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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

V/H/S : Viral (2014) Horror Anthology

V/H/S : Viral (2014) - Building on two somewhat successful films and expanding the nontraditional filming techniques that have become so popular in recent years, V/H/S : Viral may be a bit of a step back from its earlier entries by leaving behind the premise of the VHS tape. The first two films in the series were all about these VHS tapes and the collectors of them. Through that premise stories were about the seekers of the tapes as well as the stories the tapes told. Neither great films but certainly passable entertainment. In this new film it is all about POV, Go Pro and people recording each other not about found tapes. Attempting to make a statement about the desire of people to have the drivel they are recording go viral the wrap around story takes the title seriously. Director Marcel Sarmiento who directed Deadgirl (2008) which was not one of my favorites that year does an reasonable job trying to capture the idea. The breaks in the the recording, bars and static etc. were probably intended to give the VHS effect like the shots were found and reconstructed but it never is presented that way. Instead the effect just makes the viewing experience worse and not adding anything to the stories. Still Sarmiento's segment "Vicious Circles" is the most true to the concept telling the story of a young man Kev (Patrick Lawrie) who records everything. In fact he is on a quest of sorts wanting the popularity that comes with having something you record becoming a sensation. Set in Los Angeles it is about a police chase of a strange Ice Cream truck that passes by his house. Not wanting to miss an opportunity he runs out to see it and to record the passing. Residents see the chase as an event and there are groups of  "spectators" filming on their phones at every overpass on the chase route. The messaging about the spectacle and societies ability to record everything is front and center.
  A secondary video  connected to this hits the web and has a strange effect on those who view it. Suddenly the spectacle is bringing watchers into the web of the chase. We see the symptom as a bloody nose and a dazed look but the implication that the recording and viewing of those recordings, effects the viewer deepens the message of the piece.  Kev is one of those filming residents and when his girlfriend Iris (Emilia Zoryan) is swept up in the chase he is on a mission to rescue her. Some cool gore effects as well as some silly one add and detract to the short about societies craze with recording. It speaks to the idea of the spectacle and societies need for a selfie around them.Not completely coherent with imagery that seems out of place for the idea of VHS, sure the motions are made to show the viewer tracking displays and the such but the devices used are now far smaller and more effective that it seemed the need to connect to the original title V/H/S was a yoke around the films neck.
  The second story, "Dante The Great" is about a nobody magician wanna be Dante (Justin Welborn) who comes into possession of a cape that allows him to do real magic. Suddenly he is thrust from obscurity into the hottest show on the planet. The problem of course is the price one has to pay for magic and in this case the appetite of the magic cape is for life. Shot is a strange mix of faux-documentary with found footage, police interview, and swat team helmet cam footage as well as hand held video it is a real confusion of styles. Certainly an interesting story but like with many of these films the gimmick of how they came to be get in the way of giving viewers a well shot coherent looking piece of art. Instead we get this paint splattered mess that has a decent theme but shitty execution. We see the story almost like a made for TV documentary if they had access to every possible camera in Dante's life. Scarlett (Emmy Argo) his magicians assistant is the primary teller of the story, interviewed by police after the fact and then cut in of footage Dante filmed himself used to visually show what she is telling. We get a complete story of Dante getting the cape, to figuring out it has magic, then the frustration of it not working. When he discovers it must be fed, people, we see his need for fame out weigh his morals. Well to be honest he was never shown as anything but a loser hoping for fame so the depths of his fall are muted.
  Someone who is going to do bad things should never obsessively film them but Dante seems to ignore this and it is his downfall. The tapes he collect and hide in a secret compartment are the very evidence and footage the police and the film need. Showing the man as he sets the cape on people so it can eat and his fame can continue to grow. The not completely surprising climax where Scarlett confronts Dante a decent finish to the story. Writer/Director Gregg Bishop should get credit for writing a decent story. Known for directing the entertaining, if a bit cliche Dance of the Dead (2008) he is showing his ability more as a writer in this instead of a director. That last comment might not be too fair. I think the biggest problem for most of the stories here is the artificial formatting of alternate source footage. If they had just made a traditionally filmed movie of these stories it would probably be a better anthology than it is in this format.
  The third story written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo called Parallel Monsters was my favorite and probably because it included the science fiction genre. Short comparatively it is a story about a man who has built a doorway to another universe to find a version of himself staring back having done the exact same thing. Each with a handheld video recorder the film cuts between the two men when they switch places for fifteen minutes. The story gets dark very quickly and the viewer discovers with the lead characters Alfonso (Gustavo Salmerón) that each world is quite different from the one they are from. Sure each has a wife named Marta (Marian Álvarez) but we quickly learn the sexual appetites of one universe are quite different from the other. The consequences of crossing over are far harsher than the characters could have expected. Some cool effects that reminded me of "The World End", a shocking display of male sexual anatomy and a nasty ending made this a surprising watch.  Vigalondo who made the wonderful Time Crimes (2007) a time traveling mystery that should have made him and even bigger name than he is. This writer is looking forward to his upcoming technological thriller Open Windows (2014) starring Frodo Baggins um, I mean Elijah Woods.
  The final story Bonestorm is about a group of Skateboard riding twenty-somethings who are trying to film enough material to finish their skating video. Deciding the current location is not good enough the take a trip to Tijuana Mexico to find a rumored "good" place to finish the video. When they arrive in the drainage ditch they fail to notice the large pentagram marking a ceremonial site. Skating is going well until one kid falls and cuts himself. The blood on this sacred ground calls a pack of skeletal acolytes out of thin air. Then it is a fight for survival but unfortunately for the young men the more blood they spill the more skeletons appear. Shot with a lot of Go Pro cameras there is a sense of chaos in the story. Even though at the end we get this we also get a variety of different sources none being the more traditional form of filming but at the same time stretching the believability of alternative source filming. Still the effects seem a bit lower budget are well hidden in the jarring cuts between cameras. A drawback to this story is that the young people are unlikable. This could be my age showing but boy these are listless unfocus people. The actors sell it though so I suppose there is a positive there. Written and directed by Aaron Moorhead noted for his recent film Resolution (2012) manages the story well enough.
  Overall I think that I was not particularly impressed by this set of stories but appreciate that anthologies are hot again. Like in literature the short story format can be very effective when done well. Although I did not connect with all the stories in this set it is pretty competently done. More the drawback is that I'm tired of this alternative source gimmick. Just make the same story traditionally without all the shaky cam and pretend interruptions to the film. The premise is a stretch to begin with but then the filmmakers add the excellent editing and fake errors to it just to fit the gimmick is annoying. If the stories are good enough to be told just make the film look and sound good. This film is very borderline for a recommendation. It gets it but really you could go either way on that decision. Since I like the directors involved I give it a luke warm recommendation.

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