A quick word before I write about the film itself – South by Southwest is a huge event that spans over two weeks. It brings tens of thousands of people from all corners of the globe together from the film, music, media and technology fields to debut their work, discover new things and generally deliver to, and find an, audience. This is a great thing. Taking that into account, I was slightly disappointed at the turnout for V/H/S 2 at the ‘midnighter’ screening last night. Once I parked and was wandering over, I saw badge-clad 20 and 30 somethings passing me going the other way. This confused me. I somehow doubt they all had something better to do.
A note to the attendees that have good-naturedly invaded my fair city and might be reading this: Get your ass to as many screenings or performances as you can. Don’t waste your time at some corporate sponsored party or some other baloney like that. Seriously. Filmmakers and bands and artists put it on the line in this forum and deserve the support. Every seat should’ve had a person in it last night – it wasn’t badly attended but should’ve been totally full. Especially because they held for the audience over at Evil Dead at the Paramount to let out. Dammit all. Okay, enough of that, onto the film itself.
It occurs to me that trying to compare the first V/H/S to this one is kind of silly primarily because you’re dealing with a whole different batch of filmmakers. So, a direct one-to-one doesn’t make a lot of sense. That said, I liked this one much more than I did the first one as a whole, completed work. It felt like the technical aspects were better, more solid and where the first one often felt very voyeuristic, this one feels more cinematic. But not unreasonably so – it’s not like you’re getting Gone With The Wind cinematic jammed into a handy-cam format. I applaud them for evening out the often nauseating jerky cam feel that, for me, dragged down the first one at times to a confusing, disorienting ordeal. I guess it’s tough to really balance that as you can’t make it totally steady because you lose the authentic vibe but can’t let the camera fly around totally crazily all the time as you’ll just give the audience motion sickness.
Here is a rundown of each of the stories (for clarity’s sake – hey, I only got 4 hours sleep):
“Tape 49” directed by Simon Barrett (writer – A Horrible Way to Die)
The wraparound story focuses on two private investigators (Kelsey Abbot and Lawrence Michael Levine) on the hunt for clues to find a missing 20 something guy. It starts with them getting footage of a cheating spouse and then switching to the missing guy assignment. Not really sure why this is, but, you have to admire their organizational skills. They get to missing guy’s place, break in and find a mess including a stack of monitors of various sizes and piles of VHS tapes and a computer (similar to the first one). This leads into the first short, with Abbott staying put to watch while Levine wanders around looking for clues. You’re not given a lot about them for the most part, so, it’s hard to read who they really are but as each short progresses and more clues as to a possible motive behind the tapes is revealed, you know they are going to be in some trouble and are more/less proven right by the time we wrap it up.
“Phase I Clinical Trials” directed by Adam Wingard (You’re Next, A Horrible Way to Die)
In the first tape, we’re introduced to a guy (played by Wingard) who, because of a car accident and injury, has had some kind of experimental replacement artificial eye implanted in his head that works as a camera. The footage is then retained by the folks who installed it (doctors/lab – unsure) which makes for a very funny bit later on after an, ahem, social interaction with a girl he’d met at the doctor’s office (Hannah Hughes) . The narrative device of having the camera be in his eye is quite a clever one as we’re getting his world and what happens to him firsthand and from his eyeline perspective. Things go amiss with this device, however, and he is confronted with terrifying visions that ramp up their threat as it progresses. The ending of this one is pretty jarring and bloody but I was left with a lot of questions as to what the deal is with the company that installed it and some of what happens in the latter parts of the story. Good overall, but could have been well served being a little longer.
“A Ride In The Park” directed by Eduardo Sanchez & Gregg Hale (Blair Witch)
In our second story, we’re introduced to a very fitness conscious guy (so much so that he has a camera on his bike and helmet to documents his rides, I’m guessing) who is out for a bike ride which is cut short by a run in with zombies. This one made me laugh, partly for the abject silliness of it, but also for the way in which we are watching things unfold directly from his perspective. So instead of watching a zombie come back to life, we’re more or less put right into their shoes. Very neat idea. However, the humor never gets abjectly goofy enough (even throwing in a children’s birthday party) to be a full-on comedy romp/type of deal so it ends up being slightly uneven overall. I did love how his girlfriend’s phone call plays into it at the start, and later in the context of someone changing into a zombie. It brought an interesting humanity to it that I liked. This one is short overall and is pretty bloody but doesn’t really reach to heavily beyond normal zombie violence.
“Save Haven” directed by Gareth Evans/Timo Tjahjanto (Raid: Redemption)
And this one, this one is the reason why you go see this movie. Save Haven is an incredible, intense, violent and creepy bit of insanity that once it gets going, does not let up. I really only want to give you the basics of it because this one is best served as blindly as you can. The story follows an investigative TV journalism team as the seek out a local cult (in Indonesia) to expose potential violent rituals and/or child abuse. For anyone who saw the teaser shot of the blood soaked man released last year will recognize him as the ‘father’ character our team has sought to find and interview. Trust me when I say this picture release really doesn’t ruin anything because to get to that point, and then everything else that follows is a hell of a ride and I feel like having seen that picture actually makes anticipating it all going to hell all that much better. And man, does it ever. I just don’t think I can go into all of it in good conscience but it was overwhelming and crazy and insanely bloody and, well, just plain awesome. This one, by far, is my favorite segment of either of the films.
“Slumber Party Alien Abduction” directed by Jason Eisener (Hobo With A Shotgun)
In the final found tape segment, we’re given over to a group of adolescent boys and a couple teenagers all hanging out over a weekend the parents are away. There are some fantastic sequences of the kid age ones playing pranks on the teenagers and the back and forth is almost Stand By Me-like. The title being what the title is, it isn’t long before their fun weekend is torn asunder by an attack from a bunch of lanky aliens. There were certainly some great shots in this one (in/around lake in particular) and a great feeling of actual threat meaning that no one, regardless of age, is safe. I always appreciate this in films – it is tricky to not give the viewer that safety net and it’s handled well in this one. However, because of the overall run time and the nature of it in general, I would’ve liked more data, more struggle and more emotion. While I liked the children and didn’t want harm to come to any of them, I also didn’t know them well so I was only invested to a point in their survival/demise. Overall, I thought it was good but would’ve liked more emotional weight with the characters and more implied presence of the aliens and less actually seeing them.
To wrap things up (sort of), we’re given back over to our investigators and the possible culmination of their trip through this screwed up collection. I say possible because it seems to suggest at various points that maybe the wealth of these tapes from all places, sources is vast and that this type of collection situation could continue. I’m really unsure.
To bring this to a point, I found this better and more focused than the first go-round and liked it overall. And as I said before, seeing ‘Save Haven’ as part of this collection is really all the reason you need.