DID YOU READ

“V/H/S” – First impressions of Sundance’s scariest film

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By Jordan Hoffman

What’s scarier: ethereal creatures lurking in your bedroom at night or the thought of sitting through another “found footage” horror film? The cabal of independent filmmakers behind “V/H/S,” which tore the roof off of Sundance’s Library theater at its midnight debut, might have trouble answering that one. And like all good artists, they’ve confronted their fear.

“V/H/S” elevates itself from recent gimmick films like “Apollo 18” and “The Devil Inside” in a few ways. First the the framing device. “V/H/S” is presented as a peek at a tape a group of criminal friends made when out assaulting women and destroying stuff. (The tape itself is actually dubbed over one of the guys’ personal love connection home movies, which winks in and out in a nice recurring gag.) One of their misdemeanor deeds is to break in somewhere and “find a special tape,” which now affords the story an opportunity to check out, essentially, five short films.

Each of these tales is shot by a new director. The formats range from recorded Skype chats, a camera specifically of 1998 quality and a spy cam that attaches to a pair of fake glasses. While there is no real narrative connection between the stories, there is a thematic one, which is one of voyeurism, power, deception and murder.

A quick rundown: first is David Bruckner, director of “The Signal,” and a film about three douchey guys who use the aforementioned glasses-cam to scope out women. They pick up two girls at a bar and head back to the motel, but it is clear that one of them (the one who keeps staring directly at the camera in a REALLY CREEPY WAY) is a bit off. It is sexy, scary and solid.

Next, Ti West (“The Innkeepers”) takes us on a young couple’s trip to the Grand Canyon and a motel with the world’s worst security system. This one features one of the most innovative takes on the pan-across-the-room-and-reveal-something-unexpected jump scares in a while. Ya see, this time, it isn’t what is revealed in the frame, but the realization of who is holding the camera.

This is followed by Glenn McQuaid’s (director of “I Sell The Dead”) very stylized teen trip to the woods and a creature that comes to life through the very glitchy medium of video itself.

Joe Swanberg’s (the Grand Mufti of Mumblecore) entry is a scary-as-hell collection of Skype conversation between a frightened college student hearing bumps in the night and her medical school boyfriend. There are some outstanding moments of tension that exploit the video chat format in really unique ways.

The movie concludes with an entry from the new film collective named Radio Silence which takes V/H/S to levels of pure WTF in a haunted house tweak on Ti West’s “House of the Devil.” The framing device from Adam Wingard (director of the yet-to-be-released masterpiece “You’re Next”) lacks some of the jump scare oomph, but is something of the silent hero establishing the dastardly aesthetic of the overall piece.

This is a patch quilt of filmmaking by people who know how to scare the everloving snot out of you. The restrictions of keeping it short and handheld was just what they needed to get the creative juices flowing.

I don’t want to oversell this, though. This is not a landmark cinematic breakthrough – but it IS a really fun midnight movie. The stories are incredibly simple, there may be a tad too much boob-leering for good taste and few of the characters are given much depth, but as an exercise in tension, it can’t be beat.

As for the reaction, well, the place went ballistic. I do not believe in spirits, but at one extremely tense point I was compelled not to look at the screen, but at some of my colleagues to the left. I saw
three quite established veteran film writers with long histories with genre films with a look of absolute dread on their faces. One literally had his knuckles in his mouth. If that isn’t a recommendation to see this flick in the theaters I don’t know what is

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Grow TFU

Adulting Like You Mean It

Commuters makes its debut on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Jared Warner, Nick Ciavarella, and Tim Dean were once a part of Murderfist, a group of comedy writers, actors, producers, parents, and reluctant adults. Together with InstaMiniSeries’s Nikki Borges, they’re making their IFC Comedy Crib debut with the refreshingly-honest and joyfully-hilarious Commuters. The webseries follows thirtysomethings Harris and Olivia as they brave the waters of true adulthood, and it’s right on point.

Jared, Nick, Nikki and Tim were kind enough to answer a few questions about Commuters for us. Here’s a snippet of that conversation…

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IFC: How would you describe Commuters to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Nick: Two 30-somethings leave the Brooklyn life behind, and move to the New Jersey suburbs in a forced attempt to “grow up.” But they soon find out they’ve got a long way to go to get to where they want to be.

IFC: How would you describe Commuters to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jared: It’s a show about how f*cking stupid people who think they are smart can be.

IFC: What’s your origin story? When did you all meet and how long have you been working together?

Jared: Nick, Tim, and I were all in the sketch group Murderfist since, what, like 2004? God. Anyway, Tim and Nick left the group to pursue other frivolous things, like children and careers, but we all enjoyed writing together and kept at it. We were always more interested in storytelling than sketch comedy lends itself to, which led to our webseries Jared Posts A Personal. That was a show about being in your 20s and embracing the chaos of being young in the city. Commuters is the counterpoint, i guess. Our director Adam worked at Borders (~THE PAST!!~) with Tim, came out to a Murderfist show once, and we’ve kept him imprisoned ever since.

IFC: What was the genesis of Commuters?

Tim: Jared had an idea for a series about the more realistic, less romantic aspects of being in a serious relationship.  I moved out of the city to the suburbs and Nick got engaged out in LA.   We sort of combined all of those facets and Commuters was the end result.

IFC: How would Harris describe Olivia?

Jared: Olivia is the smartest, coolest, hottest person in the world, and Harris can’t believe he gets to be with her, even though she does overreact to everything and has no chill. Like seriously, ease up. It doesn’t always have to be ‘a thing.’

IFC: How would Olivia describe Harris?

Nikki:  Harris is smart, confident with a dry sense of humor but he’s also kind of a major chicken shit…. Kind of like if Han Solo and Barney Rubble had a baby.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Nikki:  I think this is the most accurate portrayal of what a modern relationship looks like. Expectations for what your life is ‘supposed to look like’ are confusing and often a let down but when you’re married to your best friend, it’s going to be ok because you will always find a way to make each other laugh.

IFC: Is the exciting life of NYC twentysomethings a sweet dream from which we all must awake, or is it a nightmare that we don’t realize is happening until it’s over?

Tim: Now that i’ve spent time living in the suburbs, helping to raise a two year old, y’all city folk have no fucking clue how great you’ve got it.

Nikki: I think of it similar to how I think about college. There’s a time and age for it to be glorious but no one wants to hang out with that 7th year senior. Luckily, NYC is so multifaceted that you can still have an exciting life here but it doesn’t have to be just what the twentysomethings are doing (thank god).

Jared: New York City is a garbage fire.

See the whole season of Commuters right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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C'mon Fellas

A Man Mansplains To Men

Why Baroness von Sketch Show is a must-see.

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Mansplaining is when a man takes it upon himself to explain something to a woman that she already knows. It happens a lot, but it’s not going to happen here. Ladies, go ahead and skip to the end of this post to watch a free episode of IFC’s latest addition, Baroness von Sketch Show.

However, if you’re a man, you might actually benefit from a good mansplanation. So take a knee, lean in, and absorb the following wisdom.

No Dicks

Baroness von Sketch Show is made entirely by women, therefore this show isn’t focused on men. Can you believe it? I know what you’re thinking: how will we know when to laugh if the jokes aren’t viewed through the dusty lens of the patriarchy? Where are the thinly veiled penis jokes? Am I a bad person? In order: you will, nowhere, and yes.

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Huge Balls

Did you know that there’s more to life than poop jokes, sex jokes, body part jokes? I mean, those things are all really good things, natch, and totally edgy. But Baroness von Sketch Show does something even edgier. It holds up a brutal funhouse mirror to our everyday life. This is a bulls**t world we made, fellas.

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Oh Canada

After you watch the Canadian powerhouses of Baroness von Sketch Show and think to yourself “Dear god, this is so real” and “I’ve gotta talk about this,” do yourself a favor and think a-boot your options: Refrain from sharing your sage wisdom with any woman anywhere (believe us, she gets it). Instead, tell a fellow bro and get the mansplaining out of your system while also spreading the word about a great show.

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Dudes, that’s the deal.
Women, start reading again here:


Check out the preview episode of Baroness von Sketch Show and watch the series premiere August 2 on IFC.

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Happy Tears

Binge Don’t Cringe

Catch up on episodes of Documentary Now! and Portlandia.

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Photo Credit: GIFs via GIPHY

A brain can only take so much.

Every five minutes, all day, every day, ludicrously stressful headlines push our mental limits as we struggle to adapt to a reality that seems increasingly less real. What’s a mind to do when simple denial just isn’t good enough anymore?

Radical suggestion: repeal and replace. And by that we mean take all the bad news that keeps you up at night, press pause, and substitute it with some genuine (not nervous, for a change) laughter. Here are some of the issues on our mind.

Gender Inequality

Feminist bookstore owners by day, still feminist bookstore owners by night, Toni and Candace show the male gaze who’s boss. Learn about their origin story (SPOILER: there’s an epic dance battle) and see what happens when their own brand of empowerment gets out of hand.

Healthcare

From Candace’s heart attack to the rise of the rawvolution, this Portlandia episode proves that healthcare is vital.

Peaceful Protests

Too many online petitions, too little time? Get WOKE with Fred and Carrie when they learn how to protest.

What Could Have Been

Can’t say the name “Clinton” without bursting into tears? Documentary Now!’s masterfully political “The Bunker” sheds a cozy new light on the house that Bill and Hill built. Just pretend you don’t know how the story really ends.

Fake News

A healthy way to break the high-drama news cycle is to switch over to “Dronez”, which has all the thrills of ubiquitous adventure journalism without any of the customary depression.

The more you watch, the better you feel. So get started on past episodes of Documentary Now! and Portlandia right now at IFC.com and the IFC app.

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