Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Movies: The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers, V/H/S, and World War Z (Trailer)

In October I watched a number of horror films, as I am a fan and I like to get into the spirit of Halloween. I meant to do a blog post. Almost one month later, here it is! I think the appropriate reaction is: "Slacker!"

The House of the Devil

Ti West is a thirty-something director who has a terrific sensibility for the horror genre. His The House of the Devil is both his love letter to late '70s, early '80s horror flicks (like those of John Carpenter), and a masterful slow-burn of a film, where "slow-burn" is defined as a deliberate, incremental build up of tension over time to an explosive conclusion. Some viewers don't like slow burn films, but when they're done as well as this film is, I can't get enough of them.

Samantha (nicely underplayed by Jocelin Donahue) is a young college student in the '80s. Mousy but pleasant, also a bit of a neat freak and sometimes a little high strung, she's found a room for rent so she can get away from her current dorm situation living with an inconsiderate slob of a roommate. The trouble is, she doesn't quite have the money to make the move, so she takes a babysitting job to make the deposit so she can move in the following week.

Soon enough, as is always the case in a horror movie, frightening, terrible things ensue.

Not only is the film set in the early '80s, but it is made to look as if it was filmed in the early '80s (it was released in 2009). The opening title sequence, set to a song that sounds like a darker, Carpenter rewritten instrumental version of The Cars "Moving In Stereo", is terrific, and spot-on period accurate.

Likeable characters behaving believably in situations spiralling out of their control: what more could you ask for in a horror movie?

Highly recommended.

- Spoiler Territory -

One of the sequences that I found most harrowing was when Samantha, alone in the large Victorian-style Ulman house, puts on her Walkman headphones and cranks The Fixx's "One Thing Leads To Another", while dancing around on the first floor to relieve boredom and overcome those unfounded alone-in-a-big-empty-house fears. Only we know that those fears are in this case actually reliable, and the situation is much worse than she could imagine (although even we don't know how much worse it is for her at this point in the film). On the soundtrack, the song is all you can hear, there's no ambient sound at all. I was squirming in my seat.

Anticipation, it's a killer.

The Innkeepers

While making The House of the Devil, Ti West stayed at an inn called The Yankee Pedlar. For The Innkeepers, West decided to film it there. It is, after all, a great location for a good old-fashioned ghost story.

Claire is an endearingly goofy slacker of a young woman (well acted by Sara Paxton) working at the Pedlar. She has a recurring asthmatic condition and a vivid imagination. Her supervisor is Luke (a terrific performance by Pat Healy), who is slightly too old for this kind of job, and is supplementing his meagre income by building and running a website about haunted locations and paranormal activities.

The Pedlar is in its final days of operation, with Claire and Luke operating as the skeleton crew. The Pedlar has some paranormal history of its own, supposedly, so to while away the hours in the mostly empty inn, Claire and Luke use his audio and video equipment to try and capture some spooky activity for the website.

After a setup that would play as a sweet, gentle comedy were this a different sort of film, frightening, terrible things ensue.

While not quite as sleek or strong as The House of the Devil, it shares that film's focus on character, and I'm recommending it as well.

- Spoiler Territory -

I've read negative criticism of The Innkeepers as being too much of a slow burn with no real payoff, and I think the problem for some is this: the story is presented in a such a way that it could be taken as either supernatural, or not supernatural at all. In fact, I think there's enough evidence in the movie to argue that all of the supernatural stuff is Claire's vivid imagination run wild, and none of it is actually happening. Even so, I have no problem with the story even if that's the case.


Meet Lily. "I like you." *Shudder*.

I had read about V/H/S prior to it's release, and was interested in it, as it was to be a collection of short stories made by directors and writers who were being touted in some circles as "the next great generation of horror filmmakers", including Ti West (who as you might have noticed I already thought was two for two in the recommended column).

The premise is this: a group of miscreants (who assault women in public and destroy property, make videos while doing so, and then upload those videos to the internet as a way of making money) are given a job to break into a house to steal a collection of videotapes. They find a corpse at the house, seated in front of a television, with a VCR and a number of VHS tapes. They watch five of the tapes, each labelled with only a date, and each of those tapes constitutes one of the stories. The sixth story is this framing premise.

There are two major problems this film has to overcome:

First, it's an anthology, and the stop-start nature of anthologies is tough to overcome. Truth is, I'm not sure I've seen a really good anthology movie, well...ever.

Second, it's a found footage film. There are slightly more good found-footage films than there are anthology films, which is to say slightly more than none. I wrote a post about them.

Suffice to say that I found V/H/S to be a disappointment for the most part (unfortunately including West's segment called Second Honeymoon), save for one story element that really works. The first story is called Amateur Night, where three college age jerks go out barhopping to pick up drunk girls. The nerdiest of the jerks is given a pair of glasses that have a video camera hidden in them (found footage!), and the story is played out from his viewpoint.

While at one bar, they get very drunk and meet a bunch of drunk girls. They also meet Lily. That's her in the picture above (played in the film's best performance by Hannah Fierman, whose eyes are disconcertingly large for her face and used to full advantage). You see her on the fringes initially, in the background, always staring unblinking at the camera. Eventually she approaches and says the only thing she ever says when she speaks: "I like you".

A bunch of them go back to the jerks hotel room, Lily in tow. Frightening. Terrible. Things. Ensue.

Considering the majority of the characters in all of the segments are too thinly drawn, or unrepentent assholes, or both, I can't recommend seeing V/H/S (and therefore, no spoilers necessary).

World War Z (Trailer)

That's one crazy mess of ants, er, zombies.

The book World War Z by Max Brooks is a terrific read. It concerns the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse, as told by a U.N. representative in a tell-all report chronicling the spread of the outbreak and key events in the resulting war and its eventual outcome. The report consists of interviews with individuals from across the world, each telling their story of survival. China, the U.S., Japan, Canada, and India are some of the key locales. Go get a copy and read it right now.

So I see this trailer for the movie World War Z and...

Say you have a movie trailer. The trailer shows you all of these mouth-watering shots of pizza, some truly delicious looking pizza. Then the title for the movie comes up and it's called "Spaghetti". "Wait", you say. "I know spaghetti, I enjoy spaghetti, and that sure isn't spaghetti. Why did they call it spaghetti?" Then some folks on the Interwebs say "that looks delicious, who cares if it's called Spaghetti, spaghetti isn't all that anyway, they're both Italian foods so what does it matter, quit your complaining".

So there's my strange analogy about my opinion of the trailer. Looks cool, but I sure don't see the book in there.

Read the book.

Did I mention you should read the book?

No comments:

Post a Comment