Dastardly Double Feature Episode 5 – The Invitation & The Sacrament

ddf-logoAfter more of a delay than planned, Mr. Dastardly came over to my place to watch The Invitation and The Sacrament. Watch the movies, then listen to it here, if you dare and check out the trailers below…also if you dare.

In the episode I mentioned Killer POV and Shock Waves. You can listen to Karyn Kusama talk about The Invitation here while Ti West discussed all of his films in this episode.

 

Halloween Scene: V/H/S (2012) and V/H/S 2 (2013)

vhs poster While on my journey to watch new horror movies from this decade, I very quickly came across the anthology film V/H/S. It and its follow-up both share the same basic concept: a group of people in a framing sequence stumble across a house filled with video tapes and start watching. As they begin, we start seeing short segments directed by different up-and-comers from all kinds of horror subgenres, but each featuring a character holding or carrying a camera of some kind.

I wasn’t so sure if I was down with this concept. Like just about everyone I know and listen to, I’m pretty much done with found footage on all levels, but much like Europa Report, the majority of these segments offer clever reasons for the character(s) to carry a video recording device.

And yet, I still almost turned the first one off. After the fact, I realized that I was not down with the overly “bro” nature of the guys in the framing sequence who run up on women, lift their shirts up and record it and the ones in David Bruckner’s kick-off segment called “Amateur Night” who pick up a woman who is far more dangerous than she seems at first. All of that grossness combined together to taint my opinion of the movie, but after that it got a lot better.

First off, the framing sequence is actually pretty creepy. I wasn’t expecting much from that because, hey, this is a horror anthology and that part is almost always padding, but this one helmed my Adam Wingard (You’re Next) offered its own unique scares. Aside from “Amateur Night,” though, I thought the rest were really well done. Ti West’s “Second Honeymoon” worked super well as a short — and also starred the great A.J. Bowen — Glenn McQuaid’s “Tuesday the 17th” did something really fun and unique with the slasher genre while also making the camera’s presence an integral part of the action. I’ll admit, I had to look up “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” by Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies) because I did not catch what happened at the end. Finally, Radio Silence’s “10/31/98” featured my favorite incorporation of the camera — the guy is dressed as a teddy bear nanny cam, which is pretty ingenious — and also a rapid fire short that rockets somewhere pretty crazy, pretty quickly.

V-H-S-2_PosterWhile I definitely had my problems with the first V/H/S, I was interested enough to check out the follow-up which, like I said, kept the same basic premise while upping the game when it came to story diversity and special effects. This time around, Simon Barrett, who wrote You’re Next, directed the framing sequence which finds a pair of PIs breaking into a house trying to find a kid who was obsessed with the same kind of tapes seen in the first film. Though it features the same kinds of scares seen in its predecessor, they’re still effective.

Wingard returned for another super clever use of the format called “Phase I Clinical Trials” which saw a guy with a robot eye plagued by ghosts who meets up with a woman with a hearing implant. This one had a super deep mythology that was presented very succinctly and also included a few definite scares that worked well. After that Blair Witch Project vets Eduardo Sánchez and Gregg Hale did a nice little zombie thing I dug called “A Ride In The Park” that’s probably my favorite zombie thing since Dance Of The Dead.

The last two segments, The Raid‘s Gareth Evans’ “Safe Haven” and the Jason Eisener (Hobo With A Shotgun) directed “Slumber Party Alien Abduction,” were stellar shorts that had me going and absorbed from the jump. Huge kudos to both of those for being interesting, fun, scary and all-around fantastic. While so different, both of these parts felt perfectly executed and written for this kind of film.

Overall, I liked the stories in V/H/S 2 better than the original, but I will say that I had more problems with the actual set-up of the films. If you’re buying into the conceit, these videos were shot and then distributed amongst collectors like the people inhabiting the houses in both framing sequences. And yet, in the zombie bit you’ve got multiple sources incorporated (the Go Pro mainly, but then the camera held by parents at a kid’s birthday party). It gets even crazier in “Safe Haven” where you get a mix of the documentary crew’s raw footage (complete with levels and whatnot), plus compound security footage AND subtitles to boot. These elements kind of ruin the suspension of disbelief I had with people trading these simple tapes by putting a lot of editing into the process. On their own, they’re not a big deal, but I kept finding myself ripped out of the story itself with thoughts like “Hey, who subtitled that? Why didn’t they remove the levels and whatnot?” Maybe I over-thought them, but it seems like a pretty simple thing to fix in order to make these movies make sense within the world that’s set up.

Finally, how crazy is the world presented in these two movies? Everything from demon women and zombies to aliens and cults take place all in the same world with only these tapes as proof. I haven’t seen V/H/S Viral yet, but I would love it if that one dug a little deeper into the overall mythology instead of just presenting more cool bits and pieces of short horror.

Quick Movie Review: Drinking Buddies (2013)

drinking buddies poster In a lot of ways, flipping through Netflix’s Instant offerings reminds me of my days wandering through my local Family Video and checking out all kinds of movies based on very little information. I usually went by cover or familiar cast, maybe reading the description on the back and just giving all kinds of movies a shot. It’s basically the same thing with Netflix with a lot more landmines thrown in the mix.

When I saw the poster for Drinking Buddies, though, I was pretty sure it was something I’d like. Just look at that cast! Office Space‘s Ron Livingston! New Girl and Safety Not Guaranteed star Jake Johnson! Pitch Perfect‘s Anna Kendrick! And Olivia Wilde whose work I’m not really familiar with. I also didn’t know much about writer/director Joe Swanberg who took a very improvisational approach to this film, often just letting his actors go with a few story details and seeing what happened. Swanberg’s a big deal in the small budget subgenre called mumblecore which usually focus on super personal stories for the characters.

In the case of drinking buddies, Wilde and Johnson play co-workers at a brewery who are also good friends. They’re each in a relationship, Wilde with Livingston and Johnson with Kendrick, but a trip to a cabin soon breaks up the norm for them. I won’t get into spoilers — by the way, skip the IMDb trivia page for the film before viewing because it’s super spoilery in the main section — but the film essentially finds these two characters examining their relationships with one another and their partners.

As I mentioned above, I wasn’t very familiar with Wilde going into this movie, but I found myself really enjoying her character and performance. Of the group, I think she’s got one of the more complicated characters to play and she pulls it off. She’s really great at her job (which seems to be in PR or something along those lines), but doesn’t really have much of her life aside from that in order. Her relationship with Livingston feels like a placeholder even if she doesn’t want to admit it. And when you see her in her apartment, it opens up a whole house full of windows into who she is (the birthday cake thing made me cringe).

Overall I liked this film. The chemistry between the characters is spot on. You get why each person is friends with/connected to/in a relationship with the others and it all feels fresh. I don’t know how big a fan I am of the super realistic way the characters talk though. It might feel more real — people stutter, repeat words and get lost in thought all the time in real life — but that can be distracting in a piece of fiction. But if this improvisation format allowed the actors to better tap into the emotion of their characters, I can handle lots of “likes” and “ums.” The movie also doesn’t have a traditional arc when you think about it. At the end of it, you’re not really sure what’s up with any of the characters. Truths are told, but we have no real idea what ramifications the events of the film have. This also didn’t bother me too much, but I can see it being a sticking point for some. I think if you’re a fan of the actors — Jason Sudeikis is also in a few scenes — and are even remotely familiar with this style of indie filmmaking, I think you’ll dig it too.