Friday, 24 January 2014

Double Bill Mini Musings: Horror show double dose...

What's it about?
Horror sequel to the format-obsessed anthology horror in which four chilling and experimental tales are viewed by private investigators who break into a creepy house furnished with television screens, VCRs, and stacks of VHS tapes.
Who would I recognise in it?
Nobody probably, with this it's more about recognising the names of the directors involved.
The original V/H/S was a pretty solid anthology horror with some good scares and plenty of atmosphere, but it also had significant downsides: some of the dialogue was flat-out awful, the majority of the male characters were 'alpha male brosephs' at best and full-on misogynists at worst, and it was one-tale-too-long. Thankfully the filmmakers have listened to the commonly-held criticisms of the first and addressed them. This sequel does chuck in nudity that's not strictly necessary, but the characters are far more balanced (and therefore easier to invest in) ... likewise the writing is much improved, although Simon Barrett's segments still featuring some moments of terribly blunt exposition that could have been easily solved with some minor tweaks ... and it's now four main stories with a wrap-around, rather than five.

Click "READ MORE" below to read more about V/H/S/2, as well as The Seasoning House...

Invention is the name of the game here, with each segment getting its own unique vibe, be it a video camera in someones transplanted digital eye (replete with eye blinks), or a zombie outbreak from the perspective of a helmet-mounted GoPro, or an alien invasion from the perspective of a household pet, V/H/S/2 aims to intrigue as much as it seeks to scare. Including segments from Eduardo Sanchez (The Blair Witch Project), Gareth Huw Evans (The Raid), and Jason Eisener (Hobo With A Shotgun), the short films please with a nice balance of humour and unsettling atmosphere. Similarly, there's an intelligent use of the camerawork to play with audience expectation, illustrated well throughout, but particularly in the first segment. Indeed, the quality of each short seems to improve with each transition to a new story - just when you thought the film had peaked, it ratchets things up yet another notch, to make a consistently surprising and entertaining film.

There is still one hang-up lingering from the first - why are these 'real horror stories' on VHS tapes? They're all clearly shot digitally (it's a great advert for GoPro, this flick), and there's not enough rhyme or reason applied to the wrap-around story which has plenty of atmosphere (good use of audio too!) but is quite distracting in how it is forced to use the 'found footage' form (an issue that none of the four shorts suffer from, thankfully). Regardless of that one quibble, this sequel is a decided improvement over the original film, that surprisingly manages to still breath life back into the way-over-used 'found footage' sub-genre that usually feels contrived and worn out in other films. Good, thoroughly so, and even great at times.

The Seasoning House:
What's it about?
Bleak horror drama about a Balkans brothel where kidnapped girls are used as sex slaves for passing soldiers. One girl, who is deaf and doesn't speak, has been chosen by the owner of the brothel to carry out various chores - but things change when the soldiers who kidnapped her and killed her family return.
Who would I recognise in it?
Sean Pertwee, Rosie Day.
To say that The Seasoning House (set in the mid-1990s) is a bleak movie would be an understatement. Paul Hyett (who previously did the gore effects on the likes of The Descent) moves to the director's chair, and things get off to an extremely dark, but quietly fascinating start. The decayed delirium of the situation at hand is introduced to us in sickly slow motion, supported by minimal dialogue and muted sound effects. From the get-go we're very much in the world of Rosie Day's "Angel", a captive caretaker whose duties include doping up the girls before they're subjected to inevitably violent encounters. Like I said - it's bleak - and it only gets bleaker.

In spite of the overwhelmingly grim subject matter and setting, the film begins promisingly, but come the mid-point the slow pace begins to frustrate before the film launches into an increasingly unbelievable set of events as Angel's kidnappers arrive at the brothel for their sick idea of R&R. The staging of certain events just seems daft (character's peripheral vision seems to be non-existent more than once), and while the moments of bloodletting are skillfully pulled-off (be they gut-wrenching or justified retribution), the cat & mouse games of the final act seem as if they've been imported from a very different movie.

Furthermore, the succession of climactic encounters wears plot credibility down to the bone - the fate of the big baddy just seems ridiculous, and numerous twists of the knife feel lazily nasty rather than being justified or earned. The film should have climaxed at 'the body pit' with a kind of spiritual rebirth for Angel, but instead the movie descends into lower grade theatrics which are an ill-fit for the first half of the film. It starts very well, but sputters beyond the mid-point (if you can stomach it that far, of course). Had some changes been made to the second half, this could have been a deeply disturbing dose of revenge-fuelled horror ... instead it's a frustrating case of half-and-half, with the numerous weak points threatening to entirely derail the film. Ultimately, as a whole, the film is unfortunately just alright.

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