Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Today, I talk once again wit Ti West, director of such modern horror masterpieces as HOUSE OF THE DEVIL and THE INNKEEPERS. Ti directed an installment in the much ballyhooed found footage anthology V/H/S. Mr. West talked about his installment in V/H/S, and his thoughts about short films and the found footage trend in general. Later on, I review the film which is finally available on BluRay and DVD this week. But first, let’s hear what Mr. West has to say about V/H/S…
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Hi Ti. It’s good to talk to you again.
TI WEST (TW): Likewise. We will probably be talking about a lot of similar things.
BUG: (Laughs) Well I think last time I talked with you we were talking about THE INNKEEPERS, so this time around I wanted to touch base with you about your new film. I’ve heard a lot about V/H/S and it seems to be the film that everybody wants to see this year. How did you become, first, a part of that movie?
TW: The collective asked me if I wanted to do it and I was not really thrilled at first, as I didn’t have any ideas for it, and then I went on a trip, like a road trip, and I was travelling around trying to think of ideas in the back of my head while I was on vacation and I suddenly was like “Oh, well this is giving me some ideas,” so I came up with something and sent it back to them and was like “Here’s an idea. I’m not sure you’ll be into it, but this is something I’ve got.” They liked it and maybe three weeks later I flew the actors back and made that exact same road trip I had just taken and we made the movie. So it was a weird thing where it wasn’t something initially I thought I wanted to be a part of and then when I had an idea it clicked for me and we went and did it.
BUG: Did you have any idea going in what the other filmmakers were going to be contributing to this film?
TW: No, I went first. So they had shot the wrap around and I had talked to them a little bit about what that was like, but they hadn’t finished editing it. So I really didn’t know much and that’s the partial reason why mine is the most routed in reality and the most sensible found footage version, it’s because I went first and really stuck to it and then as it progressed people started having monsters and all kinds of craziness going on. I always wonder if I had gone last and not first if I would have done something different. I don’t know if I would have or not. I think the thing about this project is that it represents all of the different subgenres of horror, you know like whether it’s slashers or aliens or ghosts. I think I chose a more psychological, slow burn, one. Had I been the last one to do it, it would have been the most in your face out of all of them and I wonder if that’s what the idea was or if that’s informed by the fact that all of the other ones are pretty crazy. Everyone started to up the ante, so while I’m very happy with what I did, I do wonder if I would have done something different had I gone last.
BUG: Very cool. Well had you worked in doing short films before? I know you’ve done… I remember first hearing about you from HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, but did you do any shorts before that?
TW: When I was in school I made some shorts, yeah.
BUG: Okay. Do you prefer shorts? What’s good about them and what’s bad about them?
TW: I mean I think shorts in general, especially now… I mean it’s weird. Some people are really into them. I don’t particularly care that much about shorts. The thing with an anthology movie is it’s more of it being part of a whole I suppose. It’s really not much different, which is why I kind of feel like shorts… I don’t really get why people make them nowadays, because you can make a movie for very little money, because video is very accessible now. So it doesn’t cost that much more to make it longer, so it’s kind of in a no man’s land right now as far as I’m concerned, but in the case of this movie, they make it a whole, so it’s kind of different. But it wasn’t easier or harder to make a short, it was the same sort of process. The thing was, it just didn’t take quite as long.
BUG: And this, as far as I know, is the first time you’ve done anything that’s like a found footage type of film. What was that like trying to do that? Just try to do that genre and not kind of make the mistakes that some of the lesser found footage films have made throughout the last couple of years.
TW: Some of my favorite movies are verite documentaries, so for me I don’t have any issue with the documentary style that is ultimately what makes up some of the aesthetics of found footage. I’m totally cool with it. What’s frustrating bout found footage is that A) There’s been a lot of bad ones in the last few years, which just brings it down, and then a lot of the ones I find the most frustrating are the ones that change the sound. It’s sort of like after BLAIR WITCH was such a hoopla, anyone who tried to front like “This is real” felt like they were talking down to you. So it’s eye rolling to have a movie start with some text of like “These tapes were discovered” and “This is real footage.” It’s like “Really?” So those are the ones that are the most frustrating and that’s why the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies are successful. People don’t go see those every October, because they think “Wow, they made another real haunting.” They’re just… They come out every October and “It’s going to be scary” and “You’re going to have a good time and go home,” whereas other movies try to act like they are something more than they are and I think as an audience that that’s condescending and frustrating. I don’t think we did that here. I think we justified the found footage enough to make it okay, but like I said I love verite, so that’s the way I approached making this, was that I had a documentary to make.
BUG: Very cool. So who is in your segment? Is it any of the actors that you’ve worked with before?
TW: I have, not in my own movies, but in their movies. It’s Joe Swanberg, Sophia Takal, and Kate Sheil, all of which are friends of mine and filmmakers and actors in their own right and I casted them, because they already knew each other and I knew they had good chemistry and knew how they would work together and they also had directed relationship movies on their own. So since I was making a relationship segment I got people who were very good at that and so I could give them the camera and let them go do stuff, because they’re all directors and they know how to communicate and thy did a great job.
BUG: Yeah, were you at Sundance this year when V/H/S played?
BUG: How was that? What was that like just to sit in an audience with that and see it being played in front of all of the fans and the critics?
TW: It was weird, because I don’t like watching things that I do and this is weird, because most of it is not something I did, so it was a little bit easier to sit there and watch the movie. It was like after twenty minutes “Great, I’m not watching my thing anymore.” It was satisfying to see it play really well. It’s weird, because when it’s your own movie you go in there and be like “All right, here we go to be judged by everybody,” but this was a very different experience, not as proprietary, so I was able to watch it. I was seeing it more or less for the first time, just like everybody else was.
BUG: Cool and so what do you have going on next? With so much buzz around this is there a possibility for a sequel and would you be interested in that?
TW: I don’t know if it’s possible or not. It’s nothing that I’m necessarily thinking about. That’s not on my radar, no.
BUG: Okay. What next do you have coming up?
TW: I have a few things that I’m not ready to announce yet, so I’m just keeping them to myself. But yeah, I’m going to try to have something else this year.
BUG: No problem. Well I haven’t been able to see the film yet, but I’ve been hearing so much about it and I’ve been dying to see it. For those people who haven’t seen it yet, how would you describe it to somebody?
TW: I mean it’s a pretty chaotic anthology. I mean it’s a crazy movie. If you’re a horror fan, it’s got a little bit of something for everybody, so it’s like you’ll have a favorite segment I’m sure and a least favorite thing I’m sure, but all of them will have something I think for everybody. That’s what I think is cool about the movie, one of those things they were trying to accomplish, so yeah you’re bound to find something new and enjoy it.
BUG: And even for people who are sick of the found footage or they are kind of burned out on it, from what I’ve seen it seems like it’s really exciting. I can’t wait to check it out.
TW: Yeah, all of them are very different.
BUG: I know I asked you this a while back, but is it hard to be a horror director in this market? Do you consider yourself a horror director? Since every one of your films so far have had those kind of themes to them.
TW: I don’t consider myself that. I know other people consider me that, which is fine. Now I’m just trying to get movies made and people are not interested in spending a lot of money on movies anymore, so it’s tough how a genre movie can help you, because you can make a movie fairly inexpensive and still have an audience, V/H/S being a perfect example of that as it was made for next to nothing and it’s done quite well for itself. I think that’s great, but it’s also kind of frustrating, because it sets it back to where when you’re trying to do a movie for a few million dollars it’s like “Well, but you did V/H/S and that was made for nothing.” It’s like “Ugh, you’re right, but I don’t want to do it again.” So it’s a tricky time, but certainly being in genre is helpful, but I don’t consider myself that despite clearly being that.
BUG: And your films have been much more subtle. They haven’t been these kind of special effects kind of showcases and things like that.
TW: Well I think all of my movies are horror movies, but they aren’t all particular all about the horror.
BUG: There’s definitely an atmosphere that you set up, especially with that hotel in THE INNKEEPERS and then the house in HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. When I saw you speak last spring, when you played at The Music Box here in Chicago and you played THE INNKEEPERS and HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, you talked about using those locations that were really familiar with you. Is that one of your secrets as far as keeping the budget low?
TW: No, to me it’s weird to think of yourself as a genre filmmaking, because the two usually aren’t linked, but for me I went to that hotel and that’s what gave me the idea for THE INNKEEPERS and we went back to the real place and made it. The V/H/S thing was like I went on a road trip and then I made a movie about people on the same road trip I went on. I’m sure it’s because I’m inspired by stuff that happens to me and I think that’s a big part of it. Certainly sticking with one location makes movies more affordable, but I’ve written plenty of movies that are much bigger movies that everybody likes, but it’s very hard to get more money. There are very broad studio movies that will get made, which is not particularly that interesting to me, but if you have anything that’s slightly challenging… These days to get more than a million bucks is really tough and that’s why you’re seeing more and more of these ultra low budget movies, because people are trying to make movies for a hundred or two hundred thousand dollars, because they can go make whatever they want and be left alone. The thing is like “Alright, I’m not going to get paid to make this movie or anything and it’s going to have to be really low budget, but at least I can do my own thing,” whereas if you have any movie like ten years ago it could have been made for five million dollars no problem, no one wants to pay that and that’s not what independent filmmaking is about, but because they’ve micromanaged the small budgets like that, people are turning to making these “micro-budget movies” just to be left alone and to do what they want.” I feel like it’s a trend where people are retreating from the industry.
BUG: Yeah, well I’m a huge fan of your work. I’ve loved each film that I’ve seen from you and I definitely can’t wait to hear about your next project and everything and best of luck with V/H/S. I can’t wait to check it out.TW: Thanks man, I appreciate it.
BUG: V/H/S is available on BluRay & DVD this week!
Available on BluRay & DVD this week!
V/H/S (2012)Directed by Adam Wingard, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, David Bruckner, Joe Swanberg, Ti West
Written by Adam Wingard, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, David Bruckner, Joe Swanberg, Ti West
Starring Joe Swanberg, Adam Wingard, Sophia Takal, Kate Lyn Sheil, Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes
Find out more info about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I went into V/H/S hoping the hype behind it would be accurate. PR was rampant at how horrifying this film was, stating that people had fainted from viewing it and that it was the scariest film of the year. I don’t know if it was because of this hype that my socks weren’t blown off by the film or maybe…quite possibly, it wasn’t as good as it touted itself to be.
Don’t get me wrong. This film has a lot of stuff going for it that I love. Some of the ideas are pretty strong. Some of the way the found footage motif was used was fun. And there are definitely some moments of inspired gore and scares.
Let’s examine each chapter.
The wrap around segments tying this film together follows a group of internet daredevils choose to break into a house and steal a package, all the while catching it on video to later be posted on the web initially is a decent way to wrap together these stories. The deviants happen upon a dead body sitting in an easy chair and a room full of VHS video tapes. While some of the guys scour the house for booty, one of the thieves decides to see what the old guy was watching on his VCR.
The overall flaw of the film, though lies in this moment, as the tech used to take the camera footage and the societal need to film every waking moment in one’s life wasn’t really around at the time of the VHS tape. So unless old dead guy in the chair spend a hell of a lot of time needlessly converting all of the digital footage to VHS, there’s really no reason these shorts should be recorded on VHS.
But that’s nitpicking, I guess.
Story one, directed by David Bruckner, is called “Amateur Night” and is by far going to be the one that goes down as the iconic short of the film. A group of partying friends equip their nerdy friend with a pair of web glasses which records everything the wearer sees. They pick up a few girls at a club and bring them back to the room they are staying in and soon find that one of the women is not what she seems to be. The segment is well plotted, with a nice buildup to a shocking reveal. The acting is pretty good, meaning the three partying guys act like total idiots. But the true standout is Lily, the strange girl from the bar played by Hannah Rose Fierman, who’s creepy line delivery of “I like you.” Has become somewhat of a phenomenon. This segment does deliver in thrills and chills, though the shaky movement of the camera is about as frantic as I’ve ever seen in a found footager. I jumped numerous times in this segment and it is my favorite of the bunch.
Ti West helms “Second Honeymoon” which follows Joe Swanberg and Sophie Takal as they go on a vacation, get on each other’s nerves, and make up in an extremely banal fashion. What makes this segment stand out are the well done moments of sheer tension, proving that there may be hope for some variety in the way found footage can play out. Here, a nighttime visitor in a hotel room steals the vacationers camera and terrorizes them while they sleep. West’s story is the stuff that gets under your skin and festers, but I did find the ending to make things somewhat trite and too quickly wrapped up. Redeeming factors include an extremely gory death and some fun following Joe Swanberg around.
“Tuesday the 17th” is one of those stories which was probably awesome in its initial idea, but didn’t translate well when put to film. The story is pretty confusing as the rules of reality changes at the whim of whatever needs to happen at the moment. There are some cool scenes of a stalker which can’t seem to be picked up by the camera, but I felt that director Glenn McQuaid doesn’t have enough time to explain the rules of the world this story lives in and didn’t flesh them out in a manner any way other than confusing.
Joe Swanberg returns to direct “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” which trumps PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 by having the entire segment filmed via Skype style computer camera. While initially this story is pretty innovative, I kind of groaned once the curtain is pulled back and we realize what is actually happening in this story. Still, Swanberg comes up with some extremely tense moments and some nice scares, though a lot of them require us to suspend a lot of disbelief in order to be effected by them.
The final segment focuses on another group of partying guys who video tape everything as they head out to a haunted house party which turns out to be a real haunted house. Again, there are moments of fun and some decent scares, but by this time of the film, I feel the movie ran out of innovative way to take advantage of the found footage medium or original ideas and things resorted to the sort of ScyFy GHOST HUNTERS style filming techniques we’ve all seen before. The film looked like it took a lot to pull off technically, and while that’s appreciated, I felt this segment entitled 10/31/98 by Radio Silence was the weakest of the bunch.
Which brings us back to the wraparound segments, which build to a fever pitch, but ultimately ends with a WTF. The film just kind of ends with a lot of potential started and never followed through. For example, multiple times, the camera is set up to see the thief watching television in front of him, with the dead man in the chair in clear view behind him. Though later in the film, when we return, the chair is empty, there’s never a moment to suggest some type of movement from the scary old guy. Maybe the director of these segments YOU’RE NEXT’s Adam Wingard didn’t want to do the obvious, but personally, I felt this was a huge missed opportunity.
In the end, as with many anthologies, some of the stories were better than others. There were solid scares throughout and some innovative ways with which the constraints of the found footage film were dealt with and overcome. For that, V/H/S is successful and had the hype been a little lower, I know I would have liked it better. But this is a flawed film. A good flawed film, but a flawed film nevertheless.
See ya Friday for our regular AICN HORROR Column, folks!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over ten years. He has written comics such as MUSCLES & FIGHTS, MUSCLES & FRIGHTS, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010 & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND & has co-written their first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in late 2012 as an 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment to be released March-August 2012. Also look for Mark's exciting arc on GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-80 which begins in August 2012.
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