Blair Witch

September 16, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

 

Starring: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott
Directed by: Adam Wingard (“You’re Next,” “The Guest”)
Written by: Simon Barrett (“You’re Next,” “The Guest”)

1999’s “The Blair Witch Project” has a unique place in popular culture. While it can be credited as the genesis of the “found footage” aesthetic consuming modern horror movies, the cultural footprint is relatively non-existent, minus the people here and there who still think it was a documentary (it’s not) and that those people really died (they didn’t).

So when the latest movie from Adam Wingard—the smartest working horror director today—was revealed at San Diego Comic-Con to not, in fact, be an original movie called “The Woods” but in fact a sequel simply titled “Blair Witch,” the surprise was muted—it’s not as if this was a secret Marvel movie, or even another “Cloverfield.” The franchise is a footnote at best. After all, what did “The Blair Witch Project” really have going for it once the novelty wore off?

“Blair Witch” has the answer: nothing.

Seventeen years after the first film (and in a world that ignores the second film, “Book of Shadows”), James (James Allen McCune) the younger brother of Heather Donahue, who has been missing since the events of the first film, enlists a group of friends to go search the woods in Burkittsville, Maryland, after signs of his sister pop up in a YouTube video posted from a DV tape allegedly found in the woods. Armed with a DSLR camera, drone camera, and somewhat-implausible earpiece cameras, the group meets up with Lane and Talia (Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry), the locals who uploaded the video and insist on tagging along. Said to be assembled from footage recovered from DV tapes and memory cards, the film follows six people into the woods as they try to find the Blair Witch. But the disclaimer that establishes the premise also gives the whole thing away: no one survives.

Where “The Blair Witch Project” blazed trails with its crummy hand-held video visuals to exploit the fact-or-fiction uncertainty in the realm of viral marketing during the infancy of the internet, “Blair Witch” feels like yet another found footage horror movie that spends too much time explaining why all of this stuff is constantly being recorded. Fans of Wingard’s previous work will probably be expecting the story to be turned on its ear at some point, which frustratingly never comes. With ideas brought up and abandoned too quickly and a mythology that never gets expanded upon, “Blair Witch” pales in comparison to the 1999 version, even with a much larger budget and a proven filmmaker behind the shaky camera. Maybe the franchise should have been left in the woods like an old DV tape.

The Guest

September 18, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Sheila Kelley
Directed by: Adam Wingard (“You’re Next”)
Written by: Simon Barrett (“You’re Next”)

“They don’t make them like they used to” isn’t really a phrase that can be used when talking about a movie collaboration between director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett. At least they’ve proven that to be true so far, first with their 2011 thriller/comedy “You’re Next,” a film that took every horror movie cliché it possibly could and spun them in a way that audiences felt they were watching something familiar but fresh. It was like someone actually cared about the script instead of tossing out the same tired concepts for mass consumption. Wingard and Barrett hit pay dirt again with “The Guest,” a clever and highly-entertaining throwback thriller in the same vein as “The Terminator” and the original “Halloween,” but with a lot more laughs and a charismatic performance by lead actor Dan Stevens (TV’s “Downton Abbey”) that cyborg Schwarzenegger and Michael Myers could only dream to outdo.

In “The Guest,” Stevens plays David, a clean-cut, all-American soldier who shows up on the doorstep of the Peterson family one afternoon with a message he promised to deliver to them from their son who died while serving with him in the military. Touched by his loyalty and sincerity, the Petersons open their home to David for a couple of days until he decides where the road will take him next. Little do they know, however, that David isn’t who he says he is and will quickly drag the family into a situation that would only be believable if it were in an insanely ridiculous movie that knew just how insanely ridiculous it was. Fortunately for “The Guest,” it fits the bill.

The self-awareness and mischievously fun nature of “The Guest” is what keeps the story moving forward, especially when it feels like Wingard and Barrett have back themselves into a corner with nowhere to go except into directions countless of thrillers have gone before. But Wingard and Barrett know how to pivot and do such a fantastic job of avoiding a lot of the pitfalls most films in this genre always  seem clumsily run into. Even when they do manage to borrow from past movies, the satirical way they deliver the scenes is so mindful of it cinematic status, there really is no way to fault it for piggybacking on the movies that inspired it.

As the all-out merciless David, Stevens is just as rousing as actress Sharni Vinson’s character Erin was in “You’re Next.” Unlike Erin, however, David is far from the protagonist of “The Guest,” although he’s one of those movie bad guys audiences will secretly be rooting for. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, especially since Stevens owns every facet of this enjoyable role. In fact, one might be hard-pressed not to invite someone like David over for dinner based on first impressions. It would definitely be a lovely evening if not for all the death and destruction.

Dan Stevens – The Guest

September 18, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

After spending three seasons on the critically-acclaimed PBS drama “Downton Abbey” (before his nice-guy character Matthew Crawley was tragically killed off of the series in 2012), English actor Dan Stevens was ready to move onto something completely different. In the throwback thriller/comedy “The Guest,” Stevens finds exactly what he was looking for in David, a charming yet completely berserk American soldier, who infiltrates the home of a family in mourning by telling them he served with their son in the military and was with him on the day he died. Once the family opens their doors to this stranger, it becomes a fight for survival as David turns out to be the exact opposite of the polite, straight-laced young man he initially pretended to be.

During a phone interview last week, Stevens, 31, talked to me about what he thinks director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett are doing differently in the thriller genre today, and why he felt a film like “The Guest” was the perfect way to disconnect himself from early 20th-century Yorkshire.

My sense of humor is sometimes very juvenile, so I have to tell you that I’ve been laughing all morning watching your recent appearance on “Good Morning Britain.”

Well, first of all, we want to get across to people that this movie is funny. There is a twisted sense of humor there. So, I guess we did that all in one fell swoop on “Good Morning Britain.” It was one hell of a morning.

What do you think a director like Adam Wingard and a screenwriter like Simon Barrett are doing for the horror genre no one else is doing right now?

When you meet Adam and Simon, you quickly realize what sense of humor they have. They’re trying to step outside of their comfort zone. “The Guest” borrows from the horror genre, but they also want to speak other languages, too, and have fun. I saw and loved [Adam and Simon’s 2013 film] “You’re Next.” I thought it was hilarious and such a riotous film. It was very playful. They were doing something with the horror genre that I hadn’t seen before. Simon said the other day that “The Guest” is a very charming home-invasion horror. It’s a formula you think you know, but you don’t.

I think there is a lot of wit in both “You’re Next” and “The Guest.” There’s also a lot of really well-done campiness. I think, however, sometimes the word “camp” can have a negative connotation to it if it come across as cheesy. How do you think “The Guest” avoids that?

Well, I think there are a lot of things that feed into that. I think when we get into the ridiculousness of it all, it is written with one or two realities kept in mind. I think one of those realities was this family in mourning and the bond that David has for his friend, this soldier who has died. Once we’ve established those rules and set that reality, then we can go to some pretty crazy places like films did in the 80s and 90s. I have to say, growing up in England we were saturated with American action thrillers. A movie like “Big Trouble in Little China” was a major turning point in my life. The comedy and humanity they were able to get out of those action sequences was great. It was important for us to do the same thing with “The Guest” and give the action sequences a little humor and character to them.

Was that throwback sensibility to the film something Adam made you and the cast aware of as you were shooting this? Did it feel like you were making a movie from the 80s or 90s or did all that happen in the editing room?

Well, we weren’t trying to pretend like we were in the 80s or 90s. It’s very much a contemporary story. But it is set in the desert in this slightly timeless landscape. I think, of course, the soundtrack and Adam’s choice of music gives it that throwback feel.

Since most people know you for your role in “Downton Abbey,” is it important for you at this stage of your career to play against type so you don’t get typecast in any way?

Well, typecasting only happens when you say yes. I would’ve felt foolish stepping down from something like “Downton” and into something that was similar. I was looking for something different. I was exploring a lot of different possibilities. I’ve been doing that for the last couple of years – really exploring a range of things. I certainly didn’t think I would end up in something as batshit crazy as “The Guest.” But when it came along, it just made perfect sense. It appealed to my sense of humor and it also felt a little bit dangerous. As soon as I sat down with Adam, we established that we shared that dark sense of humor.

Describe what it was like to play an American?

For an actor like me, it’s a delicious prospect – to step into something that is far out of your own experience. Getting my head around the accent was fun. I’ve always enjoyed doing accents and voices and that sort of thing. To get to work some of that into an on-screen character was cool. It was interesting to me how this Kentucky dialect, in particular, fed through a militarized dialect and formed the psychology of the character.

You’re going to be all over the big screen this fall with movies like “The Guest,” “The Cobbler,” “A Walk Among the Tombstones” and the third film in the “Night at the Museum” series. Aren’t you worried moviegoers will be tired of you by the end of the year?

(Laughs) Well, [all those films are] all for different types of crowds. “Night at the Museum” is definitely something my kids can see. My daughter is four and my son is two, so I don’t think I’m going to show them “The Guest” for a couple of years. But I certainly am having fun exploring all these roles and entertaining people in a lot of different ways.

Next year you’re going to star in a film called “Criminal Activities,” which will be Oscar-nominated actor and San Antonian Jackie Earle Haley’s directorial debut. What do you think Jackie brings to the table that would have you believe he has what it takes to be a director in this industry?

Jackie is an amazing actor and someone who I’ve admired for years. It’s always interesting when an actor wants to direct. I think a lot of actors leap at that opportunity. Jackie certainly has the sensitivity as an actor to really shape his scenes. He is a very sensitive guy. I haven’t yet seen how that film has come together, but I’m sure all eyes in San Antonio will be on that movie.

You’re Next

August 23, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg
Directed by: Adam Wingard (“V/H/S”)
Written by: Simon Barrett (“V/H/S”)

When it comes to elevating the standard slasher movie into something more than just a series of cheap thrills and gory kills, “You’re Next” hits the nail on the head by adding just the right amount of wit and peppering the story with enough tossed-off bits of backstory to ground the proceedings in at least a twinge of believability. Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t talking about an intricately-plotted puzzle of terror and dark comedy here, but when it all wraps up the audience should be satisfied with the circumstances behind the protagonist’s deft handling of knives and meat tenderizers in the heat of battle.

After a bloody prologue kills a couple post-coitus – leaving a bloody calling card on a window featuring the title of the film – the story shifts to that all-too-familiar of settings: a creaky old house in the middle of nowhere. Fresh into retirement, Paul (Rob Moran) and Aubrey (Barbara Crampton) arrive on the eve of their anniversary party. While cleaning, Aubrey hears a strange noise coming from upstairs, convinced there is someone else in the house. As Rob ventures upstairs to check things out, he’s surprised by his son Crispian (AJ Bowen), who has just arrived with his girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson). The rest of the family trickles in with spouses and various significant others in tow, kicking off the anniversary festivities. Soon, though, dinner devolves into a family squabble, the arguments only broken up when a hail of deadly arrows begins raining down on the dining room. As attackers sporting creepy barnyard animal masks, jam cell phones and drive hatchets into skulls, staying alive is all that matters to the family now. It’s opportune, then, that Erin spent the first 15 years of her life living in an Australian survivalist commune and is startlingly capable of fighting back.

Director Adam Wingard (“V/H/S”) marshals his cast of relative unknowns into what feels like a mildly-quirky indie drama for the first 45 minutes (prologue notwithstanding, of course) before springing the trap with a bolt from a crossbow making its way through a character’s skull. Wingard also handles a second act plot twist with calm restraint, where a lesser movie would have stuck it smack in the middle of the climax. And while Sharni Vinson’s Erin owes more to horror-movie heroines like the “Scream” series’ Sydney Prescott than to put-upon reluctant heroes like the “Evil Dead” series’ Ash, it is refreshing to have a female lead survive a horror film because she’s a bona fide badass, not simply the beneficiary of good luck and bumbling bad guys.