Saturday, September 28, 2013

On DVD/Blu-ray: V/H/S/2 (2013) and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2 (2013)

(US - 2013)

This bigger-budgeted sequel to last year's overrated horror anthology V/H/S is pretty much along the same lines:  some memorable and inspired moments mixed with some groaners.  Overall, it's slightly more satisfying than its predecessor, attempting to stick with what worked the first time around but not always exhibiting an ability to follow through.  YOU'RE NEXT screenwriter Simon Barrett handles the wraparound segment, with a private eye team (Lawrence Michael Levine, Kelsy Abbott) searching for a missing college student and finding his stash of mysterious VHS tapes--Levine checks out the house while Abbott watches the videos.  First up is "Phase 1: Clinical Trials," written by Barrett and directed by and starring YOU'RE NEXT helmer Adam Wingard, who gets an experimental camera eye after a car accident and starts seeing ghostly figures lurking around his house.  Next is "A Ride in the Park," co-directed by Eduardo Sanchez (THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT), where a guy attaches a camera to his helmet before heading out on a bike trail, only to be bitten by a zombie and end up allowing us a first-person, hand-held view of a zombie outbreak.  It's as tired and played out as it sounds.  Things pick up--for a while, at least--with "Safe Haven," co-directed by Gareth Huw Evans, who brings the same level of intensity demonstrated by his breakout hit THE RAID: REDEMPTION, as a team of documentary filmmakers get more than they anticipated when they're granted access to a compound to interview the leader of an Indonesian cult called Paradise Gate.  It's a slow-burner (and, at nearly 35 minutes, the longest of the stories) and Evans really ratchets up the intensity, but it completely falls apart when it devolves into--yes, you knew it was coming--yet another zombie apocalypse tale.   Like any good horror anthology, V/H/S/2 has the sense to finish big, and the highlight is "Slumber Party Alien Abduction," directed by Jason Eisener, who made the unwatchable HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN but contributed one of the stronger segments to another recent horror omnibus, THE ABCs OF DEATH.  A teenage girl and her younger brother have some friends over while their parents are away for the weekend, and in between playing increasingly cruel pranks on each other, find themselves under attack by some aggressively violent aliens of the Whitley Strieber variety. 

Of course, the wraparound segment reveals a supernatural element to the VHS tapes, but I again ask "Why the VHS angle?"  It's just lazy pandering to the hipster horror crowd that has no bearing on the stories.  Horror fans have really embraced these things and this one in particular seemed to get a lot of glowing reviews, even from critics outside the insulated horror scene.  Wingard and Barrett were among the numerous producers, and call me a party-pooper, but I think you're better off waiting for their very impressive YOU'RE NEXT--one of the year's best films and one that you probably missed in theaters--to hit Blu-ray in a couple of months.  (Unrated, 96 mins)

(US - 2013)

This "sequel" to the 2010 remake of the 1978 cult classic is really just another remake.  The same director (Steven R. Monroe) is onboard and essentially moves the action to Sofia, Bulgaria, and the only real surprise is that Avi Lerner isn't involved (though he does get a special thanks in the closing credits, because he has to be pretty much running Sofia by this point).  I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2 follows the same rape/revenge template, with a little more time unfortunately spent on the rape portion than in Monroe's 2010 film.  Katie (Jemma Dallender) is a wide-eyed, naïve Midwestern farm girl trying to make it as a NYC model.  She answers an ad for a free photo session and rejects the Eastern European-accented photo crew's demands that she pose nude.  The next night, one of them, the dim-witted Georgy (Yavar Baharoff) breaks into her apartment, rapes her, and kills her nice-guy super.  Georgy calls his brothers--photographer Ivan (Joe Absolom) and Nicolay (Aleksander Aleksiev)--who drug Katie and smuggle her to their hometown of Sofia, where they keep her chained in a basement and spend days raping her, torturing her, and pissing on her.  She manages to escape and a sympathetic detective (George Zlatarev) turns her over to Ana (Mary Stockley), who runs a womens shelter.  Of course, unbeknownst to the dumb cop, Ana is actually in cahoots with the Bulgarian sickos (I think she's both mother and older sister to Georgy and Nicolay) and takes Katie right back to the torture room where the "father," the hulking Valko (Peter Silverleaf) beats her and violates her with an electric cattle prod before raping her.  They dig a hole in the basement and bury her alive, but the brothers are too stupid to realize that the building is over a tunnel, so she manages to escape and plot her revenge, which includes such highlights as slicing flesh open, tearing off nipples, drowning one in a shit-filled toilet, and putting another's testicles in a vise.

Is there a reason for this film to exist?  Monroe's 2010 remake was, surprisingly, not bad.  While it borrowed liberally from SAW and other torture-porn offshoots, it was well-made, didn't spend nearly as much time on the unpleasant rape sequences as Meir Zarchi's 1978 original, and had a visceral, powerful performance by Sarah Butler as the victim-turned-avenger.  Dallender is an incredibly cute young woman who's very charming in the introductory scenes (she looks like a girl-next-door version of Asia Argento) and handles herself well in the brutal (and brutally long) rape segments, but doesn't quite have the chops for the revenge half of the film.  She does little more than open her eyes really wide and make exaggerated faces, while quipping things like "Some guys like it tight!" as she cranks the vise on one rapist's nutsack.  Boasting a bloated run time of 106 minutes, this is pure B-movie exploitation and a story that shouldn't take more than 80 minutes to tell, but Monroe prolongs the rape sequences so much that it's over an hour into the film before Katie even starts plotting her vengeance, which is really what the I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE crowd wants to see.  I went into Monroe's 2010 remake with extraordinarily low expectations and was surprised at how compelling it proved to be at times.  That led me to approach this with a "Well, hey, the last one wasn't too bad..." mentality and found it a dull, depressing bore, with obvious foreshadowing (Katie showing her super how to create a foolproof rat trap), tired clichés (a single tear rolling down Ana's cheek as she clutches a doll and blasts an opera record to drown out Katie's screams from below), and bad acting.  One of the few things Monroe gets right is the location shooting in Brooklyn in the early scenes (I'm surprised they didn't just use Sofia for that as well; Avi Lerner would have), utilizing some areas that have remained largely unchanged for the last 30 years or so.  It's a nice gesture and much appreciated by a fan of scuzzy, old-school NYC like myself, but when that's the best thing one can say about something called I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2, then you really shouldn't have bothered. (Unrated, 106 mins)

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