TAD Summer Screenings 2012 – V/H/S Review (Kirk Haviland)

Toronto After Dark Summer Screenings 2012

V/H/S

Directed by Adam Wingard, Ti West, David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, and Radio Silence

Horror anthology films are usually a hit and miss affair. Classic anthologies like Creepshow and the more recent Trick ‘r Treat have proven that they can be made very well without missing a step, but those were both made with one person steering the ship. Usually multiple directors means that one or two parts fall short. These films work when the good considerably outweighs the bad, but does V/H/S fall into this category?

We start off with our wrapping story (Directed by Wingard) where we have a group of guys performing random acts of violence and destruction. After they finish destroying some homes, one of them talks about making some money by breaking into a house to steal a videotape. Upon breaking into the house the group discovers tons of tapes and a dead man sitting in a room full of televisions. As the team splits up to explore the house further, unsure of which tape they are there for, members of the group start sitting down in the room to watch the tapes. The first tape (Directed by Bruckner) is the story of a trio of guys equipped with a set of hidden camera glasses who manage to bring home the wrong girl. The second tape (Directed by Ti West) appears to be as simple vacation tape from a young couple, but things start to go awry after the appearance of an unknown visitor. Tape 3 (Glenn McQuaid) brings us the familiar horror set-up of a group of horny kids headed to the lake, until one tells the others of the grisly murders that occurred there previously. Tape 4 uses the wonders of Skype (Directed by Swanberg) to give us a scary tale of what appears to be a haunted apartment as a girl relays video of her surroundings to her boyfriend miles away via webcam. Now in-between the tape sequences things are occurring to our intrepid burglars and after tape 4 their story in concluded before moving on to our last tape. A group of friends looking for a friend of a friend’s Halloween party stumble into the wrong house and interrupt something they are never meant to see in our final tale of the film (Directed by Filmmaking conglomerate Radio Silence).

V/H/S has a lot more working for it than not. The wraparound story from Wingard really only starts working after they enter the house as the opening destruction sequences are tedious at best. Bruckner’s tale of a night out gone wrong is very effective with a couple of good lead performances. Ti West is a very talented filmmaker known for delivering intricately drawn out tales with killer finishing sequences, a process that does not transfer well to this short as it plays as all exposition without a very strong ending. Glenn McQuaid’s concept is actually quite intriguing but the execution is lacking in this nauseating example of overusing the shakiness factor of the camera that has plagued found footage films for ever since the Blair Witch Project (if my hammered friends can shoot straighter video at a New Year’s Eve party then you’re overdoing it). Swanberg’s Skype inspired little gem is quite effectively creepy and plays out to a confusing yet satisfying end. The clear cut best sequence of the film belongs to its closer from Radio Silence, a group I know really nothing about, as their take on the classic house of horrors is excellently paced and the special effects look brilliant. A scary premise that carries a wicked sense of comic timing and decent performances. 10/31/98, as it is titled, really emerges as the star of the show.

Ultimately V/H/S as a whole is a solid film, spectacular in parts only, that should eventually take its place as one of the better anthologies in recent years. V/H/S is a definite recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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The Innkeepers Blu-Ray Review

http://www.eonefilms.com

The Innkeepers Blu-Ray (2012)

Starring Sara Paxton, Pat Healy & Kelly McGillis

Written & Directed by Ti West

Yours truly, Dave Voigt here, also known as The Pop Culture Poet, has finally been acknowledged as an Entertainment Maven. I just want to quickly thank  Matt and his team for bringing me on board and am looking forward to what should be a fun ride!

After a successful run at on the festival circuit, including a stop at our very own Toronto After Dark festival last year, it’s time to dive into a fantastic ghost story out this week on DVD & Blu-Ray from our friends at eOne Films.  Let’s take a look at The Innkeepers.

http://www.eonefilms.com

The Innkeepers centers on the final days of operation of the Yankee Pedlar Inn, a quiet New England hotel with a history of paranormal activity which has seen better days.  On the hotel’s final weekend of operation, its final two employees, Luke and Claire (Healy and Paxton), are determined to find proof that ghosts are haunting the halls of this old hotel. Throw in the hotel’s final customer Leanne, a former actress turned spiritualist, and you’ve got a weekend that none of them will ever forget.

The expression of ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ really comes to mind when watching The Innkeepers as it really is a masterful cinematic stroke of old school scares in assembling the classic ghost story.  Through a near perfect slow burn as the narrative built, writer/director Ti West hardly ever left the actual setting of the hotel, making the story more about what the audience thought was there than what we actually saw.  West didn’t rely on any lazy ‘shock & awe’ moments throughout the film to get the audience interested, but instead used a solid, logical narrative and fantastic character development to have the audience slowly creeping towards the edge of their seats as the tension built to a fevered pitch.  Rather than have it be overly convoluted and complex, he kept it simple and proved that quite often ‘less can be more’ when done right.

As an ensemble cast, everyone involved in this film worked quite well together.  Paxton and Healy had a great dynamic together and we as an audience are immediately invested in their relationship.  As they explore the dark bowels of the Yankee Pedlar Inn, we care about these two and it made the legitimately scary moments all that more effective.  Kelly McGillis as the former actress now new spiritualist dove into the role and actually embraced the self-deprecating humor that the part brought and it was a lot of fun to watch.

http://www.eonefilms.com

The sound and picture quality on the Blu-Ray were top notch, if you are sitting in a dark room you could easily scare yourself just watching it and the special features include a brief behind the scenes look at the film as well as two feature length commentary tracks; one with director Ti West and various members of the production team, as well as a second commentary track with Ti West and stars Sara Paxton and Pat Healy as well as the theatrical trailer.

Ultimately The Innkeepers takes us back to a time that relied on storytelling and stylish filmmaking to elicit a scare or two out of its audience, rather than the more torture porn stylings of today.

4 out of 5 stars

The Innkeepers is widely available at retailers, and to rent at video stores across Toronto if you want to check it out.

Don’t forget to keep it locked right here at Entertainment Maven (like us on Facebook).

The Innkeepers Review – Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2011

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The 6th Annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival, 8 Nights of Horror, Sci-Fi, Action, and Cult Movies runs Oct 20-27, 2011 at the Toronto Underground Cinema. For complete festival info visit www.torontoafterdark.com.

The final screening of Toronto After Dark 2011 was The Innkeepers, the highly anticipated haunted hotel story from Ti West. West was at the festival for an intro to the film and a Q&A afterwards. The Innkeepers closing night gala was one of the hottest tickets of the festival. The ticket holder line wrapped around the side of the building, where people seemed content to wait in the rain. Oddly enough, the pass-holder line seemed to have doubled in size, something I can’t even begin to understand.

Preceding The Innkeepers was a short film called The Lady Paranorma from director Vincent Marcone. The animated short was about a shunned woman of a small town who could hear the dead. The lovely animation reminded me of something Tim Burton might produce, and the poetic narration really added to the mystery and charm of the film.

Back to The Innkeepers.

I checked out West’s most popular film, The House of the Devil, a little late in the game. I really enjoyed the film (check out my review), the pacing in particular was remarkable. The House of the Devil felt unique in today’s world of ‘jump scare’ horror, and more of a harkening back to the days of 80’s horror movies. West has been labelled as a skilled ‘slow burn’ filmmaker, which he admits he doesn’t fully understand, as he feels he is simply treating the audience as intelligent moviegoers by not overdoing the scares and gore. However, West also stated that he was happy for the ‘slow burn’ compliments. I definitely acknowledge West’s pacing acumen, but am much more impressed with his ability to make drastic tonal shifts in the narrative. The House of the Devil feels like a comforting type of horror film for a while, creepy but not oppressively scary, however West pulls the rug out from underneath the viewer with grisly violence and horrific plot twists. A tonal shift is an ambitious filmmaking device, but an extremely effective one in the right hands. West pulled it off in The House of the Devil. Would he use the same technique for The Innkeepers, and more importantly, would it be just as effective?

The Innkeepers is probably best described as a buddy-workplace-comedy-ghosthunting-horror film. The story follows two employees of a failing hotel, Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy). The Yankee Pedlar Inn is set to close shop within the week. Only the second floor of the hotel is open, the others have been cleared out, save for the beds. Instead of dwelling on their soon to be lost jobs, Claire and Luke have an agenda for their final shifts. The Yankee Pedlar has a history of tragedy and Luke has seen some of the paranormal activity first hand. In these final days Claire and Luke are determined to capture something on film or audio tape that would prove the existence of the Pedlar’s ghosts.

The Innkeepers has all the charm in the world. The dialogue in West’s script is intelligent and funny. The performances of Paxton and Healy only add to the already effective writing. Healy is hilariously sarcastic, while Paxton’s portrayal of Claire results in one of the most likeable characters of recent memory. A particular scene has Claire trying to throw out a heavy garbage bag into a dumpster. Her ingeniously awkward and feeble attempts could not have possibly been scripted as they appear on the screen.

The atmosphere of The Innkeepers is reminiscent of light comedic horror films like Ghostbusters or something by Joe Dante, however this is only for a portion of the duration. As the characters become more deeply enmeshed in the haunting of the Yankee Pedlar, the paranormal activity shifts from creaking doors and strange sounds, to truly terrifying manifestations. At no point during the first half of the film will the audience be concerned for Claire and Luke, however the second half forces the viewer to challenge this notion of perceived safety.

The Innkeepers had the potential to be one of the best light-comedic-horror movies I have ever seen, but the shift in tone took the story to a much darker place, and as a result, The Innkeepers becomes a much more important horror film. Much like in The House of the Devil, the tonal shift in The Innkeepers is a very effective bit of filmmaking. West seems discontent to sit back and watch the horror genre rely on buckets of gore and jump-scares. I welcome what he is doing with open arms, as the more variety we have in the horror genre, the better. The Innkeepers is both a very funny comedy and a frightening paranormal mystery. The film is a great success from a critical standpoint, and I hope that it gets the audience it deserves.

You’re Next (TIFF 2011) Review – Masked Mayhem from Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett

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Standing in line last night at Midnight Madness was a true test of willpower. I was waiting to see You’re Next, the new film from the guys that brought us A Horrible Way to Die, and I was scared out of my mind. I think at some level we are all afraid of the subjects of horror films; zombies, madmen, werewolves, etc., that’s why we watch, to be scared. However, we also have our idiosyncratic fears that will be shared by some, but the suffocating terror that seems to sink into our very bones will be not be experienced by the majority of viewers. My ‘special’ fear just happens to be masked assailants and motiveless killers. How quaint that You’re Next stars men in animal masks wielding crossbows, machetes and axes, who show up uninvited at a family reunion. It also didn’t help that an ingenious graffiti ad campaign had ‘masked killer’ art by eerily quiet parking lots and on lonely cement walls. Unfortunately for me, Ryerson theatre was not handing out complimentary blindfolds and ear plugs.

As I’ve alluded to, the film is about a well-off family getting together at an elegant country mansion for a family reunion. Scream queen Barbara Crampton (Re-animator and From Beyond) and Rob Moran play the upper class mother and father, while the four privileged adult children and their romantic partners include, AJ Bowen, Sharni Vinson, Ti West and Joe Swanberg, amongst others. Once everyone arrives at the country home, the members of the disharmonious family begin to squabble, bringing up arguments and feelings from the past for all of the guests to witness. Without warning things change from bad to worse, as the family find themselves under siege by crossbow bolts from outside and machete wielding manics from inside. They have been targeted by a group of killers and cannot understand why. Can the malfunctioning family band together and stop the killers, or will this secluded country mansion be their final resting place?

You’re Next has a lot going for it and is destined to become a commercial success, a cult classic, or both, it will probably come down to marketing. Every aspect of the film has many positive points. The cast is as stellar as it gets for horror movies, with the iconic Barbara Crampton, the always weird and entertaining AJ Bowen, Rob Moran, and directors Ti West (The House of the Devil) and Joe Swanberg (Nights and Weekends). However, the most exciting member of the cast is the talented and beautiful Sharni Vinson, who has cemented her place in the annals of horror cinema with the role of Erin. The combination of Barrett’s writing and Vinson’s portrayal of Erin has created what will be one of the most celebrated heroines in horror film. I’m not going to spoil why Erin is such a lovable character, you’ll just have to find out for yourself.

You’re Next starts off as an extremely tense film, as the audience knows to expect a home invasion, but doesn’t know when to expect it. Wingard and Barrett set up the horror quite nicely as we are given plenty of suspenseful moments and genuine scares before the true horror begins. Also, Barrett delivers an excellent script that is very much tongue-and-cheek and pokes fun at many of the cliched lines and situations that appear in generic horror films. At some point, You’re Next takes one step back from terror and at some level becomes a horror comedy. The transition works very well. That being said, there are still genuine scares throughout the entire film, it just gives the audience a break from watching the screen with the corner of their eyes, between open fingers.

The artistic palette of the film is really something to behold. I’m not sure if it was all intentional, but the colour of the furniture and wood in the mansion, the dark red hue of the blood and even the colour of Vinson’s hair look stunning together. Just look at the photo at the beginning of this review to see what I mean. The score complements the film nicely and even contains an electronic song that reminded me of Argento’s Tenebre (Goblin). Weird, but it works.

In the end, You’re Next is a taut, scary thriller that seamlessly transitions into a comedic, action packed bloodbath. I urge you too see You’re Next when you get a chance. Grab some friends and see it in a theatre, it will be a blast. Wingard and Barrett hinted that their next project would be more action oriented, but if it’s not horror-themed then I’ve got news for them.

They’re next!

Note: It’s nice to see such impeccable grammar from madmen writing on the walls with blood.

The House of the Devil review – Slow methodical horror done right

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I don’t know if there is a profession that is more delectable to movie madmen, stalkers, serial killers, and monsters, than that of the babysitter. If you are a a lone, attractive female looking to make a quick buck, then you can watch over some brat kids for a measly $5-$10 per hour, and there is at least a 10% chance that your night is going to turn into a sequence of horrifying events! It doesn’t sound like a very good deal, but characters in films don’t always make the best decisions, and as a result, the horror film world has been saturated with banal babysitter brutality for decades. That’s why I’m very happy to report that while The House of the Devil utilizes the babysitter cliche, it separates itself from the crowd of generic slashers that also depict the horrors of the babysitter.

The House of the Devil is the third offering from young horror director Ti West and features a great cast. The film stars Jocelin Donahue as Samantha, the babysitter, and Greta Gerwig as her friend Megan. Add to this, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov and AJ Bowen as a variety of suspicious characters and the audience is in for a treat. The story is set in the 1980’s and begins with the adorable Samantha securing an apartment that she desperately needs. However, she only has a few days to come up with the $300 deposit or else she will be stuck with her inconsiderate roommate, who is more interested in sleeping with her boyfriend than hitting the textbooks. A fortuitous glance at a school message board discovers a babysitter job. Samantha, without a dollar to her name, inquires into the position and is told that there is work for her tonight, if she wants it. It’s a relatively easy decision. Samantha and her friend Megan set out in Megan’s car into the countryside at night, to check out the babysitter position. Unfortunately for them, the film is not called The House of the Babysitter.

One of the main points of praise that I have read about The House of the Devil is that the director has done a great job of re-creating the feel of horror movies from the 70’s and 80’s. I agree with this point, but it is not what impressed me the most. What I really enjoyed about the film was the uncertainty of when, or if, I would be scared or shocked. Many horror films let the viewer know from the very first scene if the film is meant to be a casual horror film, an extreme exercise in terror, or somewhere in between. I had a very difficult time getting a read on The House of the Devil until it was over, and this was a very good thing. Too many times horror films are not as successful as they could be, because of audience expectations. If a zombie eats someone’s brain in the first five minutes, the audience mentally prepares for worse acts of horror in the following scenes. The House of the Devil greatly succeeds in leaving the audience unprepared by utilizing a very well timed gradual buildup to the horror. I will not spoil the fun and say whether the film is relatively tame or shocking, just that it is a fun ride.

The cast do a great job. Tom Noonan, who towers above the college girls, and Mary Woronov are subtly creepy and really help to create the atmosphere of uncertainty. I’m looking forward to seeing Jocelin Donahue in another lead role sometime soon. I’m also excited to see AJ Bowen in You’re Next at TIFF in about a week. The soundtrack is appropriate and sounds like something I would throw in my Walkman if I got the chance.

The House of the Devil is not a perfect film, but it has a lot of positive qualities, from the atmosphere to the acting, that really make it worth checking out. If you end up enjoying the film then keep an eye out for Ti West’s next entry in his unofficial trilogy of terror, The Innkeepers.

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