Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Chad Villella, Ti West, Adam Wingard
Momentum Blu Ray Region B
I remember wanting to see this movie when it did the festival circuit a couple of years ago, despite seeing some pretty mixed word of mouth, so to speak, on Twitter. Ultimately, it’s a movie which seems to doom itself to failure in some ways, fairly early on in the game but, at the same time it’s certainly a nice idea to present an old style horror anthology by using the, relatively, new popularisation of the old found footage variation of horror film. And, it has to be said, there are some fairly bright moments in the movie that make it worth persevering with through the negative stuff and I can certainly see why a couple of more enthusiastically received sequels have already been made in what is now a strong, found footage franchise.
The film is all shot on VHS tape... well, probably not actually, it’s probably shot on something much better and visually downgraded after the fact. This becomes especially apparent in the last story of the movie where some interesting CGI stuff is utilised throughout yet another “shaky cam” sequence. This, of course, allows for the various crews getting away with all kinds of bad camera work and not having to think too much about the design of any particular sequence in terms of framing... other than the details of the set or location dressing, of course.
The framing story starts off really quite badly by inviting us to follow a bunch of thugs who have been hired to steal a specific VHS tape from a house. Unless you are some kind of hoodlum yourself, you will find yourself having absolutely no sympathy whatsoever for any of the characters and will want to see them all die in as horrible a way as can be conceived, right from the outset. Now, while this may well be the tactic being deployed by the filmmakers here, for me this just didn’t work that well. If I can’t sympathise with any of the victims then I’m really not going to invest enough emotion in them for the scenes of suspense to work on me and while the director was taking great delight in showing little, telling details unheralded in a corner of a frame, such as a corpse vanishing, for instance, this stuff really didn’t get the heart racing as much as I’d hoped a horror movie might.
The idea is that while the hoodlums are going through the house, one of them starts watching the various other “found footage” VHS tapes in the TV room and we watch these along with him... and it’s here that the film threatened to lose me on two counts.
The first problem is that the group of characters in the next found footage film are basically... another bunch of hoodlums not much different from the ones in the framing footage and who have absolutely no sympathy from me when they start dying. The other problem is, and this should really have been a no brainer of a mistake not to make, is that we are no longer watching the video footage we were watching... somehow, each of the miniature found footage stories are now directly on our screens. So that completely kills that concept then... did someone splice these onto one long tape in just the right places so that the framing story can then take over again in between each segment? This makes absolutely no sense and it was just about now that I kind of gave up on the film inside my head for a bit.
Luckily for me, the first story has an enthralling femme fatale, lets call her the “I like you” girl, in the form of British actress Hannah Fierman and it was her that got me interested again. Now it’s obvious, right from the outset, that no good is going to come out of the main protagonists hooking up with her at a party (yeah, good, they all deserved to die for their thuggish behaviour anyway) but it’s such an old school dose of clichéd but classic sexual horror that I was enchanted with it in some ways... primarily, I suspect, because the actress I just mentioned had such an interesting screen presence.
After this segment, the film becomes a bit of a hit and miss affair, as would be expected in these kinds of anthologies. The majority of the scenarios presented to us are nothing too new but, in some cases (the well made ones), this really doesn’t matter. There’s a nice “haunted apartment” section, for instance, which turns into something else and which, while not altogether unsurprising, has enough in terms of the writing and performance that, if anything, it leaves you feeling the segment was just a little too short. The down side of that, however, is that it’s not actually pseudo-VHS footage... it’s pseudo-Skype footage... which, of course, makes even less sense when you consider it in the context of the found footage framing device... what, somebody transferred their collected Skype conversations to VHS tape. Why?
Another segment is a “final girl” story with a nice “Predator-like” killer who can only be seen on video and with a main protagonist who is using her companions as bait to catch him... which could have been quite refreshing and is relatively well done visually but which has a script and story that really lets it down. Seriously, if you’re going to go hunting a killer, you take weapons with you and not rely on setting traps which it’s obvious couldn’t have been made and prepared in the ridiculously short amount of time played out via the footage. No matter how unintelligent the characters are in horror films, sometimes as a necessity, this one really takes the cake for a person going in completely unprepared and needlessly. So the twist in the tale in that one was tempered by the quite extraordinary lack of brain power of the person who sets events in motion in this one.
There are around six stories in the film in total and, while some of them do hold your interest... and some of them do finally have some characters who are at least a little sympathetic... it’s not exactly the best set of horror shorts I’ve seen although, the last story with it’s Dennis Wheatley style shenanigans is quite nicely done with some well executed special effects. There was an alternative ending on this sequence which I’m glad the director didn’t go with but, strangely, this story marks the end of the film. The framing story is, surprisingly, already played out by the time this last segment appears with, pretty much, no context... so it was a bit of a jarring ending in some ways.
Ultimately, although I was disappointed with a lot of this film, it’s still a nice idea and, like I said earlier, you expect anthology format kinds of films to be a bit hit and miss. This one is mainly miss for me but there were enough interesting spins on old classics to keep me interested... once I’d gotten past the first quarter of an hour. Due to the nature of the beast, I can’t say it’s not worth watching because I expect everyone is going to have their own specific hits and misses among this lot so, if you’re a fan of horror, and found footage shaky cam horror in particular, then you could do a lot worse than to spend an evening in with this movie, of you can rustle up a cheap copy. I’ll certainly be checking out the sequels at some point... when the price is right.