Toronto After Dark Spotlight – V/H/S/2

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I should totally have reread my review for the first film in this series, because I went in with some high hopes for this installment in the series, because a couple of the segments looked like they could be really good!

I settled into my seat for the second half of the first Toronto After Dark Spotlight event, one of my favorite festivals, bracing myself for shakey cam work that would no doubt leave me nauseous as such films do on the big screen.

Once again, there is a wrap-around story that ties the anthology together. Each segment is seen over by a different director. The wrap around story, Tape 49 is overseen by Simon Barrett, and features a pair of private investigator trying to locate a missing university student. Upon breaking into his house, they find a wall of televisions, and a stack of videotapes. I prerecorded message on the laptop in the room tells them that watching the tapes in a specific order has an effect on you.

While one investigator checks out the rest of the not-necessarily empty house, the other stays behind to feed the VCR. I do like that in the message’s voice over we hear that VHS tapes because of the magnetic tape can pick up some images and retain them that other formats can’t… which is also odd, because most of the new film is shot with go-pros, digital cameras and the like. So much for internal logic.

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The first story, Phase I: Clinical Trials, Adam Wingard, is about a man who’s lost an eye in an auto accident, and has had it replaced with a digital eyeball hooked right into his visual cortex. Everything’s fine until he starts seeing a dead man and girl standing in his home, watching him, stalking him. A pretty young girl, who has a digital ear implant, arrived to explain everything, but with disastrous consequences. If this had been done as a feature, and had taken it’s time building characters and scares, this could have been really good, In this case, it’s almost a blink-it’s-over segment.

The second story Ride In The Park, directed by Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sanchez, follows a cyclist using a go-pro who gets caught up in a zombie apocalypse. There are some fun moments, some gross out humor, but again, the story doesn’t engage.

One of the stories that I most enjoyed was Safe Haven, by Gareth Evans and Timoh Tjahjanto. It follows a group of documentary filmmakers investigating a doomsday cult, and just happen to arrive on the day the cult’s leader declares the end! There are some great moments, and ideas, again, this one would work better as a feature, and it would probably benefit from some improved character design and special effects by the end of the tale, as the thing at the film’s end elicited a bit of unintentional laughter from the audience.

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Capping the film’s unrealized potential, because most of these ideas could have been really good if executed with a higher level of script, visuals, and effects, was the one I thought would freak me out most. Slumber Party Alien Abduction directed by Jason Eisener… Everyone who’s seen our show or chatted to me long enough knows that I’ve got a bit on an irrational phobia when it comes to the concept of alien abduction, whether the phenomena is real or not.

But when the aliens begin to show up in this film, it’s easy to tell that these are nothing more than men in suits with masks and long-fingered gloves. Not to mention that, of course with shakey cam, you don’t get to see much anyway. This effort, was more laughable than frightening, which works for some of the story, as it follows a bunch of kids and twenty-somethings, but when stuff goes sideways it should have creeped me right out instead of me rolling my eyes.

I keep hoping that this series will give us something really good at some point, it has the right talent involved, it has some great ideas, but it needs to be realized a little better.

Still, there are two more titles coming down the pipe before we hit the Toronto After Dark festival proper, and they screen September 25. You can check them out here! I’m really looking forward to Europa Report.

What did you think of this one?

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