Indie Horror Bonanza IV (US - BD RA)
Gabe checks out Proxy, The Sacrament, The Quiet Ones, and Cabin Fever 3...
While walking home from her latest OB appointment, a very pregnant Esther Woodhouse (Alexia Rasmussen) is brutally attacked and disfigured by a hooded assailant. This horrible event seems to be a blessing in disguise when Esther finds consolation in a support group. Her life of sadness and solitude is opened up to friendship, understanding, and even acceptance. However, friendship and understanding can be very dangerous things when accepted by the wrong people. (From IFC’s official synopsis)
Despite the basic tenets of its advertising campaign, which trumpet comparisons to Rosemary’s Baby, Parker and co-writer Kevin Donner’s Proxy is only tangentially linked to conspiracy-laced evil baby/cursed pregnancy thrillers. It aims to tell a more reality-based and dramatically unpredictable horror story and poses quite a few unique psychological questions along the way (including a couple about the trials of motherhood, which is the only thing it has in common with Rosemary’s Baby). Unfortunately, most of its creative intentions are lost in a frustratingly nebulous structure. Following the genuine shock of the opening attack/late term abortion sequence, the plot is all but lost in contemplative asides that seem to go nowhere for at least half the film’s already excessive 120 minute run time. It is eventually apparent that this narrative haze is a part of the film’s aesthetic. Parker and Donner pointedly refuse to stick to any story thrust or hinge their film on a specific protagonist, opting instead to mull over the emotional damage caused by violence and grief. It’s an admirable trait in a no-budget horror film, but the lack of answers, even ambiguous ones, smells more like the filmmakers didn’t know what they were doing. Or, at the very least, they forgot to make a second pass while editing (Parker, himself, is credited as editor). There’s an excess of waffling between concepts and the film’s two divergent halves don’t fit together at all.
I haven’t seen Parker’s other three, low-budget features (all of which appear to be horror films), but, based on his work here, he certainly exhibits a penchant for stylish images that skirt the line between naturalistic and theatrical. He tends to cover his lack of experience and budgetary constraints with a respectfully consistent tonal nihilism and vague artistry that conveys a deeper sense of meaning than present in the screenplay. On the other hand, it’s such an amorphous movie that it’s entirely possible I’ve missed the point by giving him credit for purposefully crafting awkward plot points and interactions. Maybe it’s just a bad impression of one of Hitchcock’s more straight-laced psychological thrillers filtered through a bad impression of Robert Altman’s ensemble melodramas – a prospect that might actually make it an even more interesting movie.
Proxy was shot using Arri Alexa digital HD cameras and is presented here in 1080p, 2.40:1 HD video. Parker and cinematographer Jim Timperman aim for a contrast-heavy look by using harsh lighting schemes and embracing heavy shadows. Details and sharpness levels subtly change throughout the film, swinging from soft, shallow focus images to deeper-set shots that are over-cooked with searing highlights. Some of the softer shots exhibit blurring effects and sharpening haloes. These, along with minor noise (that increases during the darker shots), appear to be issues with the original material, not compression on the disc. Colours have been somewhat desaturated and cooled, though not at the expense of skin tones or punchy red elements. The hues tend to blend into each other a bit and can change tint within a single shot; again, depending on how dark the lighting scheme is. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is clean and clear, but also very simplified. Most sequences feature on-set, boom-mic-captured incidental effects and dialogue that doesn’t seem to have been altered much in post. There are a number of volume and clarity discrepancies (some effects are really weak) along with a shallow depth of field. A handful of sequences feature basic crowd noise, but, otherwise, the stereo and surround channels are awkwardly utilized to spread effects that probably should’ve stayed centered. The Newton Brothers, who have been pretty busy scoring a number of low-budget releases recently, provide an extremely evocative and aggressive string score that adds a huge layer of ‘class’ to the film and fills out the channels with plenty of warm sound.
- Behind the Scenes (31:00, HD)
- Alexia Rasmussen on-set (1:40, HD)
- Alexia Rasmussen and the support group scene (1:20, HD)
- Kristina Klebe on-set (1:20, HD)
- Alexa Havins on-set (1:40, HD)
- Alexa Havins: An Actor Prepares (1:50, HD)
- Joe Swanberg on-set (1:50, HD)
- Behind the VFX (2:50, HD)
- The Phantom Set (4:50, HD)
- Extended Interviews:
- Alexia Rasmussen (5:50, HD)
- Alexa Havins (13:10, HD)
- Kristina Klebe (8:10, HD)
- Joe Swanberg (6:20, HD)
- The Music of Proxy (6:20, HD)
A team of journalists (AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg) set out to document their friend’s (Kentucker Audley) journey to find his missing sister (Amy Seimetz). They travel to ‘Eden Parish,’ a self-sustained utopia. At the center of this small, religious, socialist community is a mysterious leader known only as ‘Father’ (Gene Jones). As their friend reunites with his sister, it becomes apparent to the newcomers that this paradise may not be as it seems. What started as just another documentary shoot soon becomes a race to escape with their lives. (From Magnet’s official synopsis)
Generally speaking, indie horror movie machine Ti West makes movies about nothing. He fills the screen with hours of hip, good-looking, mostly young white people (who we’re supposed to believe are unhip and unattractive) talking to each other about everyday minor hardships. In most cases, he mixes this affection for nothingness with his affection for genre and does a bang-up job recreating the boring filler you remember from otherwise respectable horror movies. His protagonists are usually likeable people, his in-jokes are pretty amusing, and his films look a lot nicer than the average ‘mumblecore’ offering, but I find the lack of content exhausting. Still, there is something respectable about the way West sticks to his formula and the obvious skill beneath the boring façade. My faith in his latest film, The Sacrament, was not stoked by the knowledge that, on top of being a Ti West film, it would be yet another found-footage movie. The last time West tackled found footage, he made the single most inert and worthless chapter of the already lethargic V/H/S.
The Sacrament takes the best possible route with the found-footage format by mimicking the doomed documentary crew concept seen in Rugerro Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust and The Blair Witch Project. It’s not unique, but gives the film a built-in reason for its characters to be filming everything. In this case, it also offers West the chance to parody the typically self-aggrandizing, mock-socially active documentaries that have superceded the shockumentaries and human interest stories that Cannibal Holocaust and Daniel Myrick/Eduardo Sánchez’ The Blair Witch Project were aping. West’s screenplay incorporates obvious references to Jim Jones’ People’s Temple, aka: Jonestown. The Eli Roth ‘presented’ and Daniel Stamm-directed Last Exorcism already covered similar ground (as did Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans’ V/H/S/2 short, Safe Haven), but no one has made a found-footage film of this particular travesty before. As a horror fan, I’m intrigued by the connection between Jonestown exploitation and ‘70s/’80s Italian horror movies, specifically Umberto Lenzi’s Magiati Vivi! (aka: Eaten Alive, 1980) – an Italian cannibal film that ties back into Cannibal Holocaust. I’m not sure if West was aware of the association, but I’m absolutely positive that ‘presenter’ Eli Roth was (all of these things seem to play heavily into Roth’s latest film, The Green Inferno).
Adherence to the mockumentary format seems to have reined in West’s obsession with listless dialogue. He’s all but forced to tighten the film down to its vital exposition while slowly burning genuine horror into the mix. The format also supplies the mumblecore-friendly cast (including Joe Swanberg, again) with a virtual playground to act as naturalistically awkward as possible. The best performance, however, is turned out by veteran Gene Jones (most readers will probably remember him as the gas station attendant forced to call heads or tails in No Country for Old Men), who captures the intensity and terrifying charm of the real Jim Jones without resorting to histrionics or blatant impersonation. All of this factors into The Sacrament being the best and most genuinely frightening film West has ever made and, hopefully, a sign of better things to come. Regrettably, my mileage as a viewer is somewhat limited by an unhealthy compulsion to watch any documentary on the Jonestown massacre. The events of the film follow the historical events closely enough that I was left with very few surprises until the final 15 or so minutes.
The Sacrament was shot using a myriad of digital formats and is presented here in 1080p, 1.85:1 HD video. Cinematographer Eric Robbins (who worked on West’s first feature, The Roost) adopts the rough look of shot-on-the-fly HD photography that isn’t purposefully ugly. Despite a smattering of digital grain, occasionally inconsistent clarity, and a handful of choppy artefacts, details are predominately tight and textures are complex. Edges are sometimes smoothed off by shallow focus and the gamma levels have been set for deep blacks and blown-out highlights, both of which are plenty clear. The digital noise does lead to quite a bit of discolourization among the more neutral hues, like skin tones, white walls, and concrete floors. Colours are amped up enough that the more vivid hues (fluorescent lights, the yellow sun, the lush, green forest surroundings) tend to bleed into the neutral colours as well, including some of the grayer nighttime sequences. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is naturalistic with very few directional enhancements and a strong focus on dialogue. Besides the occasional rumble of the camera’s mic being fondled and a couple of crowd scenes, the stereo and surround speakers are not artificially engaged by the effects. The dynamic balance is really impressive and sounds organic without being muffled or flat. The musical score, provided by Tyler Bates (who still takes the time to score low-budget horror between work for Marvel Studios), supports the mockumentary aspects perfectly with an infectiously dopey electronic underscore that builds into dark and droning melodies as the film turns bleak.
- Commentary with West and actors AJ Bowen and Amy Seimetz
- Creating The Sacrament: Revealing the Vision (21:10, HD) – A relatively in-depth (though substantially pretentious) behind-the-scenes featurette.
- Working with the Director: The Ti West Experience (6:00, HD) – Featuring the cast and crew praising their director.
- Preparing for Takeoff: Behind the Scenes Helicopter Sequence (4:50, HD)
- AXS TV: A Look at The Sacrament (3:40, HD)
- Magnolia/Magnet trailers
The Quiet Ones
When a crazed university professor (Jared Harris) and his team of students set out to cure a disturbed patient, the unthinkable happens. Trusting in their leader and his motives, Brian (Sam Claflin) and his fellow students find themselves far from help...and all too close to a sinister force they never suspected. (From Lionsgate’s official synopsis)
John Pogue’s The Quiet Ones is the latest in a line of new films from former UK horror giant Hammer. It is a typical ‘revival’ movie in its use of gothic traditions in modern contexts (though it is a period piece, its timeframe only extends back to the ‘70s). The script, by Tom DeVille (with rewrites by Craig Rosenberg, Oren Moverman, and Pogue himself), is (very) loosely based on a 1972 parapsychology analysis conducted in Toronto called The Philip Experiment and somewhat recalls classic era Hammer films, like Peter Sykes’ Demons of the Mind and To the Devil…A Daughter. Unfortunately, the story is too wrapped up in a number of haunted house and ghost story clichés to be set apart from they busy field. The plot and characters are also disappointingly defined, despite oodles of expositional dialogue built into the premise. Strong performances (Jared Harris gets good and yelly) from the small cast (there are basically five noteworthy characters) and a speedy tempo certainly helps, ensuring the routine exercise moves along quickly and maintains entertainment value.
Pogue’s career is mostly defined by his work as a screenwriter on such unfortunate features as U.S. Marshals, The Skulls, and Rollerball (2002). His only other work as first unit director was Quarantine 2: The Terminal, which I haven’t seen, so I had no frame of reference in relation to his skill level. The Quiet Ones is certainly a slick movie. Pogue and cinematographer Mátyás Erdély compose attractive shots and use dynamic camera movements during low-impact, exposition-heavy sequences (of which there are many) without drawing too much attention to themselves. Editor Glenn Garland cut the slow and speedy scenes together with the same satisfyingly impressionistic pace, especially during the opening act, where all the pieces are laid out in front of us. The film has an excuse to occasionally switch over to a found-footage style without fully committing to the format, because the characters are recording their experiments using a 16mm camera. These scenes aren’t very effective on their own (mostly people pawing around in the dark), but Pogue and Garland get a lot of mileage out of cutting between the footage. Sadly, Pogue isn’t quite secure in his ability to execute a slow-burn thriller and peppers too many vulgar jump scares into spots where they aren’t needed. The bleak tone and melodrama works just fine without them.
The Quiet Ones was shot largely using Arri Alexa digital HD cameras and is presented here in 1.85:1, 1080p HD video. As I already mentioned, the characters within the film are recording their experiments with 16mm cameras (framed in 1.33:1 and 1.66:1). I’m not sure if this footage is actually 16mm or not, but it certainly looks the part. Pogue and Erdély use shallow focus during the digital shots, which makes for a lot of soft, clean backgrounds and super sharp foreground textures. In contrast, the 16mm scenes are flatter with limited edge crispness and a number of film-based artefacts, like grain, dust, and edge haloes (they haven’t gone all out and shredded the film like Robert Rodriguez did for Planet Terror). The colour schemes are deceptively simple, evoking the period setting (oranges, browns, blues), while also perverting it with green tints, golden highlights, and rich reds. The hues are occasionally plagued with low-level noise (usually in darkness). The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack has some super-spooky and explosive scare cues, but is sometimes very badly balanced between these bursts of sound and lower volume dialogue. It’s not only the startle moments that are keyed too high – just about everything outside of the center channels is significantly louder. I suppose the point is to trick the viewer into turning their system up to dangerously high levels to hear the mumbled dialogue, only to hit them with a speaker-shattering ‘BAM.’ It’s annoying. Volume discrepancies aside, this is a lively track, with oodles of directional influences – from the subtleties of floors creaking and doors knocking, to the blasting screams of spooky ghosts. Lucas Vidal’s musical score includes some symphonic and melodic elements, but is generally made up of impressionistic sound that builds between jumps.
- Audio Commentary with Director John Pogue & Producer Tobin Armbrust
- Welcome to the Experiment: Making The Quiet Ones (34:50, HD) – An extended EPK featurette that includes a number of cast and crew interviews. It traces the production history from screenwriting through casting, direction, locations, production design, and music.
- An Ominous Opening (8:20, HD) – A look at the making of the film’s opening title sequence.
- Deleted Scenes (12: 20, HD)
- Gag Reel (3:30, HD)
- Trailers for other Lionsgate releases
Cabin Fever: Patient Zero
A group of friends planned the perfect vacation in the Caribbean, but when they head ashore to explore a remote island, their ultimate bachelor weekend devolves into their worst nightmare. After an ill-fated swim in contaminated water, they stumble upon a seemingly abandoned research facility where a deadly, flesh-eating virus has been unleashed. (From RLJ/Image’s official synopsis)
Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever was released with abnormally high praise from horror industry filmmakers and critics. This helped facilitate typical levels of fan backlash against not only the film, but Roth in general. In retrospect, it’s not a great movie, but a sometimes-great movie with a more substantial understanding of character and visual storytelling than most feature debuts. I assumed that the sequel, a lifeless ‘80s throwback directed by none other than Ti West (who wanted his name taken off the film after producers reedited it and added a new ending) titled Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever, killed any interest in franchise potential, but determined producers sallied forth with yet another entry in the official canon: Cabin Fever: Patient Zero.
When announced, it was unclear whether Patient Zero was a prequel or a sequel, but it seems that, like Spring Fever, it is sort of a standalone film that shares story elements with the other two films. Writer Jake Wade Wall, who is best known for his part in the terrible When a Stranger Calls and The Hitcher remakes, has taken most of his cues from Roth in terms of characters and their interactions – though, instead of post-high school friends getting together in a cabin to enact popularity rituals, Patient Zero features post-college friends that take a trip to an ‘abandoned’ island, where they learn they don’t have anything in common anymore. This compacted rehash of the original film is set alongside scenes of Sean Astin as the titular patient zero, trapped in a facility where his condition is being studied. The change in story type is welcome and leads to an extended climax that is genuinely cool in a way that makes me think there’s still gas in the tank of this franchise. Comic book writer/artist-turned-filmmaker Kaare Andrews, whose only other director credits include the micro-budgeted airplane horror flick, Altitude, and an episode in the ABCs of Death anthology ( V is for Vagitus). He does a nice job of paying homage to the look of Roth’s original without completely aping it. He overextends suspense in some cases, robbing the impending jump scare of its impact, but has a penchant for shooting gore scenes. Perhaps most importantly, Patient Zero has plenty of icky, bloody, and grotesque imagery to sate gorehound’s appetites, including a thoroughly disgusting variation on Cabin Fever’s ‘fingering’ scene and a nasty, skin-oozing cat fight.
Cabin Fever: Patient Zero was shot using Red Epic digital HD cameras and is presented here in 1080p, 2.35:1 video. Andrews and cinematographer Norm Li create a filmic look by embracing grain (digital in place of analogue) and a number of anamorphic lens effects. The image quality is divided between locations. The outdoor world that the dopey victims occupy is hyper-vibrant and super warm. Daylight skin tones are orange, white levels are blown out, the jungle greens are lush, and the hideous clothing blooms with solid neon hues. The research facility interiors are dark and gritty with pulsing fluorescent lighting. The base colours here are limited to a series of sickly greens and lavenders. The warmer highlights are rich, but limited, until things go wrong and everything is baked in the solid glow of deep red emergency lights. Details are, naturally, limited by blooming highlights, heavy shadows, and uneven grain levels, but fine textures and complex patterns are still plenty tight when necessary. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack isn’t particularly outstanding, but gets the job done. Dialogue is clear, centered, and pretty consistent, though sometimes a bit overwhelmed by Kevin Riepl’s spooky, stereo-enhanced music. The ambient score stands in for sound effects, which are largely centered. Directional elements are limited mostly to lapping ocean waves, a bit of jungle wildlife, and echoes in the facility’s underground chambers. There are no extras.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 19th August 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Director & Actor Commentaries, Cast & Crew Interviews, Behind the VFX, The Phantom Set, The Music of Proxy, Creating The Sacrament: Revealing the Vision, Working with the Director: The Ti West Experience, Preparing for Takeoff: Behind the Scenes Helicopter Sequence, Welcome to the Experiment: Making The Quiet Ones, An Ominous Opening, Deleted Scenes (The Quiet Ones), Gag Reel (The Quiet Ones), Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Zack Parker, Ti West, John Pogue, Kaare Andrews
Cast: Joe Swanberg, Alexa Havins, Kristina Klebe, AJ Bowen, Amy Seimetz, Kate Lyn Sheil, Jared Harris, Sam Claflin, Olivia Cooke, Erin Richards, Sean Astin, Jillian Murray, Currie Graham, Lydia Hearst
Genre: Horror and Thriller
Length: 412 minutes
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