Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Aaand We're Back Where We Began: 100 Posts and VHS 2

I couldn't resist this glorious Tony Moore (The Walking Dead) poster. It's awesome.
Yup. That's right, the big one with the two zeros after it. A real life milestone. I don't do well at keeping going with or (on rare occasions) completing projects, so to have worked on a blog long enough for it to have reach three-figure entries is a big thing for me. In celebration of all of our hard work here (what? You think I'd have forgotten about Rhona's awesome efforts?!) I've decided to hark all the way back to the beginning. The origin. Patient zero.

My second review on this blog was of the low-budget cult anthology horror V/H/S. If there are two things I love it's horror films and anthologies of horror films, so it's only fitting that to hail in another 100 posts of barely coherent raving we should look at its successor: V/H/S 2.

Tagline: "Rise of the Betamax"
From a critical point of view, anthologies are a nightmare. Do you judge each story separately or consider the film as a whole? Does the former mean you'll have to give out ratings for every section individually? Fuck that shit, sounds hard. Imagine doing that for The ABC's of Death. Oh wait, someone already did. For both movies. Good effort. But yes, I've spoken at length already about the recent state of anthology horror and V/H/S ended up in the bad books as far as overarching narrative and sheer volume of unnecessary sex was concerned, so I'm hoping to see a more concerted effort to tie the vastly different stories together into a believable universe with less awful people in it. I'll give basic synopses of each story, but personally I quite like the mixed bag effect of these films so be like your uncle Ben and jump right on in before you get the surprise ruined for you.
What is this? No-one told me the movie would involve people watching video tapes!
All in all there's four separate films plus the overarching storyline, so we'll talk about each of them, what they did right and wrong, if they work together, and if the movie is on a whole at all enjoyable. That should get us done just about in time for a cuppa and some cake. Let's begin with video number one:

Some guy gets a cool bionic eye that records everything (for reasons) and he starts seeing weird scary shit. Fucking inexplicably happens.

On the plus side you do get an epic Blade Runner look.
I liked this one. The whole eye implant thing was a slick way of getting around the iffy constraints of found-footage and they even added the nice touch of the character's blinking covering up the camera for a split second. Some might find it annoying, but it works surprisingly well as a jarring addition to an already quite tense story. Speaking of which, the whole thing is a total rip-off of the 2002 horror film The Eye, best known for having its ending ruined by the 2008 Jessica Alba film The Eye, but it brings enough of a fresh perspective (heh) to the concept to be taken as its own entity without having too many points deducted.

Where the short really shines though are the jump scares. I have never been a fan of these little pieces of horror popping candy; they're too predictable and they don't really scare, more startle. That said, these were spot on, appearing out of nowhere and in such an unrelenting fashion that by the end you're thinking, "Oh god, there's going to be another jump. Shit, there totally is. AHH! There it was. Fuck you, film."

"Nyehhhhhhhhhhhhhh..." - Me
I will admit that it is a little formulaic. The other principle character is a sassy punk girl who offers up big chunks of exposition and advice before turning into a romantic interest and having her life put in jeopardy. Yeah, real original character creation there. That's the Human Fighter of the non-RPG world.
At least punks have a higher survival rate than the monster-fodder that are goths.
Also, this guy must be the saddest human alive. He lives alone in a mansion, the place is a tip, and look at his collection of video games. It's so messy! Any self respecting gamer would have their shit in much better order. You know what, I take that back; I am the saddest human for spotting the NES that appears on screen for a grand total of about 0.5 seconds.

He has the best life.
On to clip number two!

A guy goes for a bike ride with his trusty Go-Pro and runs across some zombies chillin' in the woods. Fucking does not inexplicably happen.

BOO! ZOMBIES! I love 'em, but c'mooooon, we can do better in this day and age. I was really looking forward to someone using the recent insurgence of Go-Pro related epicness to make a found-footage horror, and it got wasted on zombies? Guh! This would have been much better mixed in with the glorious short, Cargo. Plus, the concept doesn't fit at all into the rest of the movie: the other shorts involve small groups of people in isolated areas and conclude with something nasty, but which could potentially be explained away. Here, our character is in a forest close enough to civilisation that he toddled on over to it before for breakfast, and that's popular enough to be used as a destination for children's birthday parties.

Not even the kind where you dump them in the wilderness for a week with only a machete and primal instinct.
Best 10th birthday? Best 10th birthday.
Speaking of the party, why the hell did the camera change to some guy's home video? I get that in the other shorts the shot could move about because there were multiple cameras all hooked up to the one system, but it doesn't make sense that someone would take the time to source the Go-Pro tape and then splice a different camera's video in at the right time. What if they aren't even the same video format? Which is likely seeing as this father is old-fashioned enough to use a video camera and not an iPhone to film his daughter's birthday. If you're going to do found-footage at least work within the constraints you cheating bastards.

Now we come to the acting. Ohhhh boy. Prepare for some superbly Three Stooges-level hilarious hammy zombie acting. At one point the zombie we're watching from the perspective of puts his hand on a barbecue and lets out a mumbled yelp before getting skewered with a barbecue prong; this shit writes itself. There's even a moment where he tries to eat a wallet and spits it out with exactly same sound as a Scooby Doo monster or Disney's Stitch. Everyone else is no better, either awful at acting as humans or at shuffling about as zombies; two particular culprits are the cyclists early on who act so badly I assume they're the reason the dead are coming back to life.

Meet bike-helmet-emo-fringe girl and a professional Ryan Stiles impersonator.
The only redeeming quality of the short is the visual effects, and even they have a few moments of utter crapness; a zombie walks past in one shot with what is obviously a piece of tubing painted red dangling from his shirt to look like an intestine. Apart from that though the gore is pretty solid, and by that I mean spectacularly goopy and gross, as it should be. I felt a bit weird eating mango during this bit so I swapped to raw venison instead; it felt right.

Video number three!

A television crew gain access to a creepy cult run by a terrifying old guy and bring along a bunch of hidden cameras to catch all their goings on. Fucking inexplicably happens.
Creepy old guy stares down a rhino.
This is the one everyone was raving about when I first heard tale of V/H/S 2, and for good reason. The story has an impressively fleshed out and weighty feeling lore surrounding it, even if the short itself only scratches the surface; you can feel that there's been much more going on here before the camera ever started rolling. If you're wanting an idea of the tone, think Siren Blood Curse meets The Blair Witch Project aaaaand I've totally shotgunned that for a feature film idea.

Hey, look. Stick things.
The directors have really made novel and imaginative use of the constraints of found footage too, allowing for multiple camera angles using button cams and TV cameras without it feeling like a cheat (see Zombie Birthday Home Movies above). The cinematography is really good too, this being the only one of the four shorts that seems to have put much effort into that aspect of the film; I think it can be quite easy to assume that films of this sub-genre doesn't need to be well framed; not true.

The acting is suitably solid and its nice to see a high profile horror taking the leap with using a different culture (and language) for one of its settings. All too often is horror penned in by its own culture, creating major trouble when trying to make it relevant to others (see all American remakes of Japanese movies ever, except The Ring), but here the cultural differences are an asset. The setting is unique and the story's creepy mystique is compounded by it's cultural and religious influence, resulting in a great, tense story that just keeps getting more and more crazy as it goes on.
I think this picture speaks for itself.
Last but not least, number 4:

A dog watches a load of shitty American kids piss off their shitty older sister and her shitty boyfriend before monsters happen and you hope they all die except for the dog. Fucking inevitably happens.

The dog does die, cause this is shitty. Spoilers I guess.
What a way to end an overall reasonably solid movie. This is awful. Terrible. No good. Bad. Ew. After getting through all the other shorts I was worried that V/H/S 2 wouldn't follow in the footsteps of it's ancestor and make everyone unnecessarily terrible human beings, but it seems they just crammed them all into one bit rather than spreading them out. You want everyone to die horribly which means you don't care what happens to them, so no scares here.

G'wan! Get that pissing little pile of smegma! Get 'im good!
The monsters (above) look good until they're shoved all up in your face for a solid ten minutes, which is pretty much horror sacrilege. Seriously guys, look up tact. And you know how the last short made some effort with its cinematography? This one went all out with making you really believe the whole thing was being filmed by the family dog.

Oh wow, I'm so glad I can see all the really cool and interesting stuff going on.
That's all there is to say about that one. The overarching story won't take long either; it's identical to the first film. People break into a house, find the owner missing and the whole place filled with mysterious tapes. They watch said tapes and probably end up dying horribly. The only difference is that you like these characters (the first film's anarchic criminals were less than sympathetic), so you do actually hope that they'll get out OK. I'll leave it to your own imagination whether or not they do.

On a whole, we've got a movie that bears a complete spectrum of quality: good bits, great bits, meh bits, and steaming piles of ass. The film runs smoothly and keeps a steady pace that's neither sluggish nor rushed, so even in the down time you're kept engaged; of which there's a surprising amount. This is a much subtler and more mature attempt than the first film in the series, and it's better for it. It's just too bad they ended with the ass.

Overall Ben Equivalence Rating

Watching Half a Dozen Mediocre Horror Movies on Fast Forward - 
Interestingly, pace-wise The Blair Witch Project is exactly the same when you do this.

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