketches to stand out because a lot are awful. One actually good sketch is for the letter ‘S’, which is a lot of fun. Mind you, not scary, but it has a really cool atmosphere with some great metaphors and it’s actually really entertaining. It’s the only enjoyable sketch in my eyes. Again, it doesn’t work as a horror sketch – it’s more like an actioner that has hot babes and fast carsThe short film’s plots are mostly dumb, but at least they get to the point quickly; but they have to, each segment is only about 4.96 minutes each on average. The shortest is one called “Gravity,” and it’s the only time I’ve ever wanted to see Sandra Bullock bumping into stuff for a few minutes instead. The one in consideration features POV-style cinematography, which is sometimes a nice change of pace. There’s another point-of-view sketch that’s pretty crappy, too. The one for the letter ‘D’ is told completely in slow motion and is almost entirely pointless, the slow motion just renders it completely empty of any sort-of emotion. It looks good, but it’s just very empty.

One other okay sketch is the death for the letter ‘T,’ which is mildly entertaining (still not scary, mind you) and memorable because it’s told in a cheap-looking claymation. I mean, if I ever take acid and then everything turns into claymation, I’ll stay away from toilets. There’s one sketch that is actually fun, strange as anything because the characters are in animal costumes it seems, but it’s a sort-of fun R-rated Tex Avery battle of sorts during World War Two. It’s for the letter ‘H,’ by the way, but guessing the word might be a fun challenge, so I won’t reveal it. There’s one simplistic but utterly stupid one called “Klutz,” where, to express its stupidity, I’m just going to spoil it. The woman basically dies by the metaphorical hands of a pesky piece of poop that is too stubborn to be flushed down the toilet, and instead teases the woman, sticks to the ceiling, and when she looks on the ground for it, launches itself into her ass and comes out of her mouth, killing her. Seriously, what the f$%k? The animated sketch is so, so awful. The sketch for ‘F’ is equally bad. A few thoughts on the worst sketches: the one for the letter ‘L’ is just disgusting and twisted; the sketch for the letter ‘X’ is a sort-of social commentary of media influence, but I don’t think people are this cruel, at least in my experiences, and it’s a bit too insane for me, but gore lovers will adore this; and the sketch for the letter ‘P’ is a sad story that shows how far someone will go to make money when they’re under pressure, but the finale is heartbreakingly despicable. Moving on…

I think the idea that the producers thought this would be scary is because the premise of death is scary to many people. I’m scared of death, but this is never thrilling or scary – but a lot of this is awful, with only a few decent sketches, and some of them that use an artistic approach to filmmaking don’t make a lick of sense. It’s a shame that a fair deal of the half-decent to bearable sketches come in the second half of the alphabet, because by that time, I found myself counting how many letters are left and checking my phone constantly for how much time remained. This is just an exhausting experience. It might be fun for the horror movie buff who wants something different from mainstream horror, and I think that’s the point.

The thing is, a lot of it isn’t that well-made (but each director from around the world is working on a budget of $5000), and this ends up being less enjoyable than regular horror fare. Though, for those who want to see a bunch of different ways to die, many bland and gory, and a few really twisted, watch it if you must. But this is just one of the weirdest films I’ve ever seen. This one is just too twisted and unenjoyable for me, and it simply isn’t very thrilling or scary. Cringe-worthy at times, but something I’m trying to figure out is, could cringing at a horror film truly be considered good horror? At least in this case, I say no. This one’s definitely not for the mainstream audience, so they should just stick to the 1000 Ways to Die TV show. I also hope in the sequel, the directors remember to make their material scary. Keep the same originality and sometimes twisted material, but make it scary, please.

Score: 25/100