After establishing himself as a distinctive horror filmmaker with hits like The Guest and You're Next, Adam Wingard has taken on a classic.
Blair Witch is a 17-years-later sequel to 1999's sleeper hit The Blair Witch Project, which launched the found-footage craze. Wingard was approached to make the sequel back in 2013 and immediately thought it was something worth taking on. "Found footage has really gone through so many different facets over the years," he says. "It felt like it was time to return to what originally started it all. There were all these lesser found-footage horror films coming out that were doing well at the box office, but that everybody just seemed to kind of hate, honestly."
He credits much of the success of the original film to its marketing. "You can call it a gimmick or whatever, but it was so brilliantly conceived as this real event that happened," he says. "The movie itself you can't mention without talking about its marketing. So in the back of our heads, we knew we had to do something interesting and unique, and it just sort of fell into our laps. The idea of keeping this thing secret all this time, at a certain point it dawned on us that this was our marketing gimmick."
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With 26 short segments, it's expected that this horror anthology will be hit and miss. But the experiment is an intriguing one, as the producers gave 26 filmmakers a letter of the alphabet and complete artistic freedom. The result is a mix of clever invention, pointless silliness, head-scratching indulgence and blatant misfires. Oddly, while all of them indeed deal with death, only a couple are actually creepy.
From Nacho Vigalondo's Apocalypse to Yoshihiro Nishimura's Zetsumetsu, these films are packed with black humour and grisly violence. Some are produced to a very high standard, while others look like cheesy school projects. Highlights include the mind-bendingly clever Cycle (by Chile's Ernesto Diaz Espinoza), about a guy caught in a freaky time-loop, and XXL (from France's Xavier Gens), a rather revolting commentary on super-thin models. Other viciously inventive clips include Marcel Sarmiento Dogfight, set in a deranged fight club underworld, Jorge Michel Grau's Psycho-inspired Ingrown and Ben Wheatley's Unearthed, which offers a frenetic new perspective on the vampire genre. All of these add some social relevance to their brief scenes of nastiness.
Most shorts weave comedy into the grisliness, such as the Thai short Nuptials (by Banjong Pisathanakun), which takes an amusingly awful turn. Others are more gimmicky: Exterminate (by Angela Bettis) is a witty attempt to kill a spider, while the very brief Miscarriage (by Ti West) ends on a particularly yucky gag. And some are just wrong in every way: Libido (by Indonesia's Timo Tjahjanto) is the most repulsive game show you've ever seen; Hydro-Electric Diffusion (by Norway's Thomas Cappelen Malling) features a Nazi cat tormenting an Allied dog; and Fart (by Japan's Noburu Iguchi) is an indescribably outrageous tale of apocalyptic survival.
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A mixed bag of found-footage horror shorts, this anthology gives rising star filmmakers a chance to do something original with the genre. Of course, some of the clips are much more effective than others, and some are little more than gimmicky jokes. But each one shows a hint of originality, and some of them are genuinely terrifying.
There are five segments here, as well as a framing story that connects them all through a stack of VHS tapes in an extremely creepy house. The oddly moralistic "Amateur Night" follows three guys (Sawyer, Donlan and Sykes) who set out to make a porn film but get much more than they bargained for. The strongest film, with by far the most developed characters, is "Second Honeymoon", which follows a couple (Swanberg and Takal) on a holiday to the Grand Canyon, where they are stalked by a sinister intruder (Sheil).
Less interesting, "Tuesday the 17th" is a sexist, cliched short about a group of teens who have a supernatural video-glitch encounter with a massacre that happened in the woods. "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger" is a seriously freaky Skype conversation during which Emily (Rogers) worries about her past while her boyfriend (Kaufman) tries to calm her down. And in the most visually accomplished film, "10/31/98", four young guys go in search of a Halloween party but stumble into a horrifying haunted house.
Continue reading: V/H/S Review
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