Tag Archives: Simon Barrett

Cue and A


by George Wolf

You ready for scary?

1994 was almost thirty years ago. Three zero.

So the fourth film in the V/H/S series places the found footage premise in a decidedly nostalgic vibe, with plenty of videotape filter effects, “taped over” moments and no worries about smartphones crashing the internal logic.

Five filmmakers deliver separate short film visions, as four segments are bookended by an anchor meant to tie them all together as a narrative whole.

Jennifer Reeder handles the wraparound, entitled “Holy Hell,” which follows a SWAT team invading a compound while members shout about drugs and search warrants. They find much more than drugs in a frantic, satisfactory opening that suffers from some uneven production values and pedestrian acting.

Chloe Okuno’s “Storm Drain” finds an Ohio TV reporter and her cameraman investigating the local legend of the Rat Man. Venturing a little too deep in the sewers, what they find sheds a nicely subtle light on the plight of the homeless before the creature effects come calling.

Okuno’s camerawork and dark tunnel framing is effective, and Anna Hopkins delivers a fine performance as the reporter, but like all the segments here, “Storm Drain” feels like a great idea that’s never fully realized.

That is the most true with Simon Barret’s “Empty Wake.” Barrett, writer of You’re Next, The Guest and Blair Witch, gives us a funeral home employee waiting out a wake that no one is attending. As a storm escalates outside, noises from inside the casket suggest a soul may not be ready to move on.

Barrett lays out some nicely simplistic stakes, and plays a fine game of peek-a-boo with the inside lights going off and on, but the payoff ultimately lands as a bit familiar and anti-climactic.

The opening shot of Timo Tjahjanto’s “The Subject” grabs your attention immediately, bringing you into the horrific laboratory of a mad scientist conducting human experiments. What starts as a fun and gore-filled homage to both Frankenstein and Tetsuo descends into an overlong, first-person shooter game that squanders much of its early potential.

“Terror,” the final segment from Ryan Prows, brings horror comedy to the party with a look at good ‘ol boy militia members aiming to overthrow the government. They’re more than well-armed, they’re fostering a supernatural entity. And you can guess how well that goes.

Prows never completely sets the tone, as the few truly comedic moments crash into an overall atmosphere that plays it too straight for satire.

Reeder closes it all out with the conclusion of “Holy Hell,” bringing a surprise to one of the SWAT teamers and an overly tidy reinforcement of the videotape theme.

V/H/S/94 presents a host of promising ideas and several solid moments. A step up from Viral for sure, but with too many false starts for a rewind-able experience.

School Daze


by Hope Madden

Off in the dusty old Edelvine boarding school, the girls are restless. They need something to pass the time, something to entertain them. They need a Séance.

Essentially, the mean girls gather in a dorm lav and Candyman the school’s ghost—saying her name 3 times at 3:13 am, the moment she died, in the very bathroom where it all happened.

Oooo, spooky!

Well, it’s all just a harmless prank until one of the girls winds up dead. Was it the ghost?

Fast forward a bit and Camille (Suki Waterhouse) arrives to fill the vacant room. More girls go missing or turn up dead in a film that cannot find a way to say anything new. Simon Barrett has written some good stuff: Blair Witch (2016), The Guest (2014), You’re Next (2011), Dead Birds (2004). He had not directed any features prior to Séance, but it’s hard to blame this film’s doldrums on its direction. The story just isn’t there.

Everything feels borrowed, not from any film in particular, but from the collective unconscious of dorm room horror that involves whispering ghosts, nubile schoolgirls, glinting blades and mystery. Barrett’s writing has tended to utilize tropes from the 80s and 90s to lull audiences into a sense of familiarity that allows him to deliver unexpected thrills.

His latest pulls most clearly from 90s staples like the Urban Legend franchise. But when he zigs instead of zags, the lull has turned stupor and Séance’s surprises just aren’t enough to snap us out of it.

Performances are fine, production values solid. There’s nothing embarrassing here, just nothing to get excited about. Some of the film’s sleights of hand are clever enough, but the storytelling is so anemic that it’s hard to applaud them. Barrett generates no dread and no sense of connection to any of the characters.

Unlike Guest’s Maika Monroe or You’re Next’s Sharni Vinson, who command the screen and drive the film, Waterhouse delivers a mainly listless performance. She’s neither scared nor curious, and though her bursts of ferocity feel cagey, it’s not enough to inject the film with any fire.

Go Stand In the Corner

Blair Witch

by George Wolf

Buried now under so many years of bad found footage movies and viral marketing gimmicks, it’s easy to forget that in 1999, The Blair Witch Project was a scary sensation for good reason: it was creepy and frightening on a brilliantly primal level. It may be impossible now to view that film without the baggage nearly twenty years have added, but the main complaint from the naysayers is usually “it’s not scary…nothing happens!”

Director Adam Wingard hears you, and he has something for you.

Wingard’s Blair Witch began last year with the unassuming title The Woods, before unveiling itself as a BWP sequel (Book of Shadows  is wisely ignored) a few months back. Repeating the genius of the original film’s “is it real?” firestorm wasn’t going to happen, but this rope-a-dope title switch was an early sign of Wingard’s solid instincts for both limitation and opportunity.

Remember poor Heather from BWP? Her brother James (James Allen McCune) thinks he glimpses her in a strange online video, so he tracks down the poster, Lane (Wes Robinson). Lane says he found the tape while hiking in the Black Hills Forest, the same area in Maryland where Heather, Mike and Josh went missing years before.

James’s friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez) is the budding documentarian this time, so along with friends Ashley (Corbin Reid) and Peter (Brandon Scott), they head into the forest, filming their search for the mysterious house deep inside it where, hopefully, Heather can still be found.

Wingard (You’re Next) and usual screenwriter Simon Barrett know we know some of what’s coming, so they serve it up. Strange noises at night, twigs, and piles of stones are all here (which, if this is the same witch at work, they should be) but we also get an eerie expansion of the ways time and space seem to break down inside the forest.

There are plenty more jump scares, too, and then a sly acknowledgement that this device can quickly grow tiresome, before it’s on to the main event. The tension, naturally, doesn’t feel as tight as when we first went into these woods, but Wingard, as he did with the film’s “fake” title, is confidently exploiting his chance to bring our guard down.

Once inside the house, things most definitely happen, and it’s a helluva fun ride.

The pace becomes almost breakneck, and as the point of view is mainly through a video camera, we’re scanning all corners of the screen for a light source, a way out, someone standing in the corner..or worse.

And if you have one certain phobia, expect to squirm plenty.

Blair Witch is Wingard and Barrett’s most complete film, because it understands why the original Project was scary, and how to honor that horror legacy while turning the action up a notch.

Or three.