The Sacrament

Director: Ti West (2014)
Starring: AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Gene Jones
Find it: IMDB

I feel as though I like the idea of Ti West more than I do any film the man has ever actually made. Starting his career with the underwhelming House of the Devil and a dud sequel to Cabin Fever, West has done nothing but disappoint this humble horrorhound. Sure, his films are pretty and steeped in love for the genre, but too often they lack a personality of their own - being too beholden to the past and the artifice of horror cinema. In theory, I should adore his filmography. In reality, I am left indifferent to it.

West returns with The Sacrament, a faux-documentary which sees a two-man documentary crew (of real-life team VICE) investigate the initiation of a man's sister into a mysterious cult. Travelling to the camp in an unnamed, very rural country, the three men quickly set about snooping. At first, everything seems idyllic; missing Caroline (Amy Seimetz) is happy and well, the villagers cheerful and friendly. Granted an interview with head honcho 'Father' (a magnetic Gene Jones) the guys are left almost convinced that everything is as Father would have it appear. Almost.

Predictably, affairs take a turn for the worse when a local girl comes begging to the guys for help. From there, a series of massive overreactions leads to exactly the sort of thing one has been expecting all along. Clearly taking its inspiration from the real-life Jonestown Massacre, the ensuing events are not difficult to predict, even if West wholly fails to make any of it feel plausible or justified by the situation and characters. His actors take up much of the slack - most notably Jones, a cross between John Goodman and Michael Parks in Red State. His smooth charisma makes it a little easier to believe that the events of The Sacrament could actually somehow happen. I mean, they really did, in Jonestown, but West isn't good enough to harness that in his storytelling.

The Sacrament is a compelling, oddly watchable toy documentary, made more valuable for its performances and visual flair. It's undeniably overhyped, but it bears investigation, nevertheless. 

Willow Creek

DirectorBobcat Goldthwait (2013)
StarringBryce Johnson, Alexie Gilmore
Find itIMDB

Searching for Bigfoot, an amateur documentary maker and his girlfriend travel to Sasquatch territory, hoping to find evidence of his existence. What they find instead is a host of kooky locals, a tasty-looking burger and all-too-real terror in the woods. It's The Blair Witch Project, but with Bigfoot. Maybe.

While not being massively aware of Bobcat Goldthwait beyond Police Academy (I'm probably too English), I had enjoyed his flawed but entertaining serial killer satire God Bless AmericaHe returns as director with Willow Creek, a found footage style horror film, played straight, for the most part. Buzz for the film had been good, leading me to expect something along the lines of Troll Hunter or VHS: that is, found footage that doesn't make me want to poke my own eyes out with Bigfoot-trodden branches. Alas, I found myself disappointed yet again.

Once more, we're left with a horror film which takes forever to get going and then spends the rest of its time either running around in the pitch darkness or cowering in a tent. Then there's a burst of action five minutes before the 'surprise' ending and why the fuck are they still filming this. It's virtually identical to The Lost Coast Tapes (not that I remember The Lost Coast Tapes) but will do much better thanks to its bigger-name director and nifty camerawork (one lingering static shot is particularly effective). While not bad, Willow Creek resembles at least fifteen other horror films I've seen in the last five years - almost as though Goldthwait wrote the script on tracing paper.

Reading reviews after having watched it, I gradually began to feel out-of-touch, cynical and like I was missing out on something. I feel like I watched a different film to those who raved about Willow Creek, saying things like "move over Godzilla" or "proves that there's life in found footage horror yet". Its climactic scene in the tent is very good and Alexie Gilmore has a wonderfully expressive face for horror films, but I saw nothing else that set Willow Creek apart from the rest. The song which plays over the end credits is the best thing about it.

Willow Creek is a disappointing misstep in an interesting and original directorial career from one of indie cinema's more exciting voices. Thankfully, enough people think that this film is groundbreaking, scary and good that Goldthwait should emerge from it completely unscathed.

Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide Part 2 - Draconian Days

Director: Jake West (2014)
Starring: Lots of Talking Heads.
Find it: IMDB

A second instalment of Jake West's video nasty documentary, detailing the plight of horror fans and the movies they loved during the 1980s. Where Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape gave a good overall look at the furore, Draconian Days goes a little more in-depth, exploring the finer details of censorship and the various agencies responsible. And, like the first film, I got angry just watching it, so there's that too.

Draconian Days is a fair representation of why I don't read British tabloid newspapers. There are other reasons (Hillsborough lies, casual racism, telephone hacking scandals, casual misogyny and terrible writing being but a few) but, by and large, the newspapers' coverage of 'video nasties' in the 1980s is more or less representative of how the British right-wing press covers everything; with a web of fabrication, exaggeration, moral panic and loud outrage. That said, your mileage may vary, depending on how much you enjoy Page Three and cheap holidays.

Which isn't to say that horror at the time was doing itself too many favours. Lurid cover art, vivid titles and scenes of extreme violence did little to sway public opinion to the positive, giving such figures as Mary Whitehouse and the censors plenty of ammunition when it came to getting the things banned. Ex-head of the BBFC James Ferman is the film's antagonist focus - a complicated fellow who may have had his heart in the right place but fudged it through elitism and being out of touch (famously worrying about the effect a film like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre might have on the lower classes). Even he thought that the Child's Play/James Bulger connection was bullshit though - so he can't have been all bad.
Tip: Your Scum newspaper will probably burn easier.

For those unaware of this period in British history, Draconian Days should make for fascinating viewing. It's not quite as lively as its predecessors - and there's less star-power to its collection of talking heads - but it is well made, informative and passionate about its cause. Above all, it serves as a reminder of how dangerous moral panic and scapegoating can be. "Yo Joel," nobody asks me. "You watch all this horror shit, but what actually scares you?" Honestly? Nothing scares me as much as the mob mentality; that state of braindead zombification served up by those who would have us stop thinking, blindly idolise our military and live in constant terror of paedophiles and Muslims. Shut up, eat your free mince pie and look at the tits.

The tits.

For the sake of ALL our kids.... burn your tabloid newspaper today.

Godzilla (2014)

Director: Gareth Edwards (2014)
Starring: Godzilla, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston
Find it: IMDB

Thankfully, Matthew Broderick takes the day off for this Bueller-free reboot of the giant lizard creature feature. You can see the studio hive mind at work in everything about Godzilla 2014 - a film which very noticeably does everything it can to distance itself from its notoriously shitty predecessor. Respected genre director Garth Edwards (of not-bad found footage Monsters acclaim) takes the helm, being about as far away from Roland Emmerich as one could get (short of hiring, say, Lars von Trier instead). In place of Broderick, they've gone with an actual good actor instead, and brought in Brian Cranston - because you don't get much more respectable than Breaking Bad these days.

Surprisingly, they didn't go with Aaron Paul as Cranston's onscreen son (Godzilla, bitch!), instead opting for Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the hero. Kick-ass? Sadly not. Alas, he's the film's weakest link, sticking out like a sore thumb among the likes of Cranston, Ken Watanabe and Elizabeth Olsen. Still, it's not as though Cranston is firing on full cylinders here either; continuing to disappoint in roles that aren't Walter White or Malcolm in the Middle's dad. The fact is, the actors and actresses are just set dressing, biding time until Godzilla and friends turn up.

Which they do, in a surprisingly convoluted manner. Eschewing 1998's simple Godzilla-on-the-rampage story, Edwards's version seems more inspired by Pacific Rim and older, traditional Godzilla movies - instead pitting 'zilla against a species of other giant monsters. Some will be disappointed by the film's lack of destruction and Godzilla trashing shit, but for everyone else, there's a genuinely interesting story and plenty of beast-on-beast action.

What's really surprising is that Godzilla isn't ashamed of its own B-Movie ancestry. I had assumed that this reboot would be the sort of film that never namedrops its own star ("the 'S' stands for hope") and instead strives for gritty post-Nolan realism in everything it does. Thankfully, this isn't the case (evidenced in its fun opening credits sequence) and Godzilla proves to be every bit as daft as it should be. If anything, Ken Watanabe says "Godzilla" too much for his own good.


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