An atypical Americans in Japan story that uses white insensitivity to culture to provide its dark horrors.
Adam Wingard & Simon Barrett take us back to the Black Hills in search of answers. But their camping adventurers end up discovering more terror than anything they ever expected.
V/H/S 2. 2013. Directors: Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Eduardo Sánchez, Gregg Hale, Timo Tjahjanto, Gareth Huw Evans, and Jason Eisener. Magnet Releasing.
Rated 18A. 96 minutes.
★★ (Blu ray release)
The wraparound story for the first V/H/S held things together well enough. While it was at best a decently played out section of the film, what really sold me on it overall were the individual segments (minus one), which I thought were really creepy and the first was fairly innovative in terms of their use of found footage. This time around in V/H/S/2, the wraparound segment called “Tape 49” (directed by usual writer Simon Barrett) is much better than that in the first installment of the series, and by the same token I didn’t really like as many of the shorts this time around. While I still love this series, I do think V/H/S/2 is essentially the weak link of what is so far a trilogy; I’m a big fan of third regardless of what others think – I think it’s the most unique and definitely the most far reaching in terms of concepts, particularly the segments by Gregg Bishop and Nacho Vigalondo. That is for another review.
I’m a big fan of Adam Wingard, and I honestly love almost every single bit of his work, however, I really can’t get hugely into his segment here, “Phase I Clinical Trials”.
Quick synopsis: Wingard plays a man who has a bionic eye implanted by a company that will monitor his every move and record whatever he does – it isn’t long until he discovers the eye helps him see just a little too well, and a little too much.
It is not badly done whatsoever – let me start by saying this – I have no problem with the visuals or aesthetics in general. What I’m not a fan of is the execution in terms of how it was written. I find usually Barrett, who wrote this segment along with the one he directed, subverts some of the norms I come to expect from horror. Here, in “Phase I”, Barrett really plays into some foolishness. Like when the girl just suddenly decides the best way to ignore all the weird, undead-like stuff going on around her and Wingard is to take off their clothes and start having sex. I mean – come on. I am a big fan of both Barrett and Wingard, and I usually never find myself saying these things about their work together, but here it is just unbearably bad. I really thought this was some tired writing. The direction worked well, as well as benefitting from Wingard acting in the short, in terms of the filming techniques used (he talks about this in one of the featurettes on the Blu ray – Wingard wanted to have an actual actor play the part but because of the fact he was shooting the segment in the first person perspective he felt it easier to take on the role himself). Other than the fact Wingard directs well, this segment isn’t really much fun – a few cool effects don’t make a decent short horror. I like its finale; there are some creepy ghosts and all that. The build up, on the other hand, doesn’t really do anything for me.
Eduardo Sánchez is another filmmaker whose work I really enjoy. He does really well in the found footage sub-genre, and thrives. His segment is a zombie-filled romp through some woods called “A Ride in the Park”, which sees a mountain biker zipping through forest recording on his GoPro – he comes across a wounded woman, gets bitten, and then slowly becomes a zombie. From there, we follow him and his GoPro as he wanders with a herd of zombies through the trees, terrorizing others, including a little girl’s birthday party.
Not only do I like the innovative use of found footage here with the GoPro camera on the biker, I really thought it was interesting to follow the perspective of a person who gets bitten by a zombie and becomes one himself. The GoPro really helps add to things by giving us a very up close and personal view of this perspective. Sánchez explores ideas about what happens to us after the zombie virus takes hold – do our feelings still linger? Can we retain any sort of control?
One really great, and heartbreaking, moment comes when the man-turned-zombie hears his phone making noise. After fumbling it from a pocket and realizing he accidentally dialed his girlfriend, a single pathetic-sounding groan comes from him, and it’s the stuff of good drama really. Thoroughly enjoyed this segment. It was good in all these senses while also being downright fun zombie madness – after the zombies infiltrate the birthday party it is just awesome.
Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto teamed up to create a really horrifying and adrenaline injected segment named “Safe Haven”. This short takes a young documentary film crew inside the complex of a cult run by a man known as Father. They want to give an inside scoop into the cult with untampered footage, giving the leader a chance to present his group, unbiased, to the outside world. Father allows them unprecedented access into the complex. Soon after, the crew begins to realize something is amiss. I won’t say any more. Go in knowing only this, or less.
I love how the pacing really keeps up in this segment. Things kick in with crazy gore, horror, and downright terror. I enjoyed every second of this one. The effects are outrageous, in the best way possible, and even the performances, specifically that of Epy Kusnandar as the previously mentioned Father – he is maniacal, a little funny at times, and absolutely scary as hell. This is by far the best segment of the first two V/H/S films because it scares the life out of me, but it also remembers to stay fun, and doesn’t take itself seriously the whole time. The final moments of “Safe Haven” are brilliant, hilarious, and terrifying all wrapped into one.
I enjoy Jason Eisener, especially after I’d seen Hobo With A Shotgun, but his segment “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” isn’t his greatest work to date. Not that I didn’t enjoy it – it was a lot of fun. The story is basically about a bunch of kids, with the parents gone away, who are then laid siege upon by a UFO and some aliens. Pretty good little plot for a short.
I just thought there was a bit too much epilepsy-inducing light flashing. The effect worked in certain places. Others, it was highly annoying. It really did help several shots look more effective, particularly when one of the kids goes up into an attic, and there ends up being a number of alien-creatures already there, some coming up behind, and I thought it definitely enhanced things. On the whole, though, there was too much of it. I just wanted the segment to end after things kicked into high gear. The adrenaline was pumping, there is no doubt, however, I don’t think it pumped correctly because there was too much flashy nonsense.
Eisener should have focused more on the horror itself and the terror rather than trying to forcibly slip us into being terrified by flashing lights and noises; I, personally, was creeped out as it was with the aliens, I didn’t need some of the nauseating effects that came along with it to be scared. Really disappointed in this section ultimately, but I did love the initial setup, as well as some of the kids’ dialogue.
Part of the reason I really did enjoy V/H/S/2 is, as I mentioned earlier, the wraparound segment. Barrett’s “Tape 49” follows two private investigators who are looking for a missing student, and after they manage to get into his seemingly deserted house they come across a bunch of strange VHS tapes. Once they watch the tapes, their night gets even worse.
I thought this angle for the story that sort of encompasses the film, explaining the tapes themselves, worked very well, and it was also directed well by Barrett. I just thought it worked even better than the simple premise of the first film’s wraparound segment. It was more intriguing.
I think one of the things V/H/S/2 really does have going for it, adding something new to the second installment of this series, is that the whole film is really fun. It’s absolutely an exciting and entertaining ride. Though I didn’t really click with Eisener or Wingard’s shorts, they were still enjoyable even if I had some problems with them myself. “A Ride in the Park” and “Safe Haven” really hit the mark the best I could have possibly imagined (I expected good things from both Evans and Sanchez because I was huge fans of theirs previous to this movie), and they keep the energy of the entire film at a really high level.
If you enjoyed the first V/H/S then you will most likely enjoy V/H/S/2 because, for all its faults, the film tries its best at all times to be entertaining, innovative, and above all else scary, as well as disturbing. You can do worse than this movie – certainly, I wouldn’t own it on Blu ray if I didn’t think it was worth watching.
That being said, the Blu ray release is not really the greatest. While the picture and sound are incredible, there is little else to be excited about other than a 3-minute featurette on each of the segments; one includes a ridiculously pointless video of Sanchez and crew tipping over a dead and rotting tree, which ends in slight injury. I only enjoyed the featurette for, surprisingly enough a segment I wasn’t big on, “Phase I Clinical Trials” – I really like Wingard a lot, and just hearing him talk a little about the filming process, et cetera, it was nice. Though, it was still only 3 or 4 minutes. Neither of these features are longer than 5 minutes tops. Disappointing, especially considering this is a film highly based around the visuals. They could have done better.
Check out the Blu ray, but don’t expect a ton of great extras to keep you entertained. You’ll be getting the film and not much in the way of added toppings. The movie is pretty good. The Blu ray? You’re better off waiting for them to put out all the V/H/S movies as a set. Maybe then they’ll get some more, and better, footage to include for the fans. Until then, this a mediocre at best Blu ray release.
The Guest. 2014. Directed by Adam Wingard. Written by Simon Barrett. Starring Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser, and Lance Reddick. Picturehouse.
Rated 14A. 99 minutes.
To begin, I’ve been a fan of Adam Wingard a long while. I think the first time I actually saw one of his films it was A Horrible Way to Die, which I recently got on Blu ray and enjoyed again to the fullest. After that I got the chance to see both Home Sick and Pop Skull within a couple days. Though I enjoy his later work more, I still really dug those films. Wingard really has a different sensibility about the way he makes movies than a lot of new, young horror directors. Not to mention, Simon Barrett, who has been writing films for Wingard since, I believe, A Horrible Way to Die. Barrett is a really interesting writer; another of his works I enjoyed before his partnership with Wingard is the creepy Confederate gold horror Dead Birds. Together, the two of these guys are a great pair as writer-director partnerships go. Especially in the horror genre. I think these guys continually prove they’re the next big thing (hell – I think they’re the big thing right now) in horror.
That being said, after You’re Next, Barrett and Wingard have moved onto a slight change of pace with The Guest.
This story follows a young soldier named David (Stevens). The film begins as we follow behind him, jogging. Soon, he reaches the home of a soldier he knew, Caleb, who recently died. David tells the family Caleb wanted him to find them and give them his love. David also says he promised Caleb he’d do anything possible to help them. Anna (Monroe), Caleb’s sister, seems suspicious. However, the rest of the family, especially the mother (Sheila Kelley) and younger brother (Brendan Meyer), take a liking to David. Even some of Anna’s friends, including a sleazy sort of dude named Craig (a nice small role played by Joel David Moore), think David is the best. Eventually, David’s past comes back to haunt him. People start dying.
And soon enough, Anna starts finding things out about David; dangerous things.
The movie plays out like something we’ve seen before, and yet The Guest feels different. A lot of people focus on it seemingly being a throwback to 1980s action-thrillers, and also some of John Carpenter’s works specifically, which I agree; a lot of this film seems very much inspired by the look of Carpenter, as well as the feel of certain action movies from the 80s, most specifically probably The Terminator. Regardless, The Guest is not some 80s rehash. It’s a smart little thriller with the entertainment of thrillers we’ve known before. Yes, there are influences here. Yes, the soundtrack is most certainly a heavy lean towards the 80s.
But Barrett and Wingard both are too clever to make this just a throwback piece.
For anyone who has not actually seen The Guest yet, what I’m about to say in the next little bit has a huge SPOILER in it. So, if you’d rather not have the film spoiled, and I’d rather you not because I don’t want anyone complaining when I’ve clearly forewarned them (even though I think the whole concept of ‘spoiler alert’ is ridiculous – if you don’t want anything spoiled, stay away from the fucking internet), PLEASE TURN BACK.
So, one of my favourite pieces in the entire movie is nearing the finale. Just as things start going haywire for David, he and Mrs. Peterson (Kelley) are in the kitchen, taking cover from gunfire and such. I honestly believed David was going to protect the family. I figured we’d be treated to a massive shootout, as well as maybe a few hand-to-hand combat scenes. Instead, Barrett subverts those expectations, and David instead stabs Mrs. Peterson just before she yells to the men outside the house as she figures out his intentions. I really didn’t see that coming. Also, I think this is really clever because even earlier when David kills two other people, we don’t necessarily switch him to the bad guy. We’re still wondering what exactly is going on with him; maybe the government has done his head in, maybe they turned him into a killing machine without the off switch – who knows?
But once David kills the mother, all bets are off. We now see him as an unstoppable force. He strategically snuffs out any single person who may, or possibly may not, it doesn’t matter, become a trail leading back to him. Then from this point on things get even wilder.
This is one of the many reasons I really enjoy The Guest. Another thing – Wingard avoids going for some extended, unnecessary sex scene during a party in the film. Whereas a lot of other filmmakers might make it into a whole scene, Wingard keeps it at a very brief few shots, which gives us enough information to deduce that, yes, the two characters indeed have sex.
It’s not that I’m against sex scenes. In fact, I’m not at all. I think if the plot provides a moment where a sex scene is organic and natural, then why not? But on the contrary, if there is no need for it, if it doesn’t serve the plot or characters in any way, then why include it? Only makes for a bit of fast forward. You can either have sex or watch it on the internet whenever you want – it doesn’t need to be filler in a movie. Not for me anyways. Kudos to Wingard for not falling into the same old traps other filmmakers do. Instead, he uses every scene, every shot, because they’re all meant to be in there. Signs of a good filmmaker, in my opinion.
I really enjoyed Dan Stevens as David. I’ve never personally seen him in anything else, though I know what he’s done. His portrayal of this character was incredible. He swung between charming and handsome, to dark (still handsome) and brooding. There were times he genuinely chilled me with a few of the looks on his face; not even his words, just expressions. I think I’ll definitely have to see some of his other work. Great casting.
Though there are a few small performances I enjoyed (Ethan Embry as a small-time arms dealer, Joel David Moore as the burnt out Craig, Lance Reddick as Major Carver, the always unique Leland Orser as Mr. Peterson), the one other performance aside from Stevens I enjoyed most was Maika Monroe. She did a wonderful job as Anna. Again, I don’t ever really recall seeing her in anything else, but she was great here. This could’ve easily been played badly had they cast someone else, however, Monroe turns the character of Anna into someone less-angsty and a bit more intelligent than most young characters we see in horrors, action-thrillers, and the lot. Also, she gets to utter the final line – I absolutely love it. The way she says it, the three words themselves; it all puts things perfectly in perspective. Another great instance of casting. She and Stevens played well off one another, as well. Some really great scenes between the two.
The Guest is a fun and weird ride through what could have been a typical action-thriller, but instead comes off as the next legitimate step on the path towards greatness for Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. I think this is not only better than most action coming out post-2000, it’s also just one of the better action-thrillers I’ve seen. I recently rewatched The Terminator on Blu ray (and I probably consider that to be the best action-thriller ever), and I can honestly say, for me, The Guest ranks up there with that film.
I love the dialogue, as I usually do in movies scripted by Barrett; I never find myself stopping and wondering why someone had to say that, why the screenwriter left this in there, et cetera. The plot is a lot of fun, and Wingard really executes things well. He is great with a lot of the handheld work in his previous films, but I think with the bigger budgets his and Barrett’s talents have started bringing in his films will start to see more and more stabilized framing. Not to say handheld isn’t good, or that Wingard isn’t good at it (the opposite – as I said he is great), I just think with The Guest, Wingard proves he is capable of true beauty with more steady framing and shot composition. There are just absolutely magnificent shots here; one such action-style shot is when Craig (Moore) is running away from David, who lets him go, and eventually picks him off with a headshot from long range. Just really great and twisted stuff.
The Guest will be on Blu ray January 6th, but is also going to be available for purchase as a Digital HD release on December 16th through VOD services. As soon as you can, check this out. I’m looking forward to the Blu ray because this is a gorgeous looking film with great camerawork, a killer soundtrack, and some top notch performances.
V/H/S is a wild, weird found footage horror ride.