Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #463
Number of Views: One
Release Date: October 23, 2014
Sub-Genre: Found Footage/Anthology
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 81 minutes
Directors: Nacho Vigalondo, Marcel Sarmiento, Gregg Bishop, Justin Benson, Aaron Scott Moorhead
Producers: Gary Binkow, Brad Miska, Adam Hendricks, Nahikari Ipiña, John H. Lang, David Lawson Jr., Aaron Moorhead, Nils Onsager, Tom Owen, Justin Benson, Gregg Bishop, Theo Brooks, Dan Caudill, Stephen Caudill
Screenplay: Nacho Vigalondo, Marcel Sarmiento, Gregg Bishop, Justin Benson, Aaron Scott Moorhead, T.J. Cimfel, Ed Dougherty, David White
Special Effects: Megan Areford, Óscar del Monte, Nacho Díaz, Julia Hapney, William Thornton
Cinematography: Harris Charalambous, Jon D. Domínguez, George Feucht, Aaron Moorhead
Score: Anntona, Kristopher Carter
Editing: Justin Benson, Víctor Berlin, Gregg Bishop, Phillip Blackford, Justin Dornbush, Michael Felker, Aaron Moorhead
Studios: Bloody Disgusting, The Collective, Haxan Films
Distributor: Magnet Releasing
Stars: Patrick Lawrie, Emilia Zoryan, Justin Welborn, Emmy Argo, Dan Caudill, Gustavo Salmeron, Marian Alvarez, Xavi Daura, Esteban Navarro, Nick Blanco, Chase Newton, Shane Bradey
Suggested Audio Candy
ROOM8 “Rider/Rose in The Snow”
Of all the anthologies to arrive since George A. Romero brought us Creepshow in 1982, V/H/S/2 is one of the finest. The original wasn’t too shabby either but the sequel was a tighter, better paced, and more complete experience. Using found footage as its angle, it defied the rules of a somewhat rigid and tired genre, introducing us to all manner of madness and doing so using a format which is ordinarily restricted by having to keep things real. It could have come across as lazy in the wrong hands but all four stories and their wraparound had distinct merits and this is where anthologies fall apart more often than not. Its standout, Gareth Evans’ Safe Haven, was of the very highest caliber and there wasn’t a discernible weak link attached.
The time had come for the V/H/S franchise to take its next step and it certainly wasn’t broke so repair wasn’t necessary. Just more of the same would keep it afloat and anything else would be deemed a bonus. A year to turn it around appeared sufficient given the advancements made second time out but this time the personnel involved changed considerably. Justin Benson, Gregg Bishop, Todd Lincoln, Aaron Moorhead, Marcel Sarmiento, and Nacho Vigalondo were commissioned to come up with the goods and the results are far more varied than previously.
To start with, Lincoln’s entry, enticingly named Gorgeous Vortex, never actually made the final cut. Significantly different in tone from anything else in the V/H/S universe, it was decided that it didn’t fit the template at the 11th hour leaving a brisk 81 minute running time and increasing the burden on the rest of the contributors to make their minutes count. I believe it was an error by Magnet Releasing not to include this as part of the package as it is beautifully shot, entrancing, and hints at a change of direction which may be the series’ best bet moving forward. Of course, it is added as a hidden extra on the Blu-Ray disk, but my UK version was devoid of this tasty treat, leaving me to salivate over its trailer and curse the powers that be.
And then there were four. Vicious Circles is up first for scrutiny and doesn’t so much wraparound as flail about. Sarmiento tells his tale in such a fragmented way that it is impossible to warm to. Over use of static interference and white noise harm it considerably although certain flashes of emotionally charged imagery hint at why we should attempt to stay with it, regardless of any befuddlement. These bright lights shine amidst a muddled cocktail of asphalt surfing, high-speed chases, and fair share of human casualties. The problem here is that we want to invest but its all a little too slapdash and borderline incoherent to truly forge a connection. having said that, the rear bookend clears things up and features a devilish enlightenment inside the ice cream van that hell forgot. Blowing hot and cold is one thing but, when it’s the glue that binds the entire movie, a little more adhesive wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Vicious Circles Judgement: 5/10
Dante The Great
Bishop is next under the microscope and I had high hopes given that Dance of The Dead was such a pleasing diversion. Telling the tale of a mystical magician’s cape through mockumentary approach, it introduces us to the titular Dante (played with great verve by Justin Welborn) and his long-suffering assistant Scarlett (Emmy Argo) and invites us behind the curtain of their outlandish magic act. What could have easily have been a bog-standard tale of possession is markedly elevated by Welborn’s expression of our protagonist’s over-confidence as the power begins to go to his head. Taking a more straightforward narrative approach works in setting us up for what is to follow and Bishop shoehorns in more than enough visual trickery and playful violence to blind side us to its simplicity.
Dante The Great Judgement: 7/10
Nacho Vigalondo’s entry is ideally placed after Dante is done producing rabbits from his hat and the director of Timecrimes and the A is For Apocalypse entrée from The ABCs of Death once again tinkers with sci-fi, with glorious results. This time, parallel dimensions take precedence over time travel as a man invents a machine capable to mirroring reality seemingly identically, then entering into a tryst with his own reflection which both may soon regret. Vigalondo keeps us sweating throughout as each Alfonso steps further into his discomfort zone and the subtle differences between respective dimensions turn out not to be quite as miniscule as first expected. This would have been right at home in V/H/S/2 but here it is our savior. Alas, it also doesn’t bode well for Benson and Moorhead, who have the monumental task of following up this abstruse behemoth.
Parallel Monsters Judgement: 9/10
They give it their best shot but it proves too gargantuan a task and our final chapter suffers markedly alongside such eminence. This time the helmet cams provide our eyes as we follow a rowdy trio of skaters to Tijuana where they plan to smoke a little pot, talk some shit, and shoot a skateboarding video. They find the perfect half-pipe in an old abandoned reservoir and the kickflips commence as planned. Needless to say, they have no divine right to call it their turf and the arrival of an ominous death cult clad in long dusty robes and wearing any marrow on the outside is cause for consternation. The thrill-seeking teens take it all in their stride and, armed with broken off skateboards and firearms, they enter into a battle for supremacy which looks increasingly unlikely to end well. It’s a recipe for fun and can’t be accused of not supplying on this front but, after the twisted majesty of Parallel Monsters, it’s all a little too obvious and inconsequential. It is well shot however and I will look out for future projects from these guys, preferably without the wheels.
Bonestorm Judgement: 7/10
So we arrive at the end credits a little sooner than expected, if truth be known, and it’s now time to take V/H/S/Viral as the sum of its parts. I’m assured that the individual scores amass to a greater average than the one which it ultimately achieves and I may seem a little harsh in my overall judgement. However, it just doesn’t jell as a package. The inclusion of Gorgeous Vortex would have padded it out and, in this case, a little extra padding is what is lacking. The great thing about anthologies is that, if one segment under performs, there’s another one shot to dazzle directly behind it. The real issue here is that we are spoiled by Vigalondo’s magnificent gift and confused a little too often by the rest.
Despite its shortcomings and the lack of any kind of cohesion, V/H/S/Viral is well primed for revisitation. It doesn’t ever threaten to overstay its welcome and each of the directors clearly understand the brief. Ultimately, it’s as strong as its weakest link and, unfortunately, that happens to be the one acting as linchpin. I prefer to think of the series as one big “best of” in progress. Amateur Night from the first, Phase I Clinical Trials and Safe Haven from the second and, now, Parallel Monsters from the third leave us one story away from the perfect anthology. Next time, maybe they’ll provide us with a prize-winning wraparound.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: After the hellish excess of Safe Haven, it was never likely to scale the same heights and th third outing falls short of its predecessor with regards to bankable grue. With that said, there’s more than ample splatter on exhibit. We’re talking skinned rabbits, evisceration, head shots, elbow drops, and cans of whoop soundly shaken and sprayed. However, the most gratifying moments are more grotesque than blood-drenched and involve both-sex genitalia with a devilish twist. While possessing a snapping phallic serpent would be fun for fifteen minutes, I’m not totally sure that I’d point it anywhere near this particular hell wench’s vulva. Who am I kidding? I’d be in there faster than Flynn and drawing back a bloody nub before she could say “welcome to The Great Pit of Carkoon”.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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