Starring: Joe Swanberg, Sophia Takal, Calvin Reeder, Adam Wingard, Kate Lyn Sheil, and Lane Hughes
Magnolia Pictures Presents A Film Directed By: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin (as Radio Silence), David Bruckner, Tyler Gillett (as Radio Silence),
Justin Martinez (as Radio Silence), Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Chad Villella (as Radio Silence), Ti West, and Adam Wingard.
Written By: Simon Barrett, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Nicholas Tecosky, Chad Villella, and Ti West.
Rated R – Drug Use, Bloody Violence, Pervasive Language, Graphic Nudity and Strong Sexuality
I’m fascinated by the found footage format. I was burbling about a horror anthology called V/H/S which was going to be nothing but found footage as interpreted by six directors (more really, there’s at least four operating under the pseudonym Radio Silence). Well, it finally became available on a number of Video On Demand venues, so I didn’t have to wait for its October theatrical debut… and I don’t like watching found footage movies in a cinema, anyway. It’s just not right.
Horror anthologies always have a framing device, and this one is fitting: a gang of hooligans who videotapes their illegal activities (like vandalism, burglaries and grabbing women to expose their breasts) get hired to pull a job that seems up their alley: breaking into a remote house and stealing a particular videocassette. Once there, they find the house’s sole occupant dead, and a lot of tapes. While the others search the house, various members of the gang check out tapes one by one… and these contain our stories.
The first story, “Amateur Night”, starts the proceedings off fairly strongly, and has one of the better devices for combating the “Why do they keep filming?” skepticism: a pair of “video glasses” with a built-in camera and microphone. Two frat boy-types pop these glasses on their nerdier friend, rent a hotel room, then start cruising the local bars. There is one woman who seems attracted to our walking camera, an odd, seemingly feral girl who only seems to know one phrase, “I like you.” Back at the hotel room, when the only other pick-up passes out, the other two men start concentrating on the Spooky Girl, with predictably (yet still somewhat surprisingly) gory results.
I should mention that Spooky Girl is effectively played by Hannah Fierman, an actress whose face I swear is 1/3 eyes. Very striking, very good performance. I’m going to say all the performances in “Amatuer Night” are pretty good, to the point of making me extremely uncomfortable. This segment seems to take a little long to get to its payoff, which is the only real criticism I can make.
You’re going to wind up in the same fix with “Second Honeymoon”, written and directed by Ti West. West has been getting some very good press with his movies HOUSE OF THE DEVIL and THE INNKEEPERS, but I was dreadfully let down by this sequence. Very long setup, very sudden and unsatisfying payoff.
The third sequence, “Tuesday the 17th” starts yet again with a group of young people heading out into the country while some guy annoys everyone with his video camera – that’s pretty endemic to the format – but at least it’s dispensed with pretty quickly. The girl taking everyone out to her folks’ “cabin by the lake” has an agenda of her own, involving some murders at that location several years before. The main interesting point to this story seems cribbed, however unwittingly, from the Marble Hornets web series, with a killer that screws up video signals, which at the very least leads to some interesting visuals.
No spoilers here, nope, nuh uh.
Story #4, “The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger” breaks with established form magnificently by presenting the story as series of Skype calls, instead of camcorder footage. It also has some of the most effective scares and the best twist of the movie.
The last story, “10/31/98? is about yet another group of young men who are headed out to a Halloween party on the titular date. One of the guys has built a handycam into the head of his bear costume, so there you go. Nobody is really sure where this party is located, and there’s some driving around to fill time. Once they think they’ve finally found it… well, needless to say, it’s the wrong house. It is a very wrong house, and this story has some of the best frights in the whole flick.
The build on V/H/S is very good, starting out solidly, if a bit slowly, then upping the ante through the last three tales. Sadly, I think the Ti West story could have been easily excised and produced a tighter, shorter movie. The framing story does stand on its own pretty well, with a few shocks of its own. The acting is never less than professional (though the character work in “Tuesday the 17th” is pretty cliché, which I think was the point), and even very, very good in places.
So I’m going to say, yeah, very worth the rental. If you don’t like found footage, this isn’t going to change your mind. But in a pretty tepid year for horror stories, it’s nice to find one that goes for the gusto without resorting to the simple meanness of torture, or by remaking another, more successful movie from 20 years before.
Keeping that in mind: definitely worth the rental, especially if you’re a horror fan suffering through a drought of decent material.
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