Here Comes the Devil (2012) review

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Fuses the grindhouse with the arthouse into an interesting but unsatisfying hybrid.

Landscapes are scary. Their enormity makes us feel small. Their longevity mocks the brevity of our existence, reminding us that they were around before our birth and will continue after our death. They represent natural forces beyond our control, that shape our lives in ways we can barely understand, and if you stare at them long enough, you might start to imagine that these forces are not merely natural but supernatural – possibly incomprehensible and potentially malevolent. This brooding, irrational dread infuses the early scenes of HERE COMES THE DEVIL, lending an aura of uncanny menace, a la Peter Weir’s PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, that lingers in the memory long after writer-director Adrián García Bogliano has diluted the atmosphere  with a potent but rather inchoate mix of exploitation horror, revenge, gore, and sex. Fortunately, in what is either a happy accident or a clever piece of cinematic jiu-jitsu, Bogliano’s inability or refusal to formulate the disparate elements into a rational whole leaves the film itself feeling a bit like an incomprehensible artifact – a metaphoric crevasse in the intimidating landscape the film depicts so unnervingly. So score this one as a partial victory, in spite of itself.
The story follows Sol (Laura Caro) and Felix (Francisco Barreiro), parents out for a weekend excursion with their children, Sara (Michele Garcia) and Adolfo (Alan Martinez). This kids want to explore a nearby landscape on their own. Felix grants permission, because he wants a few moments alone with Sol in the car, so that they can have sex (which we are led to believe happens too infrequently since the kids came along).

You don't need to be Freud to figure out the significance of this crevasse.
You don't need to be Freud to figure out the significance of this crevasse.

While Sara and Adolfo explore a crevasse in the rocks, Felix explores Sol’s crevasse in the car. There is an orgasm and an earthquake; the kids disappear; the police are called. The children are found the next day, and life goes back to normal. Well, not so much: there is something odd about Sara and Adolfo, almost pod-like; they seem too secretive about their mysterious absence, and a child psychologist suggests they may be too close for a normal brother-sister relationship. Did something happen on the mountain? Something vile and unspeakable? And was it sexual in nature, or supernatural?
In case you didn’t notice,  “crevasse” in this context is a deliberate pun on the use of the word as a slang term for female genitalia. I wish I could take credit for this, but that goes to Bogliano, who leaves us in little doubt about the true source of horror in the film. If there is one thing more profoundly disturbing than eternal landscapes, it is sex. Bogliano establishes this in the opening scene a gratuitous lesbian coupling that leads immediately to a violent confrontation with a home invader (later revealed to be a serial killer), who is wounded and retreats to the mysterious mountain top, presumably to die (though his death throes suggest a sex act with the local rocky terrain).
Clearly no good can come of this, at least not in a film titled HERE COMES THE DEVIL.
Clearly no good can come of this, at least not in a film titled HERE COMES THE DEVIL.

The sequence has little to do with what follows, except insofar as it provides one concrete example of the mountain’s ominous reputation for evil (like villagers in Transylvania, the locals warn the tourists to avoid the cursed spot). The real purpose of the sequence is to make the initial connection between sex, violence, and death. To be fair, there is at least a suggestion that the problem is not sex, per se, but feelings of guilt over acting in ways that violate conservative social expectations: Sol fears she is neglecting the children; one of the women in the opening seems to immediately regret her Sapphic liaison. In any case, the symbolic “little death” of the orgasm leads inevitably to literal death – suggesting a dark conspiracy of primordial forces both inside and outside of us, tempting us to indiscretions with fatal consequences.
If this sounds pretentious, don’t worry. HERE COMES THE DEVIL never makes the mistake of explicating this in the dialogue; the implications simply exist like raw ore, waiting to be extracted. Unfortunately, Bogliano is not content to let his viewers mine this vein on their own; he has other, more visceral concerns that trump thematic ambition, distracting him from what could have been an effectively ambiguous tale of sexual aberration hiding beneath a veneer of the supernatural (a la THE CAT PEOPLE or THE INNOCENTS).
Sol (center) wonders what's wrong with Sara and Adolfo.
Sol (center) wonders what's wrong with Sara and Adolfo.

Let’s face it: the audience for an unrated horror film such as HERE COMES THE DEVIL is not interested in subtle ambiguity; they want to see boundaries crossed and taboos broken, and Bogliano is happy to oblige, whatever the cost to his film. Besides establishing the sex-death connection, the lesbian prologue immediately grabs attention-deficit viewers, who might otherwise tune out during the slowly building tension of the first-act disappearance and the gradually escalating concerns of the parents after their children reappear. This kind of pandering is easy enough to understand – an artist has a right to hook his audience, after all – but later developments are not so forgivable.
HERE COMES THE DEVIL goes off the rails when Bogliano introduces a subplot in which Sol and Felix track down a misfit they believe sexually abused their children. Not only does this distract from the main story; it mars an interesting variation on the either-of ambiguity of the scenario: Most films would ask, “Are the children possessed, or are the parents imagining it?” HERE COMES THE DEVIL asks, “Are the children acting strangely because they are possessed or because they were abused?” Unfortunately, instead of exploring this concept, Bogliano uses it as an excuse to stage a bloody atrocity scene.
Working on the thinnest of evidence, Sol and Felix murder the suspected abuser. The scene is staged for maximum gore – and quite nonsensically. Felix slits the man’s throat, the inexplicably grabs his legs, which doesn’t seem a particularly effective way to restrain him but does give Sol access to the man’s upper torso. Not content to let the struggling victim simply bleed out, Sol reaches into his gaping throat and tears out his larynx with her fingers. The violence is spectacular but ridiculous. Even worse, it utterly destroys any sympathy we have for our protagonists, whose fate ceases to interest us, rendering the rest of the film as an archetypal example of the dreaded “Eight Deadly Words” syndrome: I don’t care what happens to these people.
Charitably, one might argue that there is a point to the scene: Faced with a horrible reality they cannot process emotionally, Sol and Felix seek a scapegoat. The irony here is that the “horrible reality” is demonic possession, and they mistakenly target a more tangible, believable source for their troubles. Whatever the intention, HERE COMES THE DEVIL starts to become less about the problem with the children and more about the parents’ getting away with murder, as a local sheriff starts showing up to ask questions about the missing misfit.
It's not PARANORMAL ACTIVITY but an amazing simulation!
It's not PARANORMAL ACTIVITY but an amazing simulation!

Along the way we see some paranormal activity focused on Sara and Adolfo; a babysitter recounts what sounds like supernatural sexual abuse and strongly hints at witnessing an incestuous relationship between the brother and sister; the story of the serial killer from the prologue is recounted, this time with a glimpse of his demonic visage. The clever touch here is that most effectively eerie supernatural phenomena are recounted second hand and seen in flashback, leaving us to wonder how literally to take these tales (is it real or imagination).
Just in case the title were not enough, HERE COMES THE DEVIL ultimately comes down squarely on the side of ominous occult forces, when we see Adolfo and later Sol levitating. The sequence with Adolfo is effective not only as a set-piece but also as a dramatic development driving the parents’ hysterical search for answers. Unfortunately, the later sequence with Sol leaves actress Laura Caro looking less like the helpless victim of supernatural menace than a comic relief character falling out of a hammock. In any case, after being menaced not only by her affect-less living children but also by zombie-like visions of their corpses, Sol returns to the mountain and learns the awful truth.
Not that we care by this point, but….
SPOILERS
… it turns out that Sara and Adolfo never came out of the crevasse: Sol finds their bodies inside the cave, suggesting that they have been replaced by evil dopplegangers. Just when you are wondering what she will do about it, the film takes another weird turn: she shows the awful truth to her husband, adopting an accusatory tone (presumably because he wanted to have sex while letting the children wander off on their own). Felix shoots Sol and then himself – presumably because he cannot face the guilty truth but really so that Bogliano can hit us with the “shocking” conclusion, in which duplicates of Sol and Felix emerge from the cave and drive home, presumably to reconcile with their duplicate children and enjoy a happily demonic home life. The nuclear family has been totally subsumed by the evil lurking in the mountain, their lives destroyed by the aftershocks of the parent’s sexual dalliance (a metaphor emphasized by the fact that an earthquake occurs whenever someone dies on the mountain and is replaced by an evil double).
SPOILERS
The downbeat ending might have had some impact if we had been in any way invested in the outcome, but by the time the film finally fades out, we have long since given up on the characters and are interested only in an explanation. The revelation about Sara and Adolfo is good enough to satisfy on a simple “What happened?” level, although strictly speaking it does not gibe with the legends surrounding the haunted mountain (which involve evil forces possessing people as vessels – not exactly what happens here).

CONCLUSION

In spite of all the narrative mis-steps, HERE COMES THE DEVIL’s gloomy aura of cynicism (which passes for authenticity in so far as it eschews Hollywood glitz) sustains itself for most of the feature length. Consequently, the usual suspects (Dread Central, Arrow in the Head, etc) have been singing praises to the film while overlooking that, far from being a radical departure, it is actually not far removed from todays’ mainstream horror film formula (in which families routinely succumb en masse to evil unseen entities).
What raises HERE COMES THE DEVIL a tad above the latest PARANORMAL ACTIVITY spin-off is more a matter of tone than content. Bogliano’s film adopts a grim 1970s exploitation tone that sets the viewer on edge. You see it in the cinematography and hear it on the soundtrack – not so much in the rapid-fire heavy metal song but in the background music, which offers echoes of Pink Floyd’s work for Barbet Schroeder’s mystical THE VALLEY and Fabio Frizzi’s work for Lucio Fulci’s gruesome THE BEYOND. (There is even a character named Lucio, though it is pronounced differently from the moniker of the Italian filmmaker.) Those two touchpoints may seem astronomically removed from each other, but they underline HERE COMES THE DEVIL’s singular achievement, which is fusing the art house with the grindhouse. The result may not be satisfying, but it is interesting.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW FILM
CLICK HERE TO VIEW FILM

HERE COMES THE DEVIL is currently in limited theatrical release, with engagements scheduled in Kansas City, Gainesville, Toronto, and Ottawa. Check Magnet Releasing’s website for details. You can also view the film via Video on Demand in the Cinefantastique Online Store, powered by Amazon.com.
[rating=2]
On the CFQ Scale of 0 to 5 stars, worth checking out if you like this sort of thing.

NOTE:

Adrián García Bogliano explores a similar theme in his “B is for Bigfoot” episode from THE ABCS OF DEATH, which also features a couple trying to get rid of a child so that they can engage in sex. Being a short film, “B is for Bigfoot” avoids the narrative detours the derail HERE COMES THE DEVIL. Also, the only characters who “get it” clearly deserve it, punished not so much for having sex as for cruelly terrifying a young child with a ghastly bedtime story (in order to get her to hide beneath the covers and thus put prevent further interruptions).

This babysister seems to have escaped from Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND.
This babysitter seems to have escaped from Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND.

HERE COMES THE DEVIL (2012). USA Video on Demand and Theatrical Release, December 2013 from Magnet Releasing. Written and directed by Adrián García Bogliano. Cast: Francisco Berreiro as Felix; Laura Caro as Sol; Alan Martinez as Adolfo; Michele Garcia as Sara; David Arturo Cabezud as Lucio; Giancarlo Ruiz as Sgt. Flores. 97 minutes. Not Rated.

V/H/S 2 review

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A quick fix for hardcore horror junkies, but not a sustained high

Despite initial reviews suggesting that V/H/S 2 had perfected the found-footage-anthology format pioneered by V/H/S, the sequel turns out to be mostly more of the same, offering only slight improvement over its predecessor, mostly in the form of a shorter running time, fewer episodes, and reduced sex-ploitation. Once again, expert craftsmanship and remarkable ingenuity yield abundant shocks and sustained, grim intensity – all the more impressive, given the limited resources. Along with the virtues, also come the flaws: the dedication to delivering relentlessly downbeat horror results in monotonous redundancy that prevents the individual episodes from adding up to a satisfying whole. The team of filmmakers behind V/H/S 2 are clearly talented, but judging from the evidence on screen, they expended most of their creativity not on crafting  a variety of interlocking tales but on inventing novel justifications for the skaky-cam style of camerawork. A few moments of poignancy and levity – the latter bordering on camp – are welcome, but they are too brief and too far between to qualify as the badly needed variety. Hardcore horror junkies will get their fix, and then some; non-addicts will enjoy a hit or two but not get a sustained high.

TAPE 49 (Wraparound Beginning) – Written & directed by Simon Barrett

Perhaps a bit too predictably, the wraparound segment of V/H/S 2 begins with a sex scene surreptitiously videotaped – a rather unwanted call-back to a recurring motif in V/H/S. Fortunately, this turns out to be a bit of a false alarm: this time we are not seeing the world through the eyes of young punks out to sexually harass victims; we are following a private eye named Larry (Lawrence Michael Levine), who is gathering evidence against a philandering husband. Larry turns out to be not the most ethical man; he immediately calls the husband and offers to give him the tape if he can make a better offer. (Place your bets on whether Larry will live past the closing credits!)
VHS 2 Tape 46 wraparoundLarry and his partner Ayesha (Kelsey Abbott) then go on their next job: A woman has asked him to find her son, who has gone missing. Breaking into the college student’s house, they find a row of television sets and a stack of videocassettes (including one that shows a clip of “Tape 56” from V/H/S). The tapes become the episodes that make up the body of the film.
Although not exactly engrossing, “Tape 46” is more intriguing than its counterpart in V/H/S, offering cryptic, conspiratorial hints about the collection of videotapes. We catch bits of dialogue from a recording made by a missing student, in which he suggests that the old analog recording medium has potential to affect the nervous system, but the tapes need to be watched in the right order to work. The implication is that the tapes have been deliberately created and collated to do harm, and the “victims” (the missing student and perhaps even the dead man in V/H/S) may have willingly exposed themselves to the contamination.
It’s a good set-up – more imaginative than any of the stories to follow. And of course, the reference to analog tape helps explain why we are dealing with VHS technology in this modern digital era. This concept also adds an eerie layer to the reason that Larry and Ayesha are recording everything they do inside the empty house: it’s part of the deal with their client. We in the audience are left to wonder: Have Larry and Ayesha been set up to create yet another “found footage” horror story?

PHASE I CLINICAL TRIALS – Written by Simon Barrett, directed by Adam Wingard

VHS2PhaseIClinicalTrialsHerman (director Adam Wingard) gets a new experimental mechanical eye, which includes a datachip recording everything he sees (and hears as well – which is a bit of a stretch, since he doesn’t have an ear implant). Unfortunately, as in THE EYE (2002), the new orb opens Adam’s vision to visitors “From Beyond.” A young woman suffering a similar problem, due to a cochlear implant, shows up and tells him she can help him overcome this problem. Guess what? She can’t! The spectral shadows haunting Herman become more invasive, drowning the woman; in desperation, Herman abides by the Biblical injunction: “If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.” Unfortunately, the effect on stopping the spooks is nil.
The first episode of V/H/S delivers the shudders with style, but there is little new here, beyond the novelty of the implanted eye. Clearly, screenwriter Barrett is working hard to answer the question on everyone’s mind during these “hand-held” movies: Why don’t the characters drop the camera and run? His answer is clever, but it raises new questions: How did the recording get off the data chip and onto a videotape? And, since we were told that the chip would record everything, who did the edited out the parts we don’t see?

A RIDE IN THE PARK – Written by Jamie Nash & Eduardo Sanchez, Directed by Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sanchez

A Ride in the Park from V/H/S 2A biker is recording his ride through the park on a Go-Pro camera mounted on his helmet. Stopping to help a woman bleeding from bite wounds, he sees some shuffling people we assume to be zombies, and he winds up bitten by the woman he tried to save. After collapsing unconscious, he resurrects – and begins searching for victims of his own.
That’s right: this episode offers Zombie-Vision – a you-are-there, point-of-view presentation of what it’s like to come back as the living dead. The over-the-top absurdity, coupled with the horror we are witnessing up close and personal, as if we ourselves were committing it, combine to make the stand-out episode of V/H/S 2.
Fortunately, the episode offers more than a clever gimmick; there is also an unexpected touch of pathos. After chewing his way through numerous victims, the bike rider hears his fiance speaking to him over his cell phone – apparently, he “pocket dialed” her while being shot and run over. The sound of her voice seems to bring back some whisper of humanity: the biker crawls to a gun dropped by one of his victims and turns it on himself; the blast knocks the camera loose, giving us a final glimpse of the biker’s blasted head.

SAFE HAVEN – Written by Timo Tjahjanto, Directed by Timo Tjahjanto & Gareth Evans

The crazed cult leader from the Safe Haven episode of V/H/S 2A documentary crew gets permission to videotape within the compound of an Indonesian religious cult. Though initially reluctant, the cult leader seems eager for the opportunity to explain himself. The interview turns negative when the reporter raises questions of child sexual abuse, but the issue soon becomes moot. Apparently, the time of the interview just happens to coincide with the fulfillment of the cult’s achieving Paradise on Earth, which consists of three elements: mass suicide; resurrection as the living dead; the birth of some kind of demon from a human mother. All Hell literally breaks loose; the camera crew is caught in the cross fire – shot, stabbed, or beaten, except for the lone female member, who unwillingly becomes the vessel for the demonic birth. A surviving crew member – he just happens to be the one who got the lady reporter pregnant – flees in a truck but the demon catches up with him and the vehicle overturns. As the man laughs hysterically, snot running down his nose and into the camera lens, the demon leans over the truck, looks down upon him, and says, “Papa.”
With its chilling depiction of a suicide cult, “Safe Haven” recalls horrible real-life tragedies such as the Jones Town Massacre. The horror of being an outsider who has wandered into a lethal situation is ably captured, and viewers are likely to find themselves cringing at the sight of horrors which seem not too far removed from reality.
There are a couple of slip-ups, however. Despite a bevy of willing cult members, for some reason the lone outside woman becomes the unwilling mother of the demon. Is this why the cult leader changed his mind and allowed the crew to film in his compound, or was it just a happy coincidence that the apocalypse started during filming? During the choas, the cult leader is able to overpower and kill a much younger and healthier crew member. How? Just because the script tells him to.

Time to give birth to the Anti-Christ - or something or other.
She's wearing a hidden camera, but we don't see much action from he point of view.

Having gone to the trouble of establishing that the female reporter is wearing a camera lens disguised as a blouse button (again, explaining why the victims do not drop the camera), the episode shoots most of its footage from other cameras, including one that seems to be mounted on the dashboard for no particular reason. Again, we are given no clue who assembled and edited all this footage. (And when you think about it, once we are seeing scenes edited together from multiple cameras, haven’t we left the “found footage’ genre behind and moved into pseudo-documentary territory?)
The finale is worth a giggle, but one wonders why a demon so indifferent to the death of its mother would be interested in establishing a familial bond with its father.

SLUMBER PARTY ALIEN ABDUCTION – Written John Davies & Jason Eisener, directed by Jason Eisener

Slumber Part Alien Abduction, from V/H/S 2While their parents are away for the evening, some friends goof around with a camera, attaching it to their dog and playing practical jokes, which include sneaking in on an elder sister while she is in bed with her boyfriend. During a brief moment underwater, a boy catches a glimpse of something vaguely alien-looking. Later that night, a full-blown alien abduction takes place. The kids run for cover but cannot escape as, one by one, they are mysteriously yanked skyward. The last ones to go are a boy and his dog, but the dog slips back to Earth, the camera on his back recording his lethal fall, until the impact knocks the device loose, giving us a glimpse of the dying canine’s final breath.
It says something about V/H/S 2, as a whole, that the single most heartfelt moment in it is the death of a dog: a poor pup swept up into a situation it could not possibly understand, his expiring gasp is painful to watch. Just about everything else in the movie is piled on for shock value rather than sympathy (except for the ending of “A Ride in the Park,” which is very similar , with the camera dislodging at the moment of death for a last look at the character whose point-of-view we have been seeing).
VHS2SlumerPartAliensEven more than “Safe Haven,” “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” captures an overwhelming sense of being swept up by events outside of one’s control. The sheer hopelessness of the situation is overwhelming, but it’s not as if we care what happens to any of the humans, whose relationships are only vaguely established before the terror hits. (Are they siblings, friends? Who is playing a joke on whom, and why?) Thank god for the dog, or the episode would have been just empty spectacle.

TAPE 49 (Wraparound Ending)

After watching the final tape, Larry returns his attention to video diary of the missing student, who proclaims that (with his mother’s blessing) he is planning to make his own tape. The video shows the student blowing his face to pieces with a pistol; apparently dead, he nonetheless rises from his chair and moves off screen. Ayesha (who died somewhere in the middle of the movie) comes back to life and chases Larry into a closet, where he hides, not realizing that the dead student is in there with him. The student kills Larry, lifts the camera to show himself in close-up, and gives us a thumbs-up, indicating success.
Like “Safe Haven,” the conclusion portion of the “Tape 49” wraparound ends on a “joke.” It’s not exactly funny, nor is it in keeping with the overall tone of V/H/S 2, but it does provide the creepy suggestion that a new V/H/S tape has been successfully created – one that will go on to infect other victims, much like the tapes in RINGU (1998). The evil spreads, awaiting the next sequel.
(By the way, what’s up with the name of Larry’s assistant, “Ayesha”? Are we supposed to make some connection with the immortal queen in H. Rider Hagard’s novel She?)

THOUGHTS AND CONCLUSIONS

You get to experience the thrill of biting a victim in "A Ride in the Park."
You get to experience the thrill of biting a victim in "A Ride in the Park."

Like its predecessor, V/H/S 2 is a mixed bag – not so much because the episodes are variable in quality as because their redundancy of approach gradually dims their capacity to shock, undermining the film’s overall impact.
The effect is magnified if watch V/H/S and V/H/S 2 as a back-to-back double bill, revealing redundancy not only within the films but between the films. “Safe Haven” depicts another woman giving birth to a monster, as in V/H/S’s  “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger,” whose aliens seem to have crept into the new film’s “Slumber Party Alien Abduction,” which ends by repeating a visual gag from the previous film’s “Amateur Night” – sweeping a character into the sky and then dropping the camera back to Earth.
On the plus side, the overt sexism of the first V/H/S has been toned down – which is to say, the cameras are no longer in the hands of young male punks urging the girlfriends to flash their assets. The downside to this is that the thematic continuity of V/H/S has been lost as well – the sense of women in various guises turning the tables on vulgar men who just may deserve the horrifying retribution they receive.
Whatever its shortcomings, V/H/S 2 delivers on a visceral level, proving that there is continued life in the unholy hybrid of the found-footage style and the anthology format. Hopefully, the producers will continue with the franchise. After two or three more sequels, there should be enough great episodes to assemble a killer “Greatest Hits” compilation.
[rating=3]
On the CFQ Review scale of zero to five stars, a moderate recommendation
Note: V/H/S 2 is currently available via Video on Demand; click here to watch the film. It opens in limited theatrical engagements on July 11.

CLICK TO WATCH ONLINE
CLICK TO WATCH ONLINE

V/H/S/ 2 (Magnet Releasing: VOD release on June 7, 2013; theatrical release on July 11). Not rated. 96 minutes. Writers: Simon Barrett, John Davies, Jason Eisener, Gareth Evans, Jamie Nash, Eduardo Sanchez, Timo Tjahjanto. Directors: Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Gareth Evans, Gregg Hale, Eduardo Sanchez, Timo Tjahjanto, Adam Wingard. Cast: Kelsey Abbott, Fachry Albar, Oka Antara, Devon Brookshire, Samathan Gracie, L.C. Holt, Hannah Hughes, Kevin Hunt, John Karyus, Epy Kusnandar, Lawrence Michael Levine, Mindy Robinson, Jay Saunders, Jeremie Saunders, Andrew Suleiman, Adam Wingard, John T. Woods.

V/H/S review

VHS poster
CLICK TO WATCH ONLINE

This low-budget 2012 horror film seeks to squeeze a few more pixels out of the “found footage” style by combining it with the anthology format. The result is consistently intense but inconsistently satisfying: the film-making is impressive, even innovative in its attempt to pack relentlessly downbeat horror into 20-minute packages, but the consequence is a narrative monotony that is only exacerbated by a couple of non- sensical twist endings. One or two episodes emerge as genuine blood-stained gems in a film unapologetically filled graphic violence and sleazy sexism.
In short, V/H/S/ is essential viewing for hardcore horror fans, but its reach exceeds its grasp – or, more appropriately, its vision exceeds its focal length.

TAPE 56 – Written by Simon Barrett, Directed by Adam Wingard

Calvin Reeder in Tape 56
Calvin Reeder in Tape 56

V/H/S begins with this wrap-around segment, in which a gang of hoodlums take time off from their usual pursuits (vandalism, attempted rape) to do a job for an unseen employer, who wants them to break into a house and steal a videotape. Told only that they will know the tape when they see it, the gang members wind up inside a house with a stack of cassettes and a corpse sitting in front of a row of monitors. Searching for their target, they watch the different tapes, each offering a bizarre, horrible story. Although the shaky camera work makes it hard to keep track, it seems as if the gang is losing members as each story unfolds; a shadowy presence is glimpsed in the basement, and finally, the gang leader finds himself alone, the chair that held the dead man now empty…
The hooligans are an unpleasant lot, and we spend more time with them than necessary to set up the story, but “Tape 56” effectively sets the tone for what follows.

AMATEUR NIGHT – Written by David Bruckner & Nicholas Tecosky, Directed by David Bruckner

Hannah Fierman in "Amateur Night"
Hannah Fierman in "Amateur Night"

A group of young men equip one of their number with spyglasses – apparently ordinary eyeglasses that record everything he sees – and set out to videotape themselves having sex with a couple women they pick up in a bar. Unfortunately, the pick the wrong woman, in the form of the ethereally creepy Lily (Hannah Fierman), who extracts karmic comeback from these sexists pigs.
The first complete episode of V/H/S is also its best, setting a standard that none of the others can match. “Amateur Night” builds to an insane climax, but does so in such a step-by-step fashion that the conclusion seems completely logical and believable. The episode is gruesome as hell but strangely satisfying; in a crude way, everyone gets what he deserves, at the hands of a psycho-bitch from Hell (and we may mean that literally).
Note: David Bruckner previous co-directed THE SIGNAL (2007), also a remarkable achievement.

SECOND HONEYMOON – Written and directed by Ti West

vhssecondhoneymoon
Stephanie (Sophia Takal) gets a prophetic fortune.

A couple videotape their second honeymoon, but their joy is mitigated by a strange woman (described but not seen) lurking outside their hotel room. Later, their video camera records footage while they are asleep – presumably handled by the strange woman – but the couple never notice the additional footage. A later intrusion turns deadly, but the outcome offers an unexpected twist regarding the survivors.
Ti West (HOUSE OF THE DEVIL) knows how to do a slow build as well as anyone, but the twist ending borders on being silly. (SPOILER: the strange woman kills the husband; then she and the wife run off together. Was this planned all along, or did did the wife and the strange woman meet somewher on vacation? Why videotape the incriminating murder? The closest thing we get to an explanation is a card the wife received from a mechanical fortune teller, stating that she would reunite with a loved one. It’s not enough to make sense of the conclusion, even on a second viewing. END SPOILER)
Whatever the narrative faults, the scenes of the camera prowling the hotel room while the husband and wife sleep are nerve-wracking.

TUESDAY THE 17TH – Written and directed by Glenn McQuad

Horror masked by video tracking problems
Horror masked by video tracking problems

The archetypal group of friends (two guys, two gals) head out to the archetypal cabin in the woods, where (you guessed it) the archetypal serial killer lurks, awaiting new victims. The twist here is that one of the victims, Wendy (Norma C. Quinones)  is actually the survivor of a previous trip; she has brought her friends to use them as bait in her effort to slay the killer in the woods.
The twist defies credibility. Even if we believe Wendy is ruthless enough to sacrifice innocent lives in her quest for vengeance, why does she risk putting her friends on guard by announcing up front that they are all going to die?
Regardless of this narrative slip-up, “Tuesday the 17th” works very well, toying with the cliches of the slasher genre (Wendy laments that the police didn’t believe her story about an indestructible killer who was everywhere at once – a common trope in the FRIDAY THE 13TH movies, wherein Jason seemed to be able to teleport from one are to another in search of victims).
The presentation of the killer is also remarkable. Apparently, the character (identified as “The Glitch” in the credits) cannot be photographed on tape; his appearances are blurred by tracking errors, suggesting that Wendy is hopelessly outmatched against an opponent who is no normal human.

THE SICK THING THAT HAPPENED TO EMILY WHEN SHE WAS YOUNGER – Written by Simon Barret and directed by Joe Swanberg

Helen Rodgers and Daniel Kaufman
Helen Rodgers and Daniel Kaufman

Emily (Helen Rogers) chats on Skype with her boyfriend James (Daniel Kaufman), who is away at medical school. (How these conversations recorded with contemporary Skype technology ended up on outdated VHS tape is a mystery that is never considered.) Unfortunately, Emily’s new apartment seems to be haunted; she also has some kind of lump on her arm that she would like to dig out with a knife. James tries to reassure her, but she wakes him up at night to transmit video images of the spectres darting in the shadows of her rooms. One night, their shocking appearance ends up with Emily unconscious, giving birth to a mutant baby; later, when she is somewhat recovered, she vaguely references a similar incident in her childhood.
This is another creeptacular episode marred by a goofy twist. (SPOILER: The ghosts are apparently aliens, and James is in league with them, quickly popping over to deliver Emily’s baby after she falls unconscious. Are we really supposed to believe that Emily never notices her “boyfriend” is not only in the same city but literally right next door? Or that the emergency room doctors would not notice that a C-section had been performed on Emily, just because James broke a few bones to make her condition look like an accident? Why is James in league with aliens, and why do they even need a med student to deliver the baby they presumably implanted into Emily? Don’t ask – the film has no intention of telling you.)
There is a poingnant sadness to this episode – a sense of a frail, helpless creature caught in a terrible web that afflicts her body and her mind, the real reasons for her suffering clouded behind a loss of memory, leaving only vague paranoid fears. Deeply disturbing but unfairly manipulative, which negates the impact, somewhat.

10/31/98 – Written and directed by “Radio Silence” (Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin)

Tyler Gillett in "10/31/98"
Tyler Gillett in "10/31/98"

Four costumed friends head out to a Halloween party, without quiet knowing their destination. One of them is conveniently dressed as a teddy bear with a hidden “Nanny Cam,” recording everything that happens. Searching for the party in an unfamiliar neighborhood, they wander into an old, empty house. At first they think the guests must be outback, but as briefly glimpsed bits of paranormal activity begin to manifest, they suspect they are inside some kind of haunted attraction. Moving upstairs, they find a ceremony going on, with strange incantations read by men surrounding a tied-up woman. Helping her escape, they flee the house but not before more obvious signs of the supernatural emerge, including disembodied arms protruding from the walls. They drive away with the woman in their car, which stalls on some train tracks. After a flash of darkness, the woman is outside the car; a train is coming, and the men realize they cannot unlock the doors…
The initial scenes of “10/31/98” are a bit slack as we wait for the friends (played by the writing-directing quartet who go by the name Radio Silence) to find the party. Things pick up a bit when they start to believe they may be victims of a Halloween prank – while we in the audience have already begun to suspect that the house they are in is truly haunted. The ceremony in the attic and the sudden intrusion of more blatant supernatural phenomena escalate the scares to another level, leading to a frantic conclusion.
This is another episode that leaves questions unanswered (Who is the woman? Were the men in the attic invoking evil or trying to purge it?), but these questions do not raise any logical objections to the way the story plays out, and the mystery enhances the supernatural aspects, suggesting what it might feel like when mere mortals encounter forces beyond their comprehension.

THOUGHTS AND CONCLUSIONS

10/31/98 from VHS
Ghostly appendages protrude from the walls in "10/31/98"

On a simple narrative level, V/H/S suffers from the problem that affects all films of this type. It is the modern equivalent of the question that plagued readers of old first-person horror stories in which the narrator met a grizzly fate: Why didn’t the fool drop the pencil and run like hell – or in this case, drop the camera? “Amateur Night” and “10/31/98” deal with this fairly well; in both cases, one character is “wearing” the camera, not holding it in his hands. “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” (great title) also handles the problem fairly well. “Second Honeymoon” avoids the problem by having the killer wield the camera, which raises other questions: Why film the murder, and why not erase the incriminating evidence? This leads to another question: how did the recordings of “Amateur Night” and “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger,” both of which had to have been recorded on digital media, end up on old-fashioned analog VHS tape?
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PURCHASE THE BLU-RAY DISC

These questions do not destroy the effectiveness of V/H/S, but they do undermine the attempt to present a series of vicious vignettes as if they actually happened. It’s as if a horror story had been presented as a message found in a bottle, only to reveal that the message had not been written in ink on paper but carved into granite with a chisel.
As effectively disturbing as its individual episodes are, V/H/S as a whole is not equal to the sum of its parts – which despite a wide range of topics (slashers, demons, aliens, etc) suffer from an underlying similarity: it becomes clear very quickly that nothing good will happen in any of these stories; the characters are doomed from the outset, and viewers are encouraged by the predictability to sit back and enjoy the carnage for its own sake.
Fortunately, the anthology format obviates the need for sustained narratives, allowing the filmmakers to focus on horror rather than plot. All of that shaky camera work and deliberately bad lighting sustain a remarkable sense of dread from start to finish, and the film is technically impressive in its ability to present gruesome shocks and supernatural scares in the context of what appears to be a single-take amateur effort.
V/H/S is marred by an exploitative approach to sex and nudity that borders on sexism. More than once, you get the sense that the filmmakers are playing with their cameras like a bunch of boys playing with their new toys. Give a young man a video recording device, the film says, and inevitably he will try to coerce his girlfriend, his wife, or even a total stranger to reveal her breasts on camera. One could argue that the fault lies with the characters, not the filmmakers, but the people behind the camera do little to distance themselves from the sleaze; you get the feeling they identify a little bit too closely with their on-screen counterparts.
The masked killer briefly films her reflection in the mirror
In "Second Honeymoon," the masked killer is briefly photographed in a mirror - revealing a woman.

On the other hand: Having said all that, one must acknowledge that the interesting thematic element underpinning V/H/S is that the female characters as likely to be victimizers as victims. The body count of the men far outnumbers that of the women. “Amateur Night” and “Second Honeymoon” feature female killers; one could argue that “Tuesday the 17th” and “10/31/98” do so as well, although the victim-victimizer roles are less clear.
Whether deliberately or not, V/H/S seems to present a sort of female rebellion against the sexist exploitation doled out by the male characters, who in at least one segment are literally emasculated. Male domination of women gives way to male fear of women, who turn the tables in some particularly repulsive ways. Even if the film does not come to grips with its own misogyny, the presentation is ambiguous enough to be interesting: are the filmmakers expressing their own desires and fears, or is all this stuff bubbling up from the unconscious, awaiting psychoanalytic evaluation by critics and viewers?
Hannah Fierman as Lily (or is it Lilith?)
Hannah Fierman as Lily (or is it Lilith?) - turning the tables on male sexist pigs?

Either way, V/H/S taps into a dark vein of troubled thoughts and imagery that have more to offer than just gratuitous shocks. Inconsistent as it may be, V/H/S emerges as a kind of statement, worth evaluating. As good horror often does, the film shines a light on aspects of ourselves that normally remain in the shadows. We can hardly expect these demons to emerge with fully formed clarity; it is enough that we get to look at them and decide for ourselves.
Whatever its flaws, the people behind V/H/S know their craft, and they use it in ways you will not see in mainstream cinema. These filmmakers (and those like them who have worked on V/H/S 2 and THE ABCS OF DEATH) are probably the future of horror – a prime example of the “Vulgar Auteurism” discussed in this New Yorker article) . Now if they could just mature a little bit and trade in some of the vulgarity for variety.
[rating=3]
On the CFQ Review scale of zero to five stars, a moderate recommendation.
V/H/S (Magnet Releasing, 2012). Concept by Brad Miska. Screenplays by Radio Silence,Simon Barrett, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid. Directed by Radio Silence, David Bruckner, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, and Adam Wingard. 116 minutes. Rated R. Cast: Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes, Adam Wingard, Hann Fierman, Mike Donlan, Joe Sykes, Drew Sawyer, Jas Sams, Joe Swanberg, Sophia Takal, Helen Rogers, Daniel Kaufman, Norma C. Quinones, Drew Moerlein, Jeannine Elizabeth Yoder, Jason Yachanin, Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Paul Natonek, Nicole Erb.

The ABCs of Death on Demand January 31, in theatres March 8

Magnet Releasing (the genre arm of Magnolia Pictures) provides Video on Demand debut and limited theatrical engagements to this anthology effort that “showcases death in all its vicious wonder and brutal beauty.” The twenty-six short episodes (one for each letter of the alphabet) were written and/or directed by the likes of Xavier Gens (THE DIVIDE), Ti West (HOUSE OF THE DEVIL), and numerous others.
VOD Release: January 31
ABCs of Death posterTheatrical Engagements:

March 8, 2013

  • Albuquerque, NM: Guild
  • Chicago, IL: Logan
  • Columbus, OH: Gateway Film Center 8
  • Dallas, TX: Inwood Theatre
  • Dormont, PA: Hollywood Theatre
  • Minneapolis, MN: Uptown Theatre
  • North Kansas City, MO: Screenland Armour 2
  • Philadelphia, PA: Ritz at the Bourse
  • Portland, OR: Hollywood Theatre
  • Seattle, WA: Siff Cinema
  • Seattle, WA: SIFF Cinema at the Uptown
  • Tucson, AZ: The Loft Cinema

March 15, 2013

  • Cleveland, OH: Capitol Theatre 3
  • Dallas, TX: Texas Theatre
  • Houston, TX: River Oaks Theatre 3
  • Kansas City, MO: Screenland Crossroads Theatre
  • San Francisco, CA: Clay Theatre

March 16, 2013

  • Fort Collins, CO: Lyric Cinema Cafe 2

March 21, 2013

  • Charlotte, NC: Movies @ CrownPoint 12

March 22, 2013

  • Knoxville, TN: Knoxville Horror Film Festival

April 13, 2013

  • Chattanooga, TN: Barking Legs Theater

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning in theatres November 30

Magnet Release, the genre division of Magnolia Pictures, gives a limited platform theatrical release to this fourth entry in the UNIVERSAL SOLDIER franchise, including an exclusive Los Angeles engagement at the Mann Chinese 6 Theatre in Hollywood. The story follows what happens when the Universal Soldiers (dead soldiers resurrected and genetically enhanced) regain their memories and go rogue, led by Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren). Also back for more bloodshed is Jean-Claude Van Damme. New man on the block is Scott Adkins, as the the distraught husband and father tracking down the man who killed his family. John Hyams directs from a screenplay he co-wrote wtih Doug Magnuson and Jon Greenhalgh.
Universal Soldier Day of Reckoning poster
Theatrical Release Schedule:

November 30:

  • Hollywood, CA Mann Chinese 6
  • New York, NY: Village East Cinemas
  • Austin, TX: Alamo Slaughter Lane 8

December 14:

  • Tucson, AZ: The Loft Cinema

Click here to check for additional engagements on the official website
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING is also currently available via Video on Demand.

Monsters: theatrical playdates

This is a slightly longer trailer, with additional scenes and dialogue not seen in the one previously posted here. Magnet Releasing will release writer-director Gareth Edwards’ giant monster movie via VOD on September 24, followed by a limited theatrical distribution starting on October 29. The initial salvo includes engagements in Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles (West Hollywood), New York, San Diego, Philadelphia, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. Subsequent screenings take place in Chicago, Minneapolis, Detroit, Denver, Cleveland, Kansas City, and Sacramento. You might want to check out the official website, in case new engagements are added near you.

PLAYDATES:
  • OCTOBER 29
  • Atlanta, GA: Midtown Art Cinemas 8
  • Austin, TX: Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar
  • Dallas, TX: Magnolia Theatre – Dallas
  • San Antonio, TX: Santikos Bijou Cinema Bistro 6
  • West Hollywood, CA: Sunset 5
  • San Diego, CA: Ken Cinema
  • New York, NY: Sunshine Cinema 5
  • Philadelphia, PA: Ritz at the Bourse
  • Portland, OR: Hollywood Theatre
  • Seattle, WA: Varsity Theatre
  • Monterey, CA: Osio Plaza 6
  • Santa Cruz, CA: Del Mar Theatre 4
  • Berkeley, CA: California 3
  • San Francisco, CA: Lumiere Theatre 3
  • Sandy, UT: Megaplex 17@Jordan Commons
  • Washington, DC: E Street Cinema
  • NOVEMBER 19
  • Chicago, IL: Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema
  • Minneapolis, MN: Lagoon Cinema
  • Detroit, MI: Burton Theatre
  • Tucson, AZ: The Loft Cinema
  • New Haven, CT: Criterion Cinemas 7
  • NOVEMBER 24
  • Little Rock, AR: Market Street Cinema
  • NOVEMBER 26
  • Denver, CO: Mayan Theatre
  • DECEMBER 3
  • Lansdowne, PA: Cinema 16:9
  • Cleveland Heights, OH: Cedar Lee Theatres
  • Kansas City, MO: Tivoli @ Manor Square
  • Syracuse, NY: Palace
  • DECEMBER 4
  • Columbus, OH: Gateway 8
  • DECEMBER 10
  • Sacramento, CA: Crest Theatre
  • Asheville, NC: Carolina Asheville 14
  • DECEMBER 24
  • Coral Gables, FL: Coral Gables Art Cinema

Check out the photos below. Sorry, no monsters on view, unless you count some mural on a wall.
Monsters (2010) photo_01 Monsters (2010) photo_02 Monsters (2010) photo_03 Monsters (2010) photo_04 Monsters (2010) photo_05 Monsters (2010) photo_06 Monsters (2010) photo_07 Monsters (2010) photo_08
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Monsters VOD release date

Here’s a trailer for MONSTERS, a low-budget SF-Horror thriller from writer-director Gareth Edwards.

Six years ago, NASA discovered the possibility of alien life within our solar system. A probe was launched to collect samples, but crashed upon re-entry over Central America. Soon after, new life forms began to appear and grow. In an effort to stem the destruction that resulted, half of Mexico was quarantined as an Infected Zone. Today, the American and Mexican military still struggle to contain the massive creatures…
Our story begins when a jaded US journalist (“Scoot” McNairy) begrudgingly agrees to find his boss’ daughter, a shaken American tourist (Whitney Able) and escort her through the infected zone to the safety of the US border.

MONSTERS was shot with a Sony PMW-EX3 HD Video camera, a minimal crew and just two professional actors on location in South America.monsters_poster The UK-based Gareth Edwards has mainly done special effects (Emmy nominated and BAFTA award-winning) and some direction of re-creations for documentaries in the past. Magnolia Pictures is the U.S. distributor; following their usual approach, they will debut the film via VOD, then offer a platform theatrical release.
Release Dates:

  • September 24: On Demand, Xbox Live, Playstation Marketplace, Amazon, and Vudu
  • October 29th: limited theatrical run.

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