Being a horror movie junky, every year I try to catch as many of the Park City at Midnight screenings as I can. While they’re not always gold, they’re usually at least a bit more fun. But for every Tucker and Dale vs. Evil you have to sit through something like The Pact or Troll Hunter. Over the years, I’ve also managed to catch The Descent and the original Saw (yes, that series came out of Sundance for better and worse). This year, I managed to catch four – We Are What We Are, S-VHS, In Fear, and Virtually Heroes. Three of these were good to fantastic, while one never managed to hit the bullseye.
The best of the bunch is director/co-writer Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are — a companion piece to Jorge Michel Grau’s original, rather than an out-and-out remake. After their mother drowns in a puddle during a rainstorm, a family has to decide what to do for food. Daughters Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner), under the ruling thumb of patriarch Frank (Bill Sage), pick up the responsibilities while the youngest Rory (Jack Gore) is still literally just a child.
With a storm growing, bones are starting to show up in the river behind the family’s house. Meanwhile, local medical examiner Doc Barrow (Michael Parks) is suspicious about the death of his own child after he realizes that mother Parker was suffering from kuru, a Parkinson’s type disease associated with eating certain types of meat. Now the family must deal with the consequences of their actions both on the outside world and at home. Mickle and co-writer Nick Damici (also playing the role of Sheriff Meeks) bring a brilliant slow burn to the proceedings and an ending that will knock your socks off. Sage is terrifying as the tyrannical father, Childers effortlessly plays a young girl way out of her comfort zone, and Garner really gives us something to chew on once she finally lets her hair down.
S-VHS is the follow-up to last year’s “found footage” horror anthology, VHS. This time we’re treated to even more madness and mayhem. Writers/directors Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die), Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sánchez (The Blair Witch Project), Jason Eisener (Hobo with a Shotgun), Gareth Evans (The Raid), John Davies, Jamie Nash, and Timo Tjahjanto, team up to bring more gore, laughs, and shocks than the original. The wrap-around story involving a pair of investigators searching for a missing college kid fails to hit the mark but thankfully ends on a joke. There’s also a lake side alien invasion, POV zombie attack on a children’s birthday party in the woods, a haunted eye implant, and an extended story about a cult and the literal birth of the devil. Everything in S works better than it did in VHS which is to our benefit. The only thing that really fails is when you’re stuck watching a dog die on camera. Not a real dog of course, but it’s still just way too much for any audience, even when it comes to horror.
Being stuck out in the woods at night is possibly my biggest fear. And if there was ever a checklist of reasons why, look no further than In Fear. Director Jeremy Lovering explained during the film’s Q&A, held after the screening, that he withheld the script from stars Alice Englert and Iain De Caestecker to elicit real reactions. (Although, as usual, it’s the male lead who starts to grate on your nerves. Good thing the same isn’t true of Englert since we’ll be seeing her soon in next week’s Beautiful Creatures.)
This rings true for the audience as well as their real fear feeds into our own. Granted, there are some occasions when Lovering can’t help but use tried-and-true tactics such as blaring car horns, but there’s also a sense of the supernatural as the couple just trying to find their romantic getaway hotel leads to a labyrinthine maze of backwoods. Add an attacked passenger to the mix and you’ve got yourself one of the most intense films headed our way. Being produced by Edgar Wright’s partner in crime, Nira Park (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), only ensures that we’ll be seeing this one in theaters at some point.
When it comes to producing the lowest of low-budget films, no name may be more synonymous than Roger Corman. His films always are a bit hit-and-miss, although 2011’s Sundance documentary, Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, was far more entertaining than this year’s Virtually Heroes of which he executive produces. Even to say “taking a page” from Wreck-It Ralph is giving the film too much credit. Director G. J. Echternkamp and writer Matt Yamashita have cobbled together a live-action R-rated rip-off of Ralph and it’s not for the better. Throwing as many video game references at the screen as possible doesn’t make any of it funny. One tea bagging joke is funny, but when it feels like they’re running at 10 minute intervals just ruins it. Expect this one to head the way of the bargain bin, and the SyFy channel a la most of Corman’s recent productions. The short film Catnip played in front of Virtually Heroes is available on YouTube and packs way more funny into seven minutes than Echternkamp does in an entirely too long 84.
Photos courtesy Memento Films International and Big Talk Productions