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The Blair Witch Project (#110 of 9)

Summer of ‘89: 84 Charlie MoPic

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Summer of ‘89: 84 Charlie MoPic
Summer of ‘89: 84 Charlie MoPic

Found-footage films largely fail because they value gimmick and style over character and theme. We’ve seen it time and again ever since 1999’s The Blair Witch Project revolutionized the formula, paving the way for Paranormal Activity and countless other knockoffs striving for very little beyond schlock and awe. Shaky camera work, calculated jump scares, and cheesy special effects have all but become stock in trade for this genre of filmmaking that’s left audiences numb from overexposure and unoriginality.

But don’t mistake that for intolerance, as two of the best films of the last 25 years use the found-footage model to dissect and subvert popular genres to dizzying effect. Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, and Benoît Poelvoorde’s horrifying Man Bites Dog gives its serial-killer narrative an omniscience sense of dread by largely examining the culpability of the filmmakers (and audience) during a charming psychopath’s monstrous and sadistic rampage through the French countryside. Even more impressive is Patrick Sheane Duncan’s 1989 masterpiece 84 Charlie MoPic, a scathing Vietnam War-set film that finds an army cameraman embedded with a small infantry platoon on their final search-and-destroy mission.

Sinful Cinema Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

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Sinful Cinema: Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2
Sinful Cinema: Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

Studio meddling and directorial straw-grasping really hammered the coffin nails into Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, the viciously derided, multi-media sequel to one of the biggest (and most profitable) film phenomenons in history. Whether necessary or not, someone was bound to make a follow-up to The Blair Witch Project; the tricky part was how to do it. From a distance, the most laughable decisions made by Artisan Entertainment, which hastily hurried the sequel’s production while high on the first film’s success, involve silly, superficial adherences to The Blair Witch Project’s faux-doc qualities. Soldiering forward without the blessings of first-installment directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez (who reluctantly remained attached as executive producers), the studio hired a documentarian (Paradise Lost helmer Joe Berlinger), and endorsed the hiring of unknown actors like Erica Leerhsen, Tristen Skylar, and Stephen Barker Turner, who, in a worthless nod to Heather Donahue and company’s ostensible self-portrayals, have the barely-tweaked character names Erica Geerson, Tristen Ryler, and Stephen Ryan Parker. Since Book of Shadows, in plot and format, largely and clearly operates as a traditional narrative film, shot predominantly in 35 mm and acknowledging its predecessor as a fiction, such choices feel more like frivolous insults than attempts to retain the original’s spirit. The sequel itself might have some intriguing thoughts about mixed perceptions of reality, but there was no sense trying to keep up the ruse that anything about the Blair Witch brand is factual.

SXSW 2013: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and V/H/S/2

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SXSW 2013: <em>The Incredible Burt Wonderstone</em> and <em>V/H/S/2</em>
SXSW 2013: <em>The Incredible Burt Wonderstone</em> and <em>V/H/S/2</em>

Another opening-night gala screening, another crapshoot. Two years ago, South by Southwest gave the red-carpet treatment of Duncan Jones’s entertaining time-travel thriller Source Code, but last year Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s irritatingly snarky horror-genre deconstruction The Cabin in the Woods got the top honor, and now this year we have The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, which, in spite of a nasty concluding punchline, can’t even claim the kind of cleverly subversive comic gusto The Cabin in the Woods has in abundance—for better and for worse.

Poster Lab: In Fear

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Poster Lab: <em>In Fear</em>
Poster Lab: <em>In Fear</em>

According to reports from Sundance, In Fear, the debut feature from TV and documentary veteran Jeremy Lovering, drew a lot of inspiration from The Blair Witch Project. No, the director didn’t give his actors a handheld camera and strive to maintain found-footage realism, but he did keep them largely in the dark regarding script and story details, just as Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez offered cryptic, planted clues to Heather Donahue and company amid the Blair Witch shoot. It’s all part of the same directorial method of drawing true, terrified reactions from your horror-movie players—the darker side of, say, filming A-Listers singing power ballads live.

That genuine heebie-jeebies technique isn’t the only link between Lovering’s film and everyone’s favorite micro-budget ’90s spookfest. The new In Fear one-sheet harkens back to that great photo-negative poster that originally touted Blair Witch, and showed ominous, skeleton trees that implied a wooded path to hell. Similarly minimalistic, the ad for In Fear also uses little more than trees, save for one sharp detail that makes it coolly remarkable.

15 Famous Cabins in the Woods

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15 Famous Cabins in the Woods
15 Famous Cabins in the Woods

This weekend sees the release of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods, the most anticipated and buzzed-about horror film in some time. The setup is indeed the same one you’ve experienced over and over: a group of partying, young-adult archetypes head to a remote getaway, only to find terrifying carnage. But the guys behind Cabin delve far deeper into the geek abyss than many viewers will expect, emerging with a gonzo, convoluted send-up that stirs the pot even as it flies off the rails (no spoilers here, kids). The titular locale is but a dilapidated entry point, and we’ve got 15 more shacks that have opened their doors for audiences through the years.

Poster Lab: The Cabin in the Woods

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Poster Lab: The Cabin in the Woods
Poster Lab: The Cabin in the Woods

There wasn’t much to say about the initial poster for The Cabin in the Woods that wasn’t as plain as day in the image itself: “Oh, look at that. The house is twisted like a Rubik’s Cube. There must be puzzles afoot.” Nevertheless, the design proved to be one not easily forgotten, and highly amenable to, say, 3-D cardboard stand-ups for cineplex lobbies. Now, Lionsgate has wisely taken ownership of the image, as evidenced by the new one-sheet, recently revealed. Thanks to passerby double-takes and a swelling sea of buzz, that house is an emblem that can even work as a hollow shape, and while it may not be as iconic as The Blair Witch Project’s stickman, the powers that be are seeing to it that it’s on its way.

A heavy hitter on the festival circuit and overseas, The Cabin in the Woods has been met with a mess of early critical praise, which, given the cryptic plot details and banal TV spots, is thus far the most intriguing thing about it. The fire is then stoked with the new poster’s central detail—a jam-packed collection of more than 20 quoted raves. History has certainly shown that madness lies the way of trusting pithy blurbs stamped on film paraphernalia, but it’s exciting to see such enthusiasm emerge about a scary movie. Though largely drawn from London outlets, the quotes aren’t simply those of horror and genre gurus, who often give passes to titles that fail to grab a broader audience. The response suggests a widespread appeal, and it underscores an apparent mix of fright and comedy reminiscent of, as noted, The Evil Dead and Scream.

Sundance Film Festival 2012: Shut Up and Play the Hits and V/H/S

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Sundance Film Festival 2012: <em>Shut Up and Play the Hits</em> and <em>V/H/S</em>
Sundance Film Festival 2012: <em>Shut Up and Play the Hits</em> and <em>V/H/S</em>

Shut Up and Play the Hits, Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern’s documentary about the emotional toll that LCD Soundsytem’s final live show had on frontman James Murphy, dances around the fact that the band was essentially a solo act. (Though Murphy performed all of the instruments on LCD Soundsystem’s self-titled debut, a number of people, Nancy Whang and Pat Honey among them, became an integral part of the band’s sound after Murphy took the album on the road.) This is presumably the reason why Murphy is the only person associated with LCD Soundsystem who’s interviewed in the film and therefore gets to tell us what the end of the band signifies.

Since we know Murphy isn’t retiring from making music, why are we seriously mourning the death of what was originally a one-man band? The answer is we’re not really mourning, because Murphy isn’t completely serious about burying the band. The doc starts with a sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek epitaph: “If it’s a funeral, let’s have the best funeral ever.” Still, there’s genuine sentiment behind that opening intertitle. This is shown in footage of Murphy dazedly walking around after the band’s final performance and later during a lunchtime interview conducted by Chuck Klosterman. He also tells the crowd at Madison Square Garden that he wears his father’s watch while performing for good luck, which suggests he’s sentimental about the prospect of ditching the band. But isn’t it enough that Murphy will just move on to his next project?

A Movie a Day, Day 19: [Rec] 2

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A Movie a Day, Day 19: <em>[Rec] 2</em>
A Movie a Day, Day 19: <em>[Rec] 2</em>

Well, I made it to a press screening yesterday, but this time it was watching the movie, not missing it, that was disappointing. [Rec] 2 (which opens July 9) doesn’t suck, but it does suffer from sequelitis.

The original took the idea of making a horror movie feel real by filming it as if it were shot by one of the victims on handheld video and ran with it—literally. A lot of people have tried this since The Blair Witch Project, but none as well as [Rec], whose increasingly panicked Pablo (Pablo Rosso, never seen), a cameraman from a TV news program, darts up and down the winding stairs and in and out of the maze-like apartments of a creaky old Barcelona apartment building, following a gutsy young reporter, Manuela (Ángela Vidal) and two firemen, then one, then…Pablo and Manuela set out that night to shoot a news feature on the firemen, who were called in to protect the residents huddled in the lobby from—what, exactly? Zombie-like residents of the building rush out at intervals to attack the living, converting them with some sort of virus that’s transmitted through blood and other bodily fluids. That’s all anyone seems to know (this infection is brand new), but it’s enough to make the health department seal off the building, effectively sentencing all its living residents to a gruesome death and a busy afterlife.