V/H/S/2 (2013)

VHS 2Released: June 6, 2013. Directed by: Various including Adam Wingard, Gareth Evans. Starring: Kelsey Abbott, Adam Wingard, Mindy Robinson. Runtime: 96 min.

With hearing that V/H/S/2 is stronger than its predecessor, my expectations were slightly higher. What a mistake that was! While this film improves a few aspects over its predecessor, the general quality is worse. It improves on its frame narrative by giving us a stronger and more controlled segment called “Tape 49,” that furthers the mythology of the mysterious VHS tapes. It’s a bit similar to The Ring, if you ask me. The story that ties the segments together is that these two private investigators are looking into the disappearance of a woman’s son. One private eye portrayed by Kelsey Abbott is really cute. The other is a bit of a slime who makes some extra cash by scams; he films married men sleeping with women (Mindy Robinson for her hotness, but she’s been about 107 films and TV shows since 2012… So, porn star numbers, or just random hooker roles, amirite?) and then threatening to send them to the wife of the husband. These characters in the frame narrative get more character development this time around.

I think a good thing about the film is that the runtime has been shortened by twenty minutes. This time there’s only four segments and then one frame narrative that also works as an okay segment. “Tape 49” is okay, a little scary at times, and it’s more focused than the frame narrative of the previous film, but it’s still nothing special.

I’ll talk about the segments I don’t like very much first. The second main segment in the film is called “A Ride in the Park” and concerns a man on a bike ride, and goriness follows. This film shows an interesting POV that allows to see first-hand a transformation into one of horror’s most beloved creature: a zombie. Let the film’s obsession with zombies begin. The segment offers an interesting approach, but I think it’s largely boring. It makes me think twice about having a birthday party in the forest, but it’s just all lame and not scary.

The final segment is also nothing special. It’s set at a slumber party that gets visited by aliens. The “creature” effects are well-done, perhaps all-too-traditional, but still creepy. The cinematography in this one truly takes the viewers out of the experience, as far as I’m concerned, even for found-footage standards. It just makes it difficult to see what’s going on. This also a strange mix of a boring approach to film-making, and a freaky one. The characters are completely unimpressive and it’s all a bit perverted, at times.

There’s one segment called “Phase I Clinical Trials” that is actually pretty good. There’s one short scene in it that isn’t that great, but that’s about it. I think the foreshadowing is well done and the camera angles are great. The perspective is from a man’s eye transplant, because he lost it in a car crash. The perspective is similar to that of “Amateur Night” of the first film. There’s a recording device in the character’s electronic eye. The way things pan out makes me think twice of getting a transplant. The premise reminds me of an episode of the children’s TV show Are You Afraid of the Dark? where a pair of glasses allows the user to see shadows from a different dimension. It’s not the same thing as this, and it’s certainly R-rated here, but I think it has some similarities.

My favourite segment is “Safe Haven.” Well, the first time I watched it was an on-line viewing and there weren’t any subtitles during a segment where Indonesian is the main language (it’s co-directed by director of The Raid: Redemption, Gareth Evans); so do yourselves a favour and don’t watch this on-line, because it’s difficult to find a video with subtitles. But with subtitles, it’s awesome – and I think it helps to watch this segment twice, because I’m still trying to piece together some of the film’s aspects that, at the time seems irrelevant, but ties into the story well. That’s an effective aspect to cinema, and the segment’s very smart. This one has some awesome gore and some effective scares. The basic premise is a suicide cult taken to the extremes in horror. Ti West’s The Sacrament handles a perspective on the People’s Temple aspect, and this handles some suicide cult aspects just as well. The Father loses his ever-loving mind. It seems to me it’s a suicide cult taken to the true extremes, with hinted layers of pedophilia It’s all pretty interesting and completely bat, sh*t, crazy. I won’t spoil any more. It’s just awesome cinema.

The first film, I liked four out of six segments; but here, I really only like two out of the five. The frame narrative is okay, and even though this has a more brief runtime and boasts more control, the general quality of the segments is much weaker. At least the segments that I do like are pretty great. Overall, this is a disappointingly weak sequel.

Score55/100

 

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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?

TIFF13 Review: The Sacrament

sacrament_01Ti West sends his movie regulars into an isolated village called Eden Parish. Patrick’s (Kentucker Audley) sister has been missing for six months, but out of the blue, he receives a mysterious letter from her (Amy Seimetz). It tells him to take an airplane to somewhere, where there will be a helicopter to bring him to the undisclosed location. He decides to bring a few colleagues along, who work for a  journalism company called Vice. Vice practices immersion journalism, a style in which the journalist immerses themselves in a situation and with the people involved, and the final product usually focuses on the experience, not the writer themself. AJ Bowen portrays the main journalist, Sam, while Joe Swanberg portrays Joe, the camera man for much of the film.

Once there, they are plunged into a situation straight out of a horror film, and real-life; as they find themselves fighting for their lives after the leader of the commune, known as Father (Gene Jones), instigates a mass suicide.

sacrament_02Father wants to protect his people from threats of capitalism and materialism, and all the other things of America that threaten their way of life. Father has a way of getting into the heads of those who are in his presence, even Sam during an interview, in one of the film’s best but bewildering moments. The interview is quick and hard to absorb completely, and I think that’s the point. It feels like The Father really does have a way of getting into peoples’ thoughts. It is easier for him to get into the thoughts of his people. He asks them to give up their worldly possessions to fund his vision. He goes around as a church and picks up people for his cause, where he makes them work and sleep deprives them and easily brainwashes most.

This is Ti West’s modernized way he sees how the events of the infamous events at Jonestown unfolded. Father is the stand-in for the infamous Jim Jones, who led one of the largest mass suicides in history back in 1978. This is an interesting subject for a feature film. It’s slow but it feels like an expert’s interpretation of something that fascinates many, and it features a great finale. The sheer meaning of Jonestown is hard to portray, because one can’t fully understand, but West sure portrays the facts of it well. He has a great understanding of suicide cults.

sacrament_03 (1)This isn’t pitched as a found-footage film, but as a documentary. These events are both terrifying and told with great realism. It is also all the more terrifying that it is so realistic, and that it has actually happened – and not just something from someone’s mind. It’s a solid premise. There is enough shock value to keep many, well, shocked. It has the intelligence of a documentary film, and the sheer suspense of a great horror film. It is often hard to watch as well, but it’s a great food-for-thought flick, and it leaves an impact on people’s memory. The ending is predictable, but some won’t be able to predict the insane way in which the events do happen. As someone who is fascinated by the events that unfolded at Jonestown, and as a lover of horror films, I can say this is a great ride, and an interesting look at the depths of religious fanaticism.

Score85/100