Tag Archives: Johannes Roberts

Tonight We’re Gonna Party


by Hope Madden

It’s been a full decade since the first short compilation V/H/S hit movie screens with its conceit of a single videotape full of horror snippets. Several of these original bits were great, and the directing talent showcased some serious cinematic promise: David Bruckner (Hellraiser), Ti West (Pearl), Adam Wingard (Godzilla vs. Kong), Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Scream).

There have been a number of sequels, hitting and missing through the last ten years, but 2021’s V/H/S/94 – with its clear timestamp and shorts from Jennifer Reeder (Knives and Skin), Chloe Okuno (Watcher), Timo Tjahjanto, Simon Barrett and others – generated renewed interest in the series.

Wisely, the next installment also embraces exactly what homemade VHS tapes captured: a specific moment in history. For this installment, it’s 1999. Nickelodeon spewed goop at guests and cameras. The hip and entitled believed they and the music they listened to were punk. The internet made Jackass-style, testosterone-fueled idiocy acceptable. The incredibly popular film American Pie depicted the essentially criminal activity of young men as something to find charming. Those rascals!

1999 also saw the birth of found footage, so setting the new V/H/S film the same year as The Blair Witch Project makes good sense.

A new crop of filmmakers seems to channel their own childhoods for five short films capturing the era. Among the highlights are Maggie Levin’s Shredding, which follows narcissistic teens and the unearned cred they flaunt (to their peril) into the site of a punk concert tragedy.

Writers/directors Joseph and Vanessa Winter (Deadstream) employ the same sense of fun with their short To Hell and Back. The charmer of the bunch, it depicts a couple of best friends hired to record a conjuring on Y2K, to bumblingly catastrophic results.

Johannes (47 Meters Down) Roberts’s Suicide Bid offers fairly predictable sorority hazing horror, while Tyler MacIntyre (Tragedy Girls) turns the most repugnant part of American Pie into the horror it should have been. Neither short is wildly imaginative, but McIntyre does find a unique comeuppance.

The Flying Lotus piece Ozzy’s Dungeon is imaginative enough for everyone. It’s not scary or especially funny, but it’s weird, and sometimes that’s enough.

As with every V/H/S installment – and most short film anthologies, generally – the film hits and misses. None of the segments will stay with you the way Okuno’s Storm Drain from ’94 did. Hail Ratma! Still, it’s a quick, fun Halloween diversion.

Fin Again Begin Again

47 Meters Down: Uncaged

by George Wolf

Two years ago, Johannes Roberts proved he could craft some fine sharky thrills amid the soggy dialog and questionable logic of 47 Meters Down.

He’s back as director/co-writer for Uncaged, with a bigger budget and a mission to deliver more of whatever you liked the first time. The scares? They’re jumpier! The sharks? They’re scarier! The water? Wetter!

Roberts builds these thrills on an unrelated shark tale. Four high school girls in Mexico go diving where they shouldn’t – an underwater Mayan burial cave. It’s currently being mapped by a team led by one of the girls’ Dad (John Corbett), which makes the cutting edge dive gear more believable than last time.

But all that gear is perfectly form-fitting for a group of teen girls, so…

So, forget it, and appreciate how Roberts borrows elements from the horror gem The Descent to create satisfying waves of claustrophobic, over the top terror.

If you remember the best scene from 47, you’ll see it re-imagined here, along with a very direct homage to Jaws and a nicely twisted and completely ridiculous finale.

Because if you haven’t noticed, Spielberg’s less is more approach to the monster has…say it with me…jumped the shark. For Roberts and Uncaged, more is more, and this film doesn’t stop until you’re shaking your head at the skillful outlandishness of it all.

Tamara’s Not Home. Leave a Message.

The Strangers: Prey at Night

by Hope Madden

Sequels are hard. Especially when you don’t understand what made the original so unnerving and memorable.

A decade ago, Bryan Bertino released the almost unbearably slow burn of a home invasion film, The Strangers. The underappreciated gem quietly terrified attentive audiences, beginning with the line, “Is Tamara home?”

Director Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down) and screenwriter Ben Ketai (The Forest) pick up the story of three masked, bloodthirsty youngsters still looking for Tamara.

A loving but bickering family spends the night at a lakeside campground and trailer park. A great deal of exposition ensures that you catch on, but the main gist is this: problem child Kinsey (Bailee Madison) is at odds with her beleaguered parents (Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson) and her golden-child brother (Lewis Pullman).

Yes, our three masked malcontents have also settled into that same lakeside trailer park, now mainly vacant in the post-season.

Where Bertino’s horror had the languid melancholy of the old country blues tunes scratching away on a turntable, Roberts prefers the power ballads of the early Eighties. In fact, instead of the cinema of the Seventies that inspired Bertino, Roberts prefers 80s fare, from the early MTV soundtrack to the Argento-esque title sequence to the campground setting.

This is a self-conscious slasher with jump scares, frequent bloodletting and a marauder who is profoundly difficult to kill.

Roberts borrows a lot. Not just from Bertino’s original, but also scads of other horror gems from across the eras (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Town that Dreaded Sundown, Friday the 13th, Bava’s Carnage and so many more).

And while cinematographer Ryan Samul cannot grip you with dread the way Peter Sova’s creeping camera and quiet wide shots did ten years back, he can frame a shot.

That shot 1) has usually been lifted from another source, and 2) often contains a nearly-ludicrous image. Still, there are more than a few beautifully macabre sequences in this movie. One poolside episode is particularly impressive.

Still, the main problem with The Strangers: Prey at Night is that it gets comfortable in clichés, where the stinging original subverted them. That doesn’t make it a bad movie. It’s not. It’s a nasty little piece of entertainment, unoriginal but competent.

And you cannot expect originality from a sequel, of course. You just hope it can be memorable. The Strangers: Prey at Night is not.

Farewell and Adieu

47 Meters Down

by Hope Madden

Is it Shark Week?

If it isn’t, why the hell not?

There’s a new shark attack movie in theaters this weekend. It’s no Jaws, but it’s no Sharknado, either. Johannes Roberts’s 47 Meters Down treads some similar waters as last year’s surprise hit The Shallows, with a little less intelligence and a lot more sharks.

Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) are sisters on vacation in Mexico. Lisa, the play-it-safe older sister, is nursing a heartbreak, which loose cannon Kate hopes to heal via the worst imaginable decisions. Like a shark cage expedition.

Cage goes in the water.

Sharks in the water.

Our shark.

Because tourists are stupid.

How stupid? Sea Captain Taylor (Matthew Modine) has to repeatedly say, “Stay inside the cage.”

But, if you can get past the idiocy – or even embrace it because, if YouTube is to be believed at all, people really are just this moronic – you’ll find some fun jump scares and genuine tension.

Something goes wrong and the girls and their cage drop to the sea floor, a dangerous 47 meters down. They have little oxygen and they’re surrounded by sharks. How will they survive?

The Shallows basically created the Girl Power Shark Movie, and Roberts and co-scripter Ernest Riera end up playing out a far less empowering tale. Roberts’s background is horror, though, so he does know how to deliver some visceral action now and again.

Plus, there is one shot that’s almost worth the price of admission.

Atmosphere is Roberts’s talent, and he creates a good deal of it. Aided by impressive CGI, the sisters’ plight on the ocean floor is often nearly as breathless for the audience as it is for the characters.

Dialog, on the other hand, is definitely a weaker point. Pair the banalities of the conversations with the contrivances that put the characters where they are, then add a first act that’s weighed down with cartoonishly ridiculous choices, and the cool shark sequences have a lot to overcome.

For a mindless, squirmy summer shark fest, though, it’s a fun time-waster.