The Found Footage Festival (Live Show) Review

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This week I had the pleasure of attending the Found Footage Festival, running downstairs in the Soho Theatre for 4 nights.

Two rules govern Found Footage Festival: 1) Footage must be found on physical format. No YouTube! 2) It has to be unintentionally funny. Whatever it’s trying to do, it has to fail miserably at that. And no YouTube!”

Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher are the doting and tireless masterminds behind The Found Footage Festival, a unique show that showcases footage from videos that were found at garage sales and thrift stores and in warehouses and dumpsters across the country (and this country thanks to the superb Leeds sourced VHS ‘Famous Tits & Arses’ the hosts proudly displayed). The show itself works very well, Tom and Nick gently lead the show admirably, their restrained and amiable Mystery Science Theatre-like commentary is never unwelcome or overtly snarky. The influence, homage and straight up ripping of these clips that we see in intentional comedy like Tim & Eric is apparent, its really refreshing to see the originals in all their earnest glory, managing to at times be pretty adorable and often damn eerie. The amusingly edited (but never over-tinkered) clips cram in hunk worship, instructional ferret-care, some of the most surreal keep-fit you’ve never even imagined, histrionic shopping networks hosts, creaky  infomercials, health and safety horrors that flit between the quite effective and the baffling and joyous levels of video tech wizardry, varying in tone but all warranting hearty laughs. My personal favourite is simply one middle aged man’s super focussed enthusiasm for weaponry, I can honestly say I have never witnessed someone going at a water cooler with a sword and I now question why I have never previously demanded to.

Our hosts give the audiences’ eyes a rest between the garish footage with funny tales of their footage sourcing and a friendly ease that pitches the event’s pace and length perfectly. Overall a nostalgic and hilarious praise of what is unique to the eighties and nineties. Through well worn VHS and questionable hair the show happily avoids being mean spirited, instead we share a charming nod at a time when everything wasn’t drowned in irony. This is pure affection for a period that was so wonderfully summed up by a simple homespun film format. Even the occasional technical faults on the night were fitting, truly suiting the VCR viewing experience with all its practical frustrations. At times, especially to the right Blu-ray ignoring nerd or trash aficionado (Guilty!), one gets a wholly warm feeling from the clips, presentation and the hosts’ personal efforts to bring these foraged gems to our shores.

In short the Found Footage Festival is AUTOMATICALLY OUTSTANDING!

The Found Footage Festival continues till 30th March: sohotheatre.com/whats-on/found-footage-festival

Found Footage is also a gnarly way to kill hours online: foundfootagefest.com

(March 2013)

http://www.godisinthetvzine.co.uk/2013/03/29/adjust-your-tracking-for-the-found-footage-festival/

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V/H/S Review

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As a whole V/H/S is pretty abysmal, as a collage of separate horror shorts it’s a patchy muddle of bad efforts. There is something infuriatingly regressive about the project that had potential to showcase a diverse group of horror creative’s who clearly have a love of the genre that made it a very tempting prospect. Regressive in the sense that a chaotic and obnoxious approach masquerades as an experimental and challenging one. A general air of atypical shallowness in horror is the most consistent element here alongside a blatantly lowest common denominator attitude.

While I am defiantly one of those horror fanatics who loves to wallow in the seedier DIY aesthetic, those films that shirk slickness in favour of a basement labour of love but I fail to see the labour or the love in V/H/S. Add to the disappointment the caliber of some of the people involved most notably Ti West who has impressed with his patient, empathetic and frankly refreshing takes on scary but here throws out a devoid entry that clearly pertains to be more innovative than it actually is; leaves V/H/S feeling lazier above all else.
Amateur Night is aptly titled, as it’s about as mindlessly teenage boy as horror gets. Some tits, some blood, a demon girl thing that happens to be all horny with some dudes with a camera that are all horny also. The issue isn’t with its simplicity but in its inability to surprise or scare. Its one saving grace is that it appears to be the shortest chapter and thanks to its own limitations manages to offend less than most of the others. 2nd Honeymoon is the afore mentioned bit directed by Ti West, assuming it elicits more empathy and intrigue than it executes; a vacationing couple are interrupted by a mysterious figure. Whilst feeling familiar isn’t necessarily make or break for a horror scenario being boring as hell is, especially when what the actions are leading up to is a numb reveal that seems to think it’s a deeply astounding twist.

Glitch Man, managing to be the worst chapter (not that there is much between each of them), sees a by the book horny youths in the woods slasher with a lone gimmick that falls almost humorously flat. The gimmick being a killer via technology that feels instantly dated (not throwback or homage) and plays out so dull and vague that is serves as an ugly 15 minute plot hole. Strange thing that happened to Emily is a great argument for why the Paranormal Activity series has done more bad than good ideas wise to the genre in recent years. All of V/H/S is roundly poorly acted but this short probably requires more acting skill (or at least some) than the others, played out through mind-numbingly insipid conversations between 2 video chatting lovers some eerie possibly supernatural stuff starts putting the frighteners on the girl of the couple. And then there is another exciting twist, except it isn’t exciting and for that matter it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, rendering it another standalone plot hole.

Haunted House is the only entry I could stand, being the only vaguely positive note of the anthology but still has that afterthought weakness that drowns the entire runtime. It manages one or two ‘blink and you’ll miss them’ flashes of flair but this was probably heightened due to it being the last entry and by everything that came before being so irritatingly predictable. The (Tape 56) interlacing found footage thread is just unconvincing frat-boyish static; incurring a vacuous strand of horror that often puts so many off and rightfully so as in this instance it provides next to nothing, warranting only eye-rolls and likely fast-forwarding to the individual events.
Overall V/H/S is barely coherent and left me feeling like I had thoroughly wasted two hours, its smug sensibility proving a void in fiendish creativity rather than a champion of it. A shame as in a landscape of glossy rehashes and safe generics horror made by horror lovers should provide an oasis of passionate ideas rather than a rushed and immature mess. I am frustratingly curious to see S-VHS which is the next jaunt later this year and wondering whether some different contributors (including excitedly and worryingly Gareth ‘The Raid’ Evans) might steer this formula in the right direction, in my view it can’t do much worse.

(Jan 2013)

http://www.godisinthetvzine.co.uk/2013/01/23/review-vhs-horror-at-its-worst/

Paranormal Activity 4 Review

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Paranormal Activity 4 is bland and limited, often feeling more like an exercise in ‘horror marketing how-to’ than a narrative film. As a franchise sold on a fun and jumpy night out it succeeds to a large and broad set but for a film which owes masses to a genre it borrows so heavily from it frustratingly offers next to nothing back by way of progression or interest.

The jumbled premise is set five years after the second film after the disappearance of siblings Katie and Hunter; when a woman and a mysterious child move into a suburban neighbourhood the family next door begin to witness strange and gradually frightening events. I am not entirely sure if only seeing the first Paranormal Activity much affected the frankly flat experience I had watching the fourth entry in what is the most lucrative horror franchise this side of Saw. But my lack of investment in the through franchise arcs were overwhelmed by my lack of reaction to the stand alone events and the one-dimensional format.

The film’s non-committal tone assures that explanations are minimal and characters are dispensable; serving only to drive brief events, essentially being lower down on the priority list than Apple products. The acting is competent, thankfully the teen and child protagonists only annoy as much as they are supposed to being young and all, but overall the performances hang in limbo like most aspects of the film; neither here or there in making an impression but merely functional. As for flare the only seeming attempts are so coupled with product placement that any atmosphere is quickly marred by the consistent assembly line feel. Similarly shoving an eerie child into scenes that simply do not hold any of the skill or intensity  of  the greats such as ‘The Shining’ or ‘The Omen’ is painfully generic in this decade of copy-and-paste horror, saying that if you are that shaken by creepy kids who stare a lot and mumble to unseen companions then you’ll be likely to be pleased. The churned-out feel is further enforced by the clear rush job most noticeable in the unsure editing. Certain scenes feel half finished, if this is a push for ambiguity it does not work and adds to the shrug-inducing, confused by itself results.

It’s a safe bet that the crew behind Paranormal Activity, who initially took several cues from (like every found footage film since) The Blair Witch Project in regards to it’s rigid sticking to the first instalment’s formula. Less we forget (and many have) Blair Witch had a doomed sequel that strayed from its path in attempting something not found footage and gratingly meta that subsequently failed, killing off any potential for a franchise. This lot seem to have regarded Blair Witch as a practice run rather than a blue-print for their annual approach.

Paranormal Activity 4 is a dull and looping 90 minutes, if you’re a fan of the series or susceptible to scares that are essentially blurred shadows in backgrounds and cranking sound effects to 11 after some meandering quiet time (otherwise known as lazy scares) then you’ll likely get some fleeting satisfaction but otherwise a wholly forgettable and fidget in one’s seat experience that near crushes itself with it’s own repetitive formula and vagueness. If Paranormal Activity fan’s patience weren’t already waning by this entry then I would imagine that come the fifth they will be decidedly looking elsewhere for their jump scares.

(Nov 2012)