TV Party is a new Friday feature in which Film Editors Dominick Mayer and Justin Gerber alongside Editor-in-Chief Michael Roffman suggest one movie apiece to enjoy over the weekend. Joining them each week will be two rotating film staff writers to help round out the selections. Seek out any of the films via Netflix, Amazon, Redbox, Hulu, OnDemand, or abandoned Blockbuster and Hollywood Video stores — however you crazy kids watch movies these days! Enjoy ’em for the first time, a second, or maybe a redemptive third.
Admittedly, I’m cheating a bit with this week’s entry, because I just published a piece earlier in the week about Laika, but seriously, ParaNorman is essential viewing. As Norman, Kodi Smit-McPhee embodies every weird kid in school who wasn’t particularly off or dangerous or unfriendly, but was just too strange to relate to their peers. And when Norman’s gift for communicating with the dead leads to him having to save the good(ish) people of Blithe Hollow from a centuries-old witch, it’s not as though Norman suddenly becomes an unlikely hero. He’s still a misfit, trying to rescue a bunch of people who’re either too dumb or too uninterested to care.
As both a slyly subversive family movie and a loving homage to horror fandom and to the Hammer creepshows of yore, ParaNorman excels. It has a lot to say about forgiveness and ignorance and the emptiness of revenge, all within a darkly comic, visually breathtaking lark. In its lack of overexertion to appeal to all audiences, ParaNorman does precisely that. Its innate understanding of what makes the macabre appealing to kids of all ages, and how that gets warped in ever sadder directions as we get older, is remarkable stuff for what was written off by some as another Burton-esque, gothic, stop-motion flick.
With V/H/S: Viral just around the corner, I feel obligated to recommend a movie from the V/H/S series. While the first V/H/S film has its moments (particularly the opening and closing chapters), I find that V/H/S/2 is the stronger of the two films. This 2013 “found-footage” release offers up four tales as opposed to the original’s five, making for more developed stories and characters. Plus, the entries are just more effective, especially “Safe Haven” and “Slumber Party Alien Abduction”. The first title is a lie, and the second one tells it as it is, but both make for disturbing viewings.
“Safe Haven”, co-directed by Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans (The Raid films), tells a story of a cult whose leader has agreed to meet with a news team. Oh, the cult turns out to be evil and there is a demon baby involved. Choosing to film the short in the comfort of daylight makes the terror to come much more unexpected, as people are violently eliminated in order for one entity to enter the world. Speaking of entering the world, “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” takes place mostly at night, and for anyone who’s ever hosted a sleepover, it’s hard to imagine not relating to a group of kids trying to prevent themselves from being, well, abducted. An underwater scene scared the living hell outta me.
Surprisingly, the first tale by Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest) proves to be the least memorable, but the four that follow make V/H/S/2 a more than worthy follow-up. Have a horrifying weekend.
It’s been three years since The Innkeepers, Ti West’s sharp and spooky follow-up to his 2009 cult indie hit, The House of the Devil. Since then, the young director has dabbled (and struggled) in the short film medium, specifically for 2012’s The ABCs of Death and that same year’s V/H/S. Now, he’s back to proper form with his latest vehicle, The Sacrament, a faux documentary that tosses Joe Swanberg and AJ Bowen into a reclusive religious commune.
While the film certainly works off tropes within the found footage genre, West actually upgrades the content by “partnering” with Vice, adding a little authenticity to the story. The problem, however, is that the branding somewhat hinders any potential stakes. Still, there’s a blurred line of tension that’s actually quite palpable, namely due to one stellar performance by Gene Jones as the commune’s Dr. Moreau-like leader.
If you’re looking for a nightmare, re-watch The House of the Devil. Most of what happens in The Sacrament is mildly predictable, but it’s exciting to see West back in the proverbial saddle, and it’s an ambitious jump from his previous works. It’s just a shame they couldn’t grab Vice CEO Shane Smith for the proper introduction. It just doesn’t feel the same without his Canadian tenor, y’know? Regardless, consider this a proper nightcap after Adam Wingard’s The Guest. I did.