adam wingard

Movie Review: Blair Witch

blairwitch_posterTurbulent, clever and frightening. Those are just a few of the most important takeaways from Adam Wingard’s, Blair Witch. Enthusiastic reviewers all over the internet like to throw around some lofty and hyperbolic quotes such as “game changer” or “one of the scariest movies ever made,” with the best of intentions. While the enthusiasm is catchy, Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch doesn’t fully embody either of those aforementioned descriptors.

Folks just can’t stay out of the Black Hills Woods as James (James Allen McCune) discovers a video online recovered from the outskirts of the woods that he believes shows his sister, Heather. Convinced she’s still alive James corrals three of his closest friends to venture into the Black Hills to figure out what happened to her.

Screenwriter Simon Barrett and director Wingard obviously use the original film as the basic bone structure for their unique take. The duo deviate from what we know about The Blair Witch Project simply to extrapolate a mythology of their own based on aspects of what we’ve already seen or suspected. This results in some of the film’s most interesting aspects, without innovating within the genre itself. (more…)

Advertisements

Movie Review: You’re Next (2013)

20130826-191001.jpg

Hype can be an extremely dangerous thing- especially in the case of movies making their debuts at film festivals. More often than not so much time passes from the premiere of the movie at a festival to its actual release either on VOD or in theaters that people like me that read the reviews and reactions either on Twitter or otherwise the buzz reaches astronomical levels. The dangerous part being that one’s mind builds the movie up with unrealistic expectations molded by people that might not have the same tastes in movies or are riding a high from being able to see something before anyone else.

You get enough people throwing around words like brilliant or masterful enough other people start building a mental picture of what could make the movie deserve those types of praise. I know I’ve fallen prey to it before and I’m always cautious to let it happen each time since. So when Lionsgate snatched up YOU’RE NEXT after just one screening at the Toronto International Film Festival then held on to it for the next two years minus a few other festival appearances the hype had already leaked into my subconscious. Nary a bad word found my eyes or ears when I saw reactions for it and avoided any full reviews. (more…)

Movie Review: V/H/S/2 (2013)

image

Some of the best sequels aspire to be bigger and crazier than its predecessor and that point could not be more on the nose when it comes to V/H/S/2. The original found footage anthology was a mixed bag of horror shorts that in retrospect I may have ranked higher than I should have- but that’s only because the sequel makes it pale in comparison. Where V/H/S clocked in with maybe two very solid entries and the rest cause it to drag quite a bit, V/H/S/2 is shorter and each short moves like a freight train of balls to the wall horror and even some fun laughs.

Tape 49 (Director: Simon Barrett)

This short is the wraparound segment that follows two private investigators sent in to the apartment of a missing college student to find clues of his whereabouts and inside they find a room full of static screen TVs, a laptop and a stack of VHS tapes. The investigators start watching the tapes (which are each of the other shorts we watch throughout) and find that there might be something a little freakier going down than just a run of the mill missing persons case.

This time around the wraparound works immensely more than it did in the first film and actually hints at why its important that we are watching these tremendously messed up tapes. The acting leaves a little to be desired, but overall it works as a means to hold the film as a whole together.

Phase I Clinical Trials (Director: Adam Wingard)

Wingard also stars as a man that gets an experimental prosthetic eye implant that has also been fitted with a camera to record data for the folks responsible for making it. The problem with the new eye is that it is prone to glitches, which sounds simple enough, except the glitches in this case are visions of dead people that are becoming increasingly violent the more he sees them.

Aside from the wraparound this was actually a great opening for the anthology. The weakest part of it is the acting, which I can overlook thanks to the quick pace and really creepy imagery. The idea is solid, the execution is pretty great, it’s really only the performances that drag it down a bit- but at the same time there are even some decent laughs in the midst of the creepyness.

A Ride in the Park (Directors: Eduardo Sanchez & Gregg Hale)

Eduardo Sanchez returns to the woods with this little short that has a different take on the zombie genre as a young man straps a camera to his bike helmet to capture his wicked bike skills only to unwittingly get caught in a burgeoning zombie apocalypse. When he’s bit the camera then switches from sweet bike tricks to showing a zombie on a killing spree.

I’ll say right now this is my least favorite of the bunch- not to say that I didn’t like it though. For the most part it felt pretty silly to me and there seemed to be some unintentional comedy in the first few scenes of people turning from just plain dead to zombie. I did like how the found footage aspect of it captures a new zombie going through learning to be a zombie, by realizing they can’t just eat their own flesh, or other objects they can’t eat. The last little twist is what I think stretches what exactly zombies can and can’t do, but it was kind of effective for me.

Safe Haven (Directors: Gareth Evans & Timo Tjahjanto)

This wicked little short follows a group of investigative journalists interviewing a man known as Father, the leader of an Indonesian cult that believes he holds the key to immortality. During the interview the journalists convince Father to let them visit the compound where he and his followers live in order to give a fair perspective of their way of life.

Don’t want to give too much away on this one, hence why I cut the synopsis short. This is easily the gem of V/H/S/2, yet there’s still a moment right at the very end that I wasn’t in love with. This short builds so spectacularly that once sh*t hits the fan its one WTF moment after another. The scope for this short is so wide that it almost doesn’t seem like it should work, but it works so well that there are moments of the final act I can’t get out if my head.

Slumber Party Alien Abduction (Director: Jason Eisner)

The final segment follows a group of friends having a sleepover while the parents are out. In the midst of pulling pranks on the oldest sibling of the house their fun is interrupted when they begin getting stalked by aliens looking to, like the title says, abduct them.

My second favorite segment of the bunch- could have really had the potential to compete for a top spot had the aliens not been shown near as much, been a little shorter and the final shot been omitted. It builds beautifully with really quick and ominous shots of aliens lurking in the background, but once we get about halfway in there are way too many shots of them giving more time to kind of dampen the mystery of the threat and look a little too much like people in bad grey body suits and rubber alien masks. The seams do show a bit which knocks down the quality a bit, but the visceral thrills of the chasing and the sound design are more than enough to make me forgive my complaints for the most part.

Each short has the do it yourself spirit that I love about found footage movies, but shorts like Safe Haven take it that extra step to really make the experience incredible. There’s plenty of cheese and humor dispersed through all the segments to offset the more splatter heavy moments. This is a sequel that improves mightily on the structure the original built and also comes out feeling less like a snuff film and more like a fun haunted house type of horror film.

Compared to the original this is leaps and bounds above what that film was aiming for. Watched back to back there’d have been no way I could rate V/H/S quite as high as the sequel- the segments in V/H/S/2 are more thought out, funnier and overall just of higher quality. Granted that I am acknowledging the two of them have their flaws, but when the stories within are operating on all cylinders the films can really pack a punch. V/H/S/2 is a cinematic horror heavyweight that’s more than ready to knock audiences on their ass.

Rating: A-

Movie Review: The ABCs of Death (2013)

image

26 directors all crammed into the same film to bring 26 different short films to the screen and all feature a different way one can meet their demise. It’s a gimmick to be sure, but one that I found fascinating- for a while anyway. I remember watching the red band trailer and loving the hell out of it for how insane it looked. It never really crossed my mind that the red band trailer compiled the most insane moment of every short into what is basically a short film of its own- and with a better result than this collection that rings in just over two hours.

I also never really thought about the best way to review something like this without boring anyone reading this and myself in the process. Synopsizing each and every short would be incredibly time consuming and since each short is only a few minutes long it would likely serve to ruin the bit. So before watching it I just wrote each letter and a few details so I could remember what I liked and finally rather I liked or disliked the short in general. At the end I added up the good and the bad to come up with my overall consensus. Less than half of the 26 shorts in THE ABCS OF DEATH are genuinely good and the vast majority mediocre at best. There were quite a few that I wrote were completely terrible and a couple that I outright hated. Even ones that were bad had stuff to like about them, but had material I either found stupid or offensive on some level.

One’s enjoyment of this film as a whole depends largely upon what one finds funny, entertaining or clever. For instance if watching people being forces to masturbate to increasingly less sexy actions in front of them, one of which being a young boy being molested and if you are not the first to climax a wooden spike is forced through your body started at your ass sounds interesting to you then good news, it’s there. However, even if some of these appeal to you once you’ve sat and watched them for two hours they start to test your patience- especially the really terrible entries. Also, the excuse that if you don’t like one then the good news in a couple minutes there will be a new one doesn’t work if you’re dreading the next or the next short happens to be even worse than the last.

I will say that a few of the ones I enjoyed came largely from popular up and coming horror directors like Adam Wingard, Jason Eisner and one I found oddly great by Xavier Gens. Also given the brief nature of the shorts many tend to feel more like music videos than short films, which isn’t necessarily bad because two of them ended up being ones I really enjoyed- D IS FOR DOGFIGHT and Y IS FOR YOUNGBUCK being examples of what I’m talking about.

Sadly the most creativity some of these can muster is making terrible fart jokes and tons of toilet humor- one claymation short is the standout of the few quite literal toilet jokes that I actually found entertaining. Some have horrid CGI and practical effects, terrible acting and woefully unimaginative twists or ideas. A handful suffer from every problem I’ve mentioned while some just failed to illicit anything more than a ‘meh’ from me when they were over, which is what kept me from drifting indefinitely into hate territory and in the almost so-so realm of enjoyment.

I originally wanted to come back and finish this review by saying half of THE ABCS OF DEATH is worth a watch, which is true on some level. Some of the short films are good enough that I wasn’t totally mad about the time I spent watching it, in fact some were actually really fun. However, there are a handful of entries in this collection of short films that I actively hated to the point I wanted to just give up and shut the whole thing off entirely. As a drunken night in with friends I think this could be a fun watch and some shorts might find the audience it wants, but ultimately THE ABCS OF DEATH falls well on the short side in praise as a mixed bag affair.

Rating: C-

Last Call Spoilers: V/H/S

Twists and kills- things that are always abundant in horror movies and that’s what makes them ideal fodder for the Spoiler Corner. The thing I enjoy the most about spoiler discussions is the opportunity to get into more detailed conversations about movies, but also a lot of times people are able to see something that maybe I didn’t catch or even think about on my viewing of a film.
On the block this time is the newest found footage horror film V/H/S that also happens to be a found footage anthology film. The film follows a group of guys sent to steal a VHS tape from a house, but once they get there they have no idea what tape they are supposed to steal so they watch what is on them while searching the house for more tapes. However, not only were they not prepared for what was on the tapes, but what they might be in for entering into the house.

You know the drill- if you haven’t seen the film and don’t want to be spoiled even slightly then turn away, seek the film out, watch it and come back. If you first want to read my very positive review of the film before reading then head over here. Otherwise let’s get down to business and get into every dirty detail of V/H/S. Since it is an anthology film I will be discussing each segment separately as I did with the review rather than switching back and forth from segment back into the main arc and so forth.

TAPE 56

TAPE 56 is the main arc/wraparound story of V/H/S where a group of guys go around causing trouble by either assaulting a woman to expose her breasts or vandalizing an abandoned building. One of the guys in the group brings up a job in which they can make a lot of money so naturally they all agree- the job is to break into a house and steal one VHS tape. Once in the house they find a room with a man sitting in a chair in front of a bunch of TV’s who appears to be dead and VHS tapes strewn about. One of the guys decides to play the tape that is in the VCR to see what was on it as happens throughout the film and each tape played is one of the various segments we see and is transitioned by a blue screen with the word “Play” on screen.

Rather than sit and watch every tape some of the guys split up to search for more tapes and decide to just steal everything they can and decide later which one is the right one. One of the guys sees a mysterious guy or creature in the basement, while another notices that the “dead” man in the chair turns up missing while he is watching one of the tapes. Eventually each thief is picked off one by one either by the mysterious man or creature in the basement or by the undead man in the chair. After the last of the men has been murdered one last tape plays (entitled 10/31/98, which is the last short I will be discussing) and once that tape finishes that is where the film ends.

My questions exiting this segment as a whole, included things like what the thing in the basement was, was the man in the chair dead or just luring these guys into the house to murder and who plays the last tape? To this point my theory seems to be that maybe the last tape was the one they were looking for. There is almost no closure to the questions the segment left me with, which I actually appreciate because a good mystery makes most movies much more enjoyable and fun to talk about.

AMATEUR NIGHT

This is the second segment of V/H/S and follows a group of seemingly college age kids that have rigged a friend’s glasses with a hidden camera so that he can film them partying, picking up chicks and subsequently getting busy with them in their hotel room. While out and about at the bars drinking the kid with the glasses makes acquaintance with a girl that only repeats the words “I like you” over and over. He is noticeably weirded out by her as he watches her the rest of the night, but they end up bringing her and another girl back to the hotel. At the hotel one of the three guys is rounding second base with his girl while the kid with the glasses tries to make conversation with the weird girl and the third guy just laughs like a hyena on the couch. The guy rounding bases with his girl is cut short when his catch passes out and in a stunning display of morality decides not to continue having sex with her and instead turns his attention on the weird girl who obliges, while also motioning to the kid with glasses and the three are almost engaged in a threesome when the kid with glasses panics and runs to the bathroom. The guy on the couch also attempts to engage in a threesome which the girl is none too keen with and he joins his spectacles friend in the bathroom with a bite on his hand- and it’s all bad news from here.

The guys suspiciously exit the bathroom to see the girl attack their friend and shriek at them with what look like vampire teeth. She pulls him off the bed and resumes feasting on him while the two remaining guys retreat to the bathroom to form a game plan. One grabs the shower rod and they exit to a dark room but the girl standing in the middle with her arms folded in some form of seductive way. The guy swings the rod at her but she catches it and takes him down and starts feeding on him as well. The kid with the glasses has made his way to the other side of the room and manages to escape the room and while descending the stairs he falls, snapping his wrist in the process. The girl finds him and does not attack him, but instead tries to perform oral sex on him and is heartbroken when it appears he is none too excited about what her intentions might be down there. She retreats to the corner crying and the kid bolts out the door screaming for help and before he can get to far he is suddenly lifted into the air and we see the girl has fully transformed and is a hideous monster with wings and is carrying him away, his glasses fall and the camera cuts out as he screams.

A few thoughts on this segment- first off being that this one is one of my favorites, not just for how odd it is in the set up, but how insane and creepy it is towards the end. The second which might be the biggest talking point is just what is the “I like you” girl supposed to be. I initially thought for sure she was a vampire, but the way she feeds did not seem to be traditionally what we are used to when it comes to vampires. It is still possible this may be a fresh take on the myths, but my other more out there idea was that the girl was possibly a succubus. There are essentially holes in that theory as well because traditionally a succubus lures men into bed to kill and consume them where none of these men needed to be seduced and basically picked them up with the intentions of getting down and dirty. So those are the lingering questions I have for this segment, but beyond that I have to say I love how it ended and was blown away by how incredible the effects of the kid being lifted into the air and seeing the creature carrying him away to God knows what before the camera cuts out.

SECOND HONEYMOON

Director Ti West continues to do what he does best in this segment and that’s by creating a tense and atmospheric setting before ending the film in a sudden, brutal and disturbing fashion. This short is slow and deliberate all the way until the last basically 2 minutes when the horror just explodes on the screen. The short follows a couple out on a honeymoon and winding down in their hotel room when they hear a knock on the door from a girl wanting a ride the following morning. After the couple goes to bed an unknown person has picked up their camera and is filming his/herself stalk the couple, stealing money and dipping a toothbrush in the toilet. The next day the couple is sightseeing and the man notices his money is gone and later on expresses interest in extending their trip. That night the camera comes back on and comes up close on the man’s face and suddenly the stalker violently stabs his neck making him unable to scream. The killer proceeds to slash his throat violently until he dies and goes into the bathroom to wash their hands. It is then revealed that (in my opinion) the man’s killer was his wife and the camera operator was the stalker from the night before and is another woman- the two then make out. The segment ends with the lesbian lovers in the car and the wife asks if she deleted the footage off the camera.

Loved the tension in this segment and the use of sound, found the slow build very effective and I was not expecting the kill to come when it did. I was so wrapped up in the tension and the stalking scenes that I literally forgot about the establishing scenes with the fortune teller that foreshadows the rest of the short which is why the twist at first seemed to come out of nowhere for me. Looking back I love that little bit of foreshadowing and the dynamic of that short after the twist.

TUESDAY THE 17TH

There really isn’t a whole lot to spoil on this short as it’s pretty straight forward, but we will see how it goes. It follows four friends (two guys and two girls) driving in the middle of a wooded area that stop at a lake to do a little bit of swimming and weed smoking when one of the girls tells a story about a killer that slaughtered a group of kids. Two of the friends go off by themselves and the killer attacks by throwing a knife that pierces the girl’s skull and out the eye socket and then attacks and kills the nerdy guy with her. The killer at this point you will notice is shown as though he is just a massive technical glitch and is never seen clearly, but the effect is pretty awesome. Back with the other two friends the girl is explaining to the jock guy that she brought them there as bait as you can just barely see the killer/glitch approaching in the background and comes up behind the jock and cuts his throat. The girl takes off running with the killer in chase and we see that she has set up a variety of traps to catch the killer that slaughtered her friends she mentioned in the story. When one of the traps finally stops the killer the girl thinks she’s won but when she sees one of the previous victims somehow still walking she looks away and when she looks back the killer is gone and he attacks and kills her.

This short evokes a lot of FRIDAY THE 13TH vibes with a killer that seems to be able to teleport everywhere and is invincible while hunting stupid teens around a lake. I really dig the style used for the killer which was one of the only redeeming factors for this short aside from the kills. Not my favorite short, but it is very entertaining despite how bad the actors are.

THE SICK THING THAT HAPPENED TO EMILY WHEN SHE WAS YOUNGER

Here’s one of the other shorts likely to incite arguments and other discussions, lately due to the twist. This is the online chat/Skype segment between a boyfriend and girlfriend. The girl expresses concern that her new apartment may be haunted and we see her showing him several instances where any normal person would never deny that the place may indeed be haunted- however, the boyfriend’s disbelief is forgiven at the end with the twist. The girl also has a moment where she has mutilated her arm attempting to find out what a bump is that she feels under her skin that her boyfriend says to leave alone and that he’ll look at it when he comes to visit. Eventually on a night where she is trying to make contact with the ghosts she falls unconscious with the ghostly kids around her and the boyfriend leaves his computer and emerges through her door a few seconds later. He takes a scalpel and makes an incision in her back and pulls out a weird looking fetus while talking to an unseen force. He asks things that range from the fetus being half human, how many more times he has to do this to her and that he’s going to have to break some bones to make it look like she had an accident. When we next see the girl she’s in a cast with bruises saying a doctor diagnosed her with schizophrenia. Then when their conversation ends and the Skype screens come back up we see the man is now talking to a new girl and the cycle is going to start over with her.

I have almost no theory for this segment, I know the bump in the skin is a tracker, but beyond that I have no idea if this is supposed to hint at aliens or what. If it is aliens then the fact that we can actually see ghost kids kind of confuses me unless this guy is aborting alien fetuses and these kids are the ghost of those aborted kids or if this is something else entirely. By all means feel free to weigh in with your theories because the twist really through me.

10/31/98

This is the last tape we see and the last segment that leads us to the credits and is also one of my favorite if not my overall favorite of the bunch. This short follows four guys dressed up for Halloween on their way to a party and one is rigged with a nanny cam. When they get to the house where the party is supposed to be no one answers the door so they go in through the back and find no one downstairs. They assume the house is rigged to be a fun haunted house deal with flickering lights and arms that reach out from the walls and are having a good laugh about it. When they go upstairs they hear chanting coming from the attic so they go up and see a group of guys chanting around a girl that is tied up. The men chanting yell at them to leave at which time you can hear a deep creepy growl and an unseen force begins lifting people into the air and the four friends try running out of the house as doors are flying around, ghostly handprints follow them around and dishes are thrown at them. They are almost home free when they decide to go back for the girl and on their way out they find they can no longer leave through the ground floor doors and go to the basement where hands are reaching from the walls and ground to stop them. They get out through the basement door and get in the car to go find the girl help and as they drive all of a sudden there is interference and the car stalls to a stop. The guys begin panicking as the girl has vanished and is now on the outside of the car with a demonic face and they can’t get out of the car. We see they are stopped on train tracks with a train approaching and the camera cuts out as the car is about to be hit.

Two theories for this segment- one being that the guys in the attic are attempting an exorcism on this girl and are unable to complete it thanks to the friends and the second being that they are a cult performing a ritual that causes this girl to be possessed by a demon. I find the exorcism to be more likely as if the men were a cult they would probably have just captured and killed the guys rather than telling them to go away and the fact that when they are distracted and stop chanting they begin getting attacked by the unseen force.

As a whole I really loved V/H/S even in spite of issues I had with certain segments. If you’re still reading and haven’t seen it then first off shame on you and second I still recommend checking it out and seeing it for yourself to form your own theories. Feel free to leave comments expressing if you agree with any of my theories or want to chime in with your own and also tell me what you thought of the movie! I look forward to discussing this one with you!

Movie Review: V/H/S (2012)

image

I would really love to see anthology films start coming back in a big way- specifically horror anthologies though. It’s not all that unfamiliar to hear people complain about today’s horror movies being too long with maybe only a couple good ideas and scares sprinkled through the entire thing. With an anthology film not only are they comprised of a collection of short films, but each short is able to get to the point quickly, giving the viewer a wider range of content to sink their teeth into. Such is the case for the newest found footage horror anthology V/H/S- a concept from one of Bloody-Disgusting’s founders, Brad Miska and helmed by a handful of some of horror’s best up and comers. Fine individual horror shorts with one over arching segment that is a mixed bag of good great and just ok horror treats that together combine for a rollercoaster ride of all out horror insanity and a handful of subtle chills.

I debated ranking each segment separately since each short is quite different from the next, but instead I’ll just stick to the basics and run through each segment explain what I liked and didn’t like- no spoilers, but keep an eye out for a spoiler discussion- and finally just rank the film as a whole. Again, no need to worry about spoilers for this post, minus the basic breakdown of the plot of the short.

TAPE 56 (Director: Adam Wingard)

TAPE 56 is the wraparound segment of V/H/S in that it’s what sets up us watching these various video tapes and what we see in between each of them. It follows a group of extremely unlikable dudes that run around assaulting women in order to restrain and expose their breasts and turn around and sell the tapes. They also spend some time vandalizing an abandoned building. One member of the group randomly brings up a job where they will be able to make way more money than they are making with the videos if they break into a house and steal one VHS tape. When they get there the house appears empty until they enter a room with a dead man in a chair in front of a bunch of TV’s and stacks of VHS tapes. Since they can’t seem to distinguish what tape to take they search the house for more while someone stays upstairs and watches the tapes (which are the shorts we see apart from the wraparound).

Honestly, since this is the first impression we get as an audience to the film I found it pretty gutsy to lead off with such unlikeable characters- then as I thought about it, it bothered me less since this is in fact a horror movie and it may not be necessary in the least to like any single one of them. The camera work on this one suffers from that of most found footage movies except with the added issue of the video quality mimicking that of a VHS tape- none of which bothered me much as I tend to enjoy the found footage sub-genre and the VHS quality picture was a nice touch to give me that little extra nostalgia for the format. Also, the rawness of the video quality added that extra sense of dread and realism to a concept that in this segment is for the most part, plausible.

AMATEUR NIGHT (Director: David Bruckner)

One of the better segments that V/H/S has to offer it begins with three college age guys in a hotel room preparing for a night out with the intent of bringing home some girls to have sex with. One of the guys has been given a pair of glasses rigged with a hidden camera to capture the events. While out partying two of the three are successful in picking up women although one of them is a bit on the strange side. They get the girls back to the hotel room which is when things progress from weird, to terrifying.

A running theme for these mini reviews will be the handheld camera quality- or in this case the “face held” camera quality as the camera is sitting in a pair of glasses on a guys face. It’s improved from TAPE 56, but as with most found footage films, it’s far from perfect. What works though is that even though the guys are once again kind of annoying and unlikeable they are also portrayed very realistically as over confident drunk dudes- something I’m sure everyone can relate to when out and about on a weekend. It takes a bit of patience to follow these guys to and from bar and back into the hotel room where it doesn’t take a horror genius to know something horrible is about to go down- but when it does it is quite visceral and disturbing. The direction of the final moments in this segment takes us to some dark and awkward places for a final shot that carries this intense sense of dread into the next segment. A great introduction to the type of horror the guys from the wraparound segment are about to view over the next hour or more.

SECOND HONEYMOON (Director: Ti West)

Coming into SECOND HONEYMOON from AMATEUR NIGHT the difference between the two is vast yet familiar at the same time. The similarities are only because it takes place once again in a hotel room. From here everything is vastly different as we have a couple out on a honeymoon as the husband wants to get a little freaky with his wife with the camera rolling and she is not into it at all. All of a sudden they hear a knock on the door we learn (since the actual answering of the door happens off camera) that it was a girl asking for a ride in the morning. For the remainder if the short we see an unknown person stalking the couple as they sleep until a shocking finale left me with chills creeping down my spine.

You will notice this segment is directed by Ti West so if you are familiar with that name you know that what we have here is a slow burn short with a sudden and troubling ending- and the camerawork in this one is much better as well. I do love this segment though for slowing things down a bit and allowing me a chance to study the characters and their dynamic and doing so I was able to construct an underlying sense of dread in myself wondering where and how the shock was going to come from. West is great at building an intense setting that is incredibly atmospheric and that fact is even more impressive here on display in a found footage film. The unsettling aspect here comes from the utter plausibility from beginning to end and the phenomenal use of sound in the hotel room in the stalking scenes to the point that I may never be able to relax hearing the rumbling of a hotel air conditioning unit ever again.

TUESDAY THE 17TH (Director: Glenn McQuaid)

Oh goodness- how to accurately describe my feelings on this segment. Well, I will say that of all the segments, this one is probably my least favorite in terms of the acting ability, but also probably of the bunch in general- that’s not to say there isn’t stuff to like, because there’s one aspect that I really love. This is an extremely simple story- four college kids going on a trip and find themselves in the woods being stalked by an unseen killer. The characters are generic, the actors are bad, the story is mediocre, the gore is decent, but man the killer in this is extremely cool.

The concept of this short is nothing horror fans haven’t seen dozens of times, but the fresh take on it comes in the visual concept of the killer. It’s a playful little jab at the idea of how the killers in the “slasher killing dumb teens” seem to be able to be in two places at once. I won’t describe the look or idea any further here, but I just have to once again say how much it almost saved the entire segment. As is though the teens in this short are annoyingly bad and clichéd, which even if on purpose does not make it forgivable even for the short amount of time spent with them. As for its inclusion in the bunch, it has to say something that when it comes to owning the film, I probably wouldn’t skip over it based on how much I love the way the killer is handled.

THE SICK THING THAT HAPPENED TO EMILY WHEN SHE WAS YOUNGER (Director: Joe Swanberg)

My two least favorite segments also just happen to occur back to back. Now just because I say it’s not my favorite doesn’t mean that I hate it, but there is something that I can’t spoil in this review that I HATE about this short. What we have here is an unnecessarily long title- which given the content of the short I can’t really come up with anything else either- about a couple having what is basically a series of Skype conversations. The girl expresses her fear that her new apartment might be haunted and proves her fear to her boyfriend through the conversations as he sees the horror first hand and is unable to help her given the long distance nature of their relationship- and without spoilers, that’s pretty much it for the plot.

The good here are some of the pretty creepy scares that come from putting yourself in either person’s shoes but for me at first it was the dread I would feel from the boyfriend’s perspective of seeing these “spirits” and how helpless I would feel not being able to be there for my significant other. Eventually when the short gets to where it goes the initial reveal seems satisfying and mysterious, but as the twist plays out I felt mostly annoyed. However, I do appreciate trying to throw something absolutely crazy into the generic set up so for that I give this short some extra props. I can’t imagine a lot of people ending this segment with a full grasp on what they just saw- this is definitely one that will ignite plenty of talkback that will include personal theories as well as anger.

10/31/98 (Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez and Chad Villella a.k.a Radio Silence)

The final segment of V/H/S indeed sends the collection out with a bang. This short comes from four filmmakers that call themselves Radio Silence and are definitely a group to keep an eye out for from here on out. The short begins with four guys (played by the directors) dressed up for Halloween (one in a bear costume rigged with a nanny cam) and are on their way to a Halloween party. They arrive at the house only to find it seemingly empty and with the flickering lights and other strange happenings assume that it has been rigged as a haunted house. As they explore further they realize quickly that what is happening is not a Halloween prank, but something more sinister.

I’m still in the process of digesting V/H/S as a whole, but as of right now this is my favorite segment of the film. It has the best camera work, the best scares and it’s actually very fun. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t find anything about this light hearted, but the short is essentially like watching people walk through a virtual haunted house. It starts out with subtle creepy touches as small as a character studying an item on the first floor of a house then later seeing the same item has somehow found its way upstairs to extremely horrifying scares of handprints following you as you run away in pure terror. The special effects look spectacular and are nearly seamless with the found footage style that only make this not only fun to look at but also scary on a visceral level.

As you can see V/H/S brings together quite the variety of cool experiments with the found footage style rather than just the typical “scan the screen for the scare” style that the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films lean on heavily. In spite of a couple segments that I have my issues with but still like for the most part the overall effect the film had on me cannot be overstated- V/H/S left me shaken, disturbed and tense. This is material that is not for the faint of heart or for people who despise found footage, but is something that horror fans owe it to themselves to at least give a chance. Lock the doors, shut the lights off and buckle yourself in your seat and prepare for one of most visceral and terrifying horror movies of the year.

Rating: A-

Movie Review: A Horrible Way To Die (2010)

There are certain expectations that came to mind when I sat down to watch A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE. One is just a plain and simple stalk and slash movie and the other based on the title is brutal wall to wall gore. Apparently I need to start checking my own expectations at the door because while the movie is about a killer and it has moments of brutal gore it is by no means as generic as I expected, the gore is not nonstop and it’s much slower and moodier than I ever could have predicted.

A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE takes two stories that slowly inch closer and closer to intersecting. The first story is that of Sarah (Amy Seimetz), a recovering alcoholic that is fresh off an extremely unhealthy relationship that causes her to be somewhat cautious and withdrawn but starts warming up to a fellow AA member, Kevin (Joe Swanberg). The second story is that of Sarah’s ex-boyfriend, Garrick (AJ Bowen) who has just escaped from prison. It becomes clear right of the bat that Garrick is psychotic and that he was in prison for a series of brutal murders which he gets right back to once he’s escaped. Garrick’s side of the story is that of a road trip that is presumably leading toward Sarah’s direction while Sarah’s story is that of a blooming relationship as well as mentally coping with her relationship with Garrick and his escape.

The film is an exercise is extreme patience and mounting tension. It takes an extremely patient viewer to stay with this movie and enjoy it as much as I did. The horror slowly builds and is not quite as in your face as most gene efforts but there are moments of horrific violence for the gorehounds to chew on. The rest of the movie focuses on mood alone- especially on Sarah’s side of the story because while she is an interesting character her story isn’t near as compelling as Garrick’s. Even when we see Garrick the film does a great job at giving him great character moments where we can surprisingly sympathize with such a murderous monster. The sympathy comes at several moments that he wishes he could keep from doing these horrible things but is overcome by an overwhelming blood lust which somewhat coincides with Sarah’s struggle with alcohol- albeit Garrick’s addiction is far more disturbing.

A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE while far from being something I would tell anyone to rush out and see would be far less so if not for the terrific performances, especially by AJ Bowen. Bowen brings to life a disturbingly plausible murderer- one that feels guilt and frustration with his inability to retrain himself from killing almost everyone that crosses his path. For quite some time most of his performance is done silently while the camera stays in for close-ups so we can watch him emote rather than bark out a lot of dialogue. It also helps that Bowen has an intimidating physical presence- not to mention he rocks a perfect police mustache through most of the film.

A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE is not without its shortcomings. Some of the cinematography is quite good but there is quite a bit of shaky cam used during some attack scenes and even just plain dialogue scenes. The timeline of the film does become a bit screws as there were jumps of Bowen sporting his cop-stache after he’d shaved and then the next scene he’d have a full lumberjack beard. The film is exceedingly patient (slow in other words), so while it was not an issue for me I know there are audiences that will not appreciate the slow build.

A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE thrives on building tension the chilling performance by AJ Bowen. There are some moments of brutal violence and disturbing visuals but they serve only to enhance the overall mood of the film which is extremely dark. Director Adam Wingard presents an extremely intimate story between two people and the widespread consequences of their relationship and if you can stay with it till the end the payoff is great even if it may not make you “feel” good about where it goes. A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE is not for everyone, but I think the title serves to make that point pretty obvious.