The Milwaukee Film Festival kicked off on Thursday for a 15 day run. I’ll be attending films regularly during the festival and I’ll be relaying some thoughts on the films and events.
I got off to a late start this year with the Cinema Hooligante category film V/H/S. Programming Manager Angela Catalano has publicly proclaimed herself a fan of the midnight madness type of programming and the Milwaukee Film Festival has hosted some notable films of the type in previous years. It’s always been a fun program, even if it sometimes leads to a long day afterwards.
V/H/S is an anthology, found footage horror movie with a framing sequence leading to the viewing of five stories which are on various videotapes found in a home where the only resident is discovered dead. The stories are divided up as follows.
“Tape 56” (framing story) directed by Adam Wingard
A bunch of hooligans break into a house and rummage around for a tape which is worth a lot of money. Not all is as it appears to be.
“Amateur Night” directed by David Bruckner
A night of debauchery, filmed with an eyeglass spy cam, turns bad when a trio of young men bring a succubus back to their room.
“Second Honeymoon” directed by Ti West
A couple go on vacation together in the American southwest. Someone is stalking them.
“Tuesday the 17th” directed by Glenn McQuaid
A group of teenagers go to a northwoods lake for a weekend of fun. They’re stalked by a killer.
“The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” directed by Joe Swanberg
A medical student tries to reassure his girlfriend over Skype while strange things happen in her apartment at night.
“10/31/98” directed by Radio Silence
A group of friends go to the wrong house for a Halloween party, a real haunted house where an exorcism is taking place. This episode also has one of the best conceits for capturing footage, one of the costumes is a nanny cam.
There’s really no central thread tying these stories together and, frankly, the videotape idea makes very little sense for most of the stories. Only one is definitely a period piece and one is obviously an 80s throwback, but putting these stories on glitch-filled videotape really doesn’t hold together as a concept considering the digital age most of these stories are shot in. With the exception of Joe Swanberg’s story, most of these stories suffer from protagonists that are ciphers and not very likable ones to begin with. The film is filled with marginal actors. Four of the stories really end in similar fashion with mass slaughter, so there’s even a bit of repetitiveness to the concept and a reliance on gore and jump scares over story with gratuitous nudity thrown in. Thematically the film seems to revolve around untrustworthy women without really saying anything about that theme. Ti West and Joe Swanberg are the only ones who really come up with a different angle and they have the two most interesting looking segments, West actually frames some nice compositions, although the story goes nowhere interesting, and the Skype-chat gives an interesting look, but for the most part there’s a lot of jumpy footage with gaps and some breaking of found footage “rules”. Joe Swanberg turns in the only story that I found really superior and would like to revisit. That said, as uneven as the film is I still jumped several times and felt my skin crawl, so in the right mood I say give it a try.
A lot of what made the night fun was having a great audience to experience the film with. The Milwaukee Film Festival hasn’t really developed any late night traditions yet, but the audience was all respectful to the film and fellow audience members and had the exact right mindset. Gasps, laughter, and jumps came at all the right time and the enthusiasm for the film was infectious. While there are problems with the film, it was a top notch experience and if that’s the type of crowd that’s going to be attracted I believe the Cinema Hooligante programming is going to have a long life ahead of it.