Hey everyone- it's Annette Kellerman back with more coverage from SXSW. Next on the ever-growing list....
I'll begin by admitting my expectations were sky-high for this one. After hearing reports from Sundance of people actually throwing up and practically shitting themselves at screenings of the film, I stood in line for two hours anxiously anticipating the scare of my life. One of my favorite "new guard" horror directors Ti West and my (only) favorite mumblecore director Joe Swanberg are among the film makers who contributed to this project, which made me even more excited to check this thing out. Sadly, I find it my duty to inform everyone- don't believe the hype this time guys.
V/H/S is a collection of short films that are bookended by a separate story about some guys who burglarize a house. Upon breaking and entering, the fellas discover that the owner of the home has passed away sitting in his easy chair watching a series of VHS tapes. When they begin to watch the tapes, they discover a series of films depicting some creepy stories which culminates in the tables being turned on these amateur criminals.
Now, although there are some bright spots throughout the series, it just didn't scare me. I quickly tired of the overall frat boy tone that seemed to permeate even the most "girl power" heaviest of the bunch. I don't want to go so far as to say there is a misogynistic theme happening throughout, because a female proclaiming anything like that in horror is totally laughable since horror has traditionally been based on the terrorizing of women (which I'm strangely ok with). What I do take offense with, however, is doing it in a way that doesn't propel the plot and/or fright factor forward. Even when the ultimate payoff is the "bros" getting their comeuppance, it still just doesn't feel right- and again, is just rarely actually scary.
I did enjoy two of the segments-one involving an after party with a girl who turns out to be not quite right and another featuring a rosemary's baby-esque skype relationship, but the others did very little for me. Although there were a few creepy surprises and interesting visual effects in some of the other shorts, those few moments just couldn't save V/H/S for me. The scariest part was my disappointment. My overall impression of this found footage anthology is just a bunch of amateurish, unscripted, shaky cam blech that I am officially dubbing "mumblehorror."
SLEEPWALK WITH ME
Yet another film I heard great buzz about from Sundance this year is comedian Mike Birbiglia's film SLEEPWALK WITH ME. I became familiar with Birbiglia when I heard an interview he did on Fresh Air with Terry Gross awhile back. I recall being intrigued by his battle with REM disorder and the events that led to his eventual need to sleep in a virtually inescapable sleeping bag each night following an incident where he slept-ran through a second story window. When I read the synopsis for the film, I instantly made the connection and put the film at the top of my list.
The narrative based on these experiences finds Birbiglia in the lead role as Matt, an aspiring comedian/current bartender who still can't seem to commit to his girlfriend of 8 years. Though his girlfriend, Abby, purports to have the same aversion to a conventional life like her beau, it is obvious that she is starting to catch the baby fever and a want for the stability that comes with it.
Just as Abby's true desires become apparent, Matt's career in comedy begins to take off. Suddenly, Matt is traveling non-stop from state to state and experiencing his dream for the first time. Sadly, he begins to realize that his goals are not matching up with Abby's. In the midst of all this self-revelation, Matt is having some serious sleeping issues. Though at first it's just your normal, run of the mill sleepwalking, it eventually develops into a much more serious condition that is soon causing bodily harm.
Wait, did I even mention that this movie is funny? Well, it is! Even the darkest parts if the story are steeped in humor. As Matt, Birbiglia displays a sheepish charm that keeps you on his side regardless of his transgressions, and as his comedy career blossoms so do the laughs. The supporting cast (including Carol Kane as Matt's mom, and David Wain as a procreating friend) further help to maintain a light tone despite the slow descent of Matt's personal life. Lauren Ambrose's Abby is truly delightful as the always supportive, yet increasingly listless and unfulfilled girlfriend.
Though the subject matter sounds fairly melancholy, SLEEPWALK WITH ME actually qualifies as a feel-good dramedy. It is by no means a knee-slapper, but the clever writing and comedic performances definitely lift the film way above the usual humorous festival fare.
So there ya go! I'll be checking in with more coverage of SXSW soon.