Posts Tagged ‘The Vicious Brothers’

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Having been somewhat impressed by the Grave Encounters films (considerably moreso with the first than the second) that were the brainchild of the so-called Vicious Brothers (co-writer Stuart Ortiz and co-writer /director Colin Minihan), I was reasonably stoked to give their latest effort, 2014’s Extraterrestrial, a go when I saw it in the Netflix streaming queue, and while the bog-standard premise of five teens in a remote cabin set upon by evil (or at least amoral and pathologically curious) aliens seemed more than a tad on the unimaginative side, the fact of the matter is that there’s nothing terribly original about the “found footage” paranormal investigation trope, either, and yet our intrepid pair of not-really-siblings had managed to do something pretty good with that. Why not err on the side of optimism, then, when going into this one?

I guess I’ve more or less given away the basic plot schematics already, and in truth there really isn’t much more to it than the less-than-a-sentence-long summation already provided, but for those who need a bit more of a precise run-down, an annoying group of late-teens (or maybe they’re early-twentysomethings, it’s kinda hard to tell) are headed to the back country hills to scope out the remnants of the place where one of them used to spend their summers when their typically boorish and asinine behavior attracts the much-deserved attention of local sheriff Murphy (played by Gill Bellows, veteran of the most annoying and offensive television series in history, Ally McBeal). They’re let off with a warning, get to the ramshackle old hovel, and in due course quickly find out that their nearest “neighbor,” Travis (the always-great Michael Ironside) is an anti-government, conspiracy-obsessed crackpot who just so happens to be the local pot king. The kids score some of his wares, return to the cabin, get fucked up, and then a flying saucer crashes. They check it out, return from the scene reasonably unscathed, and then find themselves assaulted by the usual array of bright lights, loud noises no one else (man or animal) in the forest can hear, shaking walls and floors — you get the idea. Eventually, Scotty beams ’em up and they’re all pretty well doomed. Cue skinny little grey-skinned freaks with big black bugged-out eyes that don’t close, slimy cocoon enclosures and, of course, the requisite anal probes (what is it with aliens and buttholes, anyway?).

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We’ve already established that one knows going in that this is all destined to be fairly standard stuff, but just how standard only becomes depressingly clear as events progress. At some point our attention and supposed sympathies are directed towards April (Brittany Allen) and Kyle (Freddie Stroma) as the ostensible “heroes” of the story because, hey, they’re good kids who really do, apparently, love each other, and wouldn’t ya just know that in the end, that love is what saves them from the same grisly fate as their shit-head friends, as the aliens decide to drop ’em back off on solid ground and head back to Zeta Reticuli or wherever. Love really does conquer all, it would seem — even when there’s no real reason (earthly or otherwise) for it to do so.

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As you’ve no doubt surmised by now, there’s all kinds of shit wrong with this movie (and we haven’t even gotten into the gaping plot holes since that would just feel like “piling on”), but chief among them is how listlessly formulaic the entire script is. That didn’t hurt the Grave Encounters “franchise” any, true, but here Los Bros. Vicious can’t seem to find any interesting new wrinkle in their premise and/or the vision to tackle the “same old, same old” with enough panache to elevate the material above its own well-worn genre trappings as they did there. In short, they just don’t seem as “into” their jobs as they had been previously, and while I’m certainly no believer in the “trickle-down” theory when it comes to economics, their thoroughly uninspired approach seems to have infected most of the cast here, as well (with the notable exception of Ironside, as you’d expect), who all seem to be just barely going through the motions on the way to collecting their no-doubt-small paychecks.

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Maybe Minihan and Ortiz should just stick with “found footage,” since they seem to have much more of an affinity with it — in fact, one of the chief stylistic flaws with Extraterrestrial is that is desperately feels like it should be shot on a hand-held “shaky cam,” but was lensed conventionally simply because the low-budget auteurs behind it wanted to prove they weren’t one-trick ponies. Here’s the thing, though — when you have a balsam-wood-thin script and shit actors, the whole “mockumentary” shtick can go a long way towards obfuscating those problems, and sometimes even succeeds in covering them up entirely. When you play it straight, well — no such luck, I’m afraid.

The Vicious Brothers have succeeded in the past by making films that were considerably better than they probably had any right to be. Unfortunately, Extraterrestrial bucks that trend and is, if anything, even worse than I’ve made it out to be. I’m thinking the aliens just split because they really couldn’t find any intelligent life down here.

 

 

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I was warned — in fact, I was warmed by more than one person.

After posting a generally positive review of 2011’s Grave Encounters the other day, a few folks whose film opinions I generally respect cautioned me via facebook and twitter to avoid the 2012 sequel like the plague, and I sincerely thank then for doing so — even if, as you’ve no doubt already figured out, I didn’t listen.

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Should I have? Well, that’s a question I’m still trying to answer, so I’ll give a rather noncommittal “yes and no” response at this point. Yes because there’s no doubt that Grave Encounters 2 just isn’t a very good movie. No because, as a case study in how to completely fuck up a nifty premise, it’s actually rather interesting.

I guess a statement like that deserves an explanation of some sort, so here goes — ripping a page from Tox Six’s playbook for his Human Centipede sequel, The Vicious Brothers (nee Stuart Ortiz and Colin Minihan, who wrote the screenplay this time out but passed the directorial reins over to John Poliquin) have opted for the “metafilm” angle here, starting the flick out with actual snippets of YouTube reviews for the first Grave Encounters before introducing us to the fictitious Alex Wright (Richard Harmon), both a wannabe- critic and wannabe-filmmaker who didn’t care for Ortiz and Minihan’s “found footage” horror number too much but has become strangely obsessed with it regardless.

I kinda feel bad for Harmon since, within the first five minutes of “meeting” his character we see him jerking off, dressing in drag, and puking — but hey, college kids are crazy, right? In any case, thanks to some rather dubious”research,” he’s become convinced that Grave Encounters was the real deal, and flies cross-country to Tinseltown to meet the show/movie’s producer, Jerry Hartfield (Ben Wilkinson), who spills the beans that, hey, the junior sleuth is probably onto something. A visit with the supposed mother of the film’s lead actor, Sean Rogerson, only confirms his suspicions, and in fairly short order he’s off to Vancouver with his girlfriend, Jennifer Parker (Leanne Lapp) and fellow film students Trevor Thompson (Dylan Playfair) , Tessa Hammill (Stephanie Bennett), and Jared Lee (Howie Lai) to investigate the unnamed facility that doubled as the haunted Collingwood Psychiatric Institute the first time around (“off to” being a relative term here given that Playfair’s thick Canadian accent is a dead giveaway that this entire production was made in the Great White North).

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That’s when things get both boring and, soon enough, stupid. We’re given a fairly steady dose of the exact same shit that happened in the first film for some time before being hit with the major revelation that somebody we thought was dead is actually alive and still trapped in the joynt, which is actually a kind of mystical netherworld that co-exists in both the material and spiritual planes at the same time. This development not only cheapens the impact the first flick had, but also saddles down the second with a horrifically OTT performance by someone who did fairly solid work last time while simultaneously undercutting the “found footage” element because Poliquin has to resort to standard filming techniques in order to make this individual’s presence fit in with the story. Or maybe he just gets lazy and doesn’t figure you’re paying all that much attention by this point, anyway.

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The end result is a total mess that can’t decide what it wants to be — standard “mockumentary” fare, limp horror/comedy hybrid, or homage to other (and better) flicks — notice, for instance,  that the photo above is a direct thieving from both REC and its Americanized remake, Quarantine. This movie simply ran out of ideas at about the 30 minute mark, but kept going for 90-plus, anyway.

Still, I can’t say I shouldn’t have seen it — even if , by any rational standard, I shouldn’t have. Why?  Because Grave Encounters 2 is the definitive textbook example of how to make not just a lame sequel, but one so bad that it causes the original to lose a fair amount of its luster, as well. That’s definitely an accomplishment — just not a good one.

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Maybe I’m an eternal optimist, or maybe I’m just stubborn, but the idea of a “found footage” horror flick set in abandoned mental hospital that was notorious for its brutal methods of “therapy” is something I found too —- what’s the word I’m looking for here, appealing? — for me to just give up on no matter how badly Sean Stone’s Greystone Park (which we reviewed here the other day as part of our “Netflix Halloween” series) sucked. And frankly, it sucked in more ways than I can count. It sucked so bad, in fact, that I probably shouldn’t have bothered when I noticed that elsewhere in the Netflix instant streaming queue right now is a little indie number from 2011 called Grave Encounters that has more or less exactly the same premise, and it seems reasonable enough to assume that  I could could especially be forgiven for giving this one a pass given that it was written and directed by a pseudonymous gestalt entity that goes by the ultra-lame handle of The Vicious Brothers (in reality Stuart Ortiz and Colin Minihan). Still,  I think you know where I’m headed here —

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Yup, I watched it anyway. Why? Well, as I said, I find the basic premise to be at the very least intriguing, and hey, this one came out first, beating Greystone Park to the punch by a full year. A quick glance at the IMDB also showed it to have received at least a handful of good reviews by armchair critics/contributors to that site who I generally find myself in agreement with, so — what the hell, right? Why not give it a go?

Right off the bat, Grave Encounters has a bit more personality than Stone’s celluloid abortion, as we’re introduced to “reality” TV mogul Jerry Hartfield (Ben Wilkinson), who informs us that the film we’re about to see is “assembled from  raw footage” captured on camera by the crew of a supposedly-ahead-of-its-time paranormal “ghost hunter” show called — you guessed it — Grave Encounters , and that said individuals have  dropped off the face of the Earth after paying a visit to the sprawling grounds of a multi-building facility formerly known as the Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital. Cliched, sure, but a decent enough introduction to the proceedings.

Next up we meet the principal players themselves, host Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson), camera operators T.C. Gibson (Merwin Mondesir) and Sasha Parker (Ashleigh Gryzko), tech and sound guy Matt White (Juan Riedinger) and, a short while later, “famed psychic” Houston Gray (Mackenzie Gray). The Vicious Brothers waste little time in exposing the fact that the show is — as all of things are, sorry to burst your bubble — a complete fraud, with Preston and Gray, especially, being nothing but jive Hollywood phonies, but  tonight is the night when — after locking themselves into the facility — all that paranormal shit they’re supposedly going after but never actually find comes back to bite them all in the asses with a vengeance. Their show may not be real, but shit’s about to get real anyway.

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What follows isn’t necessarily the greatest horror movie you’ve ever seen — or even the greatest “found footage” horror movie you’ve ever seen — but Ortiz and Minihan go about their task with a clearly visible degree of style and know-how, and are helped along the way by reasonably strong performances from their cast, a genuinely creepy location, and a solid script that keeps upping the ante as things progress. No, it’s nothing super extraordinary by any means, but it’s at least competent, and provides a few genuine chills along the way as we venture fairly firmly into Twilight Zone territory with time getting screwed up, corridors that lead nowhere, walled-off exits, etc. Oh, yeah — there are ghosts, too, and they’re plenty vicious and actually even kinda scary.

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So, hey, guess I was right after all — the idea of a horror “mockumentary” set in an old lunatic asylum isn’t such a bad one, if the right people are both behind and in front of the camera, and I’m obviously not alone in that opinion given that Grave Encounters spawned a sequel just over a year later that is — surprise! — also available on Netflx, as well, so ya know what? I think I’ll give that one a whirl this evening, and  unless it’s a complete cluster-fuck disaster — or maybe even if it is —ten to one you already know what the next movie I’ll be reviewing here is going to be.