“V/H/S” … It Could’ve Been Better

Sorry I’ve been away for a bit. A few posts back I think I mentioned that I have night terrors on occasion and am regularly plagued by nightmares; turns out this week was time for the cycle to come round again. If I can, one that is now apparently recurring has a horrible…thing…I want to sketch out and share with you fine folk. (But I don’t know, I’m kind of superstitious about bringing it into my waking life.)

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Moving on! If you’re on the streaming ‘flix plan, then you may notice that last year’s V/H/S is now available to view at our leisure. It’s a title that I researched and was looking forward to running across. (If I haven’t said it before now, it bears mentioning that I am a broke-ass woman, so I really have to choose which titles to buy. That’s why I’m so dreadfully all over the map.)

This American horror anthology isn’t bad, I mean, it’s not terrible, but my overall reaction is underwhelmed. [Maybe my dreamlife lately is skewing perception, who knows?] With six cinema verite shorts by six different directors, it was risky business from the start. Several reviews agreed that the works as a whole were “unbalanced”, but I didn’t think so. They all obviously catered to different tropes of our beloved sub-genres and–weighed against each other–held ground equally.

The framing short (indeed NOT a wrap-around; it essentially ends before the last short and is remixed for the credits) is “Tape 56” directed by Adam Wingard. He plays “Brad” in this short, by the by. Of all the stories, this one really unsettled me. So much so that thinking back on many reviews that glossed it over, dismissing it as a brief device of some “hooligans” kind of pisses me off. Alone, or as a feature length, it would have leaned toward the disgusting nihilism of films like The Snowtown Murders. But without the possibility of any likable protagonists. Within the first minute and a half, this group of four degenerate fucks (uh, yup!) are sexually assaulting (again, word choice accurate) a young woman by accosting her and her boyfriend and forcibly exposing her breasts so that they can film it.

[Listen real quick: the types of people who comment on videos made by women on literally any subject but the sexiness of said woman by leaving a comment hollering “tits or gtfo” or “show me your tits” are one virtually verbal step away from this kind of humiliating action. Cut that shit out. It’s not a compliment (and you damn well know it), it’s not on topic, it’s not even a smidgen respectful, and other people are disgusted by it too. Yeah, I know Cracked did a video on it. This is my tie in. Good day to you.]

Anyway, our destructive gang of scumbums wants to make mo’ money by being even more deplorable, so they take a “job” to get a specific tape from some guy’s house. When they show up, sorpresa! Here there be many video tapes and a dead guy. Unaware that karma is a bitch, they split up to root around the house, leaving one alone in the t.v. room to launch into the other shorts.

“Amateur Night” (David Bruckner) was pretty cool, in the way that I think all girls-as-monsters are pretty cool. The set-up was stale and the three main fellows came off wa-a-ay too archetypal as the drunken party doodz with one shy, virginal pal. But props to character Patrick, who drunkenly manages to deter his coked up buddy Shane not to bang a girl who has passed out. Because that’s a gross thing to do. Patrick also proves to be hella resourceful even in the nude. The effects were decent and the acting by Hannah Fierman (Lily the lady monster) was A-Okay.

We are then briefly back to the Awful Boyz Club to find out that Brad kind of disappeared, that there are many tapes in the basement, and also what seems to be a Quarantine-esque creepy old man. Inevitably, another idiot is left alone with the body and the tapes, so on we get.

“Second Honeymoon” (Ti West) started off well but didn’t end to my expectations. The couple–Sam and Stephanie–were very realistic in dialogue and this was the most convincing contrivance for “found footage”. The twist was genuinely surprising, but wasn’t very good. The up-close shot of the “switchblade popping open” in the dark was silly, and I just kept thinking how the hell did that girl even get in the room?! I saw the door get locked. I SAW IT. And I streamed back to see it again. So plot hole there, unless it was so subtle I missed it twice. All in all, I’d like to see more of these two actors.

Sigh, and we’re back to the Fool Squad. And the second guy is now gone. And the body seems to be gone. But don’t worry, it’s back being dead next time we see this room. Oh, another tape, for me?

“Tuesday the 17th” (Glenn McQuaid) I’m not even a big fan of slasher films, but this was a tie for favorite out of the six shorts. It was witty (being freaked out on drugs = now forever known as “The Fear”), cut to the chase with no fuss, was self-referential (“Why can’t I FILM YOU?!”) but was also dedicated to the storyline. Essentially, this is a short about the most balls-out PTSD anyone can imagine, and I dug it.

Hey, dead guy’s back! So’s the guy who tried to trick his girlfriend into having sex on tape! Was wondering when he’d get his chance to disappear.

“The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” (Joe Swanberg) The title is long and sort of sums up this short, I suppose. Many reviewers counted this as their favorite in story, film device, and scares so I was looking forward to it; unfortunately, this was my least favorite of the group. I didn’t buy the acting from Daniel Kaufman as James, either before or after I knew the reveal. Helen Rogers as Emily, however, was a delight. If the haunting angle had been played out as firmly as it framed the first few frights, this would have been a good one, but the twist only showed me the budget of the makeup department, an expository “dialogue” of the truth(?), and honestly cheapened the short as a whole. However, I think if this was a feature-length that had more time for nuance and character development, it would be much more promising.

Alright, mustache “hooligan” Gary, you feel up to getting killed? …yes. Okay, good. Onto the final film, which had an extended ending in the home release that sounds as thought it would tie the whole bundle up really nicely but is NOT part of the Netflix version.

“10/31/98” (Radio Silence) is the other half of the tie for favorite here. It had the only group of men (Sam doesn’t count) who were, like, just regular dudes with balanced silliness and ethical behavior. It also had the coolest effects (though somewhat spoiled for me because I saw this video on the YouTubes before catching this anthology.) I feel a little dense that I didn’t realize the situation in the attic was an exorcism (methinks it was a sacrifice) and if I hadn’t had the subtitles on, the volume would have been way too cranked, but overall I think this short was a great end.

That’s it, basically. The credits, as I mentioned, are a remix of the Original Douches exploits, and I had to turn them off. I wish this could have been more, BUT you guys, I’m happy that this kind of collaboration could happen and realistically work where it has fallen apart with egos and tropes before (here’s looking at you, ABC’s of Death.)

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Tomb Raider Controversy [Part 2 of 3]

Lara Croft & Rape Culture: Some Thoughts

Even limited to this scope, it’s hard to find a place to worm into this subject. It’s worth noting that there is a pervasive and widely (but not entirely) undisputed belief that game companies create and market to a perceived majority of males, all of whom are engaged with nothing but violence and carnality. It’s under that stereotype that debates over Tomb Raider‘s “rape scene” operated: staggering comments in the forums from male gamers openly anticipating the chance to watch Lara Croft be raped vs. wild criticism from feminist activists denouncing any inclusion of sexual assault or rape in story line as solely a vehicle of female degradation.

I am beyond disgusted with the former sentiments (in a perfect world, their shame would be vast,) but I don’t think I need to speak to them because the latter views are the ones that hit home to me as missing a huge point to be made by someone within their own ranks.

The Actual Gameplay?

Since the game is still in pre-order stages, most of us haven’t actually been able to play it. But let it be known that there is NOT an on-screen rape heading our way, regardless of whether or not we play through the quoted quick time event to turn the tables on the scuzzbag who abducts Lara after she is stranded. This IS important to mention, not because brief sexual assault is any less abhorrent than rape, but because the fact refutes anyone arguing that the instance isn’t about Lara’s growth at all and instead is a “fanservice” by the developers to enhance Lara’s sex-objectification. Beyond this, I can say no more on the game until I play it. I intend to revisit once I get the chance.

 

Sexual Violence & a Larger Scope I. Language

As I read through articles and comments then and re-read them now it becomes clear to me that there’s a serious (but curable!) issue underneath the controversy that no one is talking about. That issue is that our society has not yet developed common language about sexual violence. This is especially true for rape, and for continuity/length I am going to use “rape” going forth. 

If you find yourself in a conversation about rape, maybe with a friend or in a class, am I wrong to say that there are only two pockets of language for you to call on? There is the medical language of rape: anatomy, physiology, PTSD, therapy. Then there is a jar of power words, over-charged to the point of existentialism because they are used as a tool of argument: dehumanize, misogyny, control, gender, hate, civil liberty, etc. But no matter the words, rape is a subject that polarizes the majority of conversationalists and fills the room with giant emotions. It is a topic on par with racism; so personal and so multi-faceted that talking about it thoughtfully or with progress in mind is already a minefield of triggers. [Only as far as the facilitation of public talks] racism has become an easier topic to discuss; it has been a societal change in action for a long time, a struggle that reaches every part of our nation not to be ignored. But at some point, talking about racism had its own limited, lurching vocabulary.

Women’s rights have absolutely been at the forefront of public discussion but rape has NOT. The ongoing work of right’s groups to define rape culture is just an example: instead of debating semantics, we are still striving to study our environment. Any actual discourse I have experienced–text or in person–usually leaves me feeling like nothing is getting done because so many voices are missing; because a bulk of the conversation isn’t made up of words or ideas but is dominated by tension, anger, blame, frustration, cringes, and dismissal. Not only is discussion about rape stunted by the inability to emotionally connect, but (on BOTH sides) “valid” participants are still being redefined. Like those who say men have less right to weigh in because they “aren’t the victims” or those who think actual victims “skew the reality of the danger” with their big old emotions. Until everyone can accept that everyone else is invited to the table on a subject that–in so many ways–effects us all, then the language of rape is in its infancy.

2012 in America has been the year of outlandish, hurtful, and inciting public statements regarding sexual violence (noticeably regarding women, not men.) If you followed the infamous senators and governors who made pointed statements about rape alongside the campaign for presidency, then you either know your own reaction, public reaction, or even engaged in the aftermath. (Here comes the tie-in…!) 

After my initial outrage, I got to thinking: how is it that in this day and age, freaking political leaders and executive producers of mega-software entertainment companies can talk about rape so callously? Dismissively? Awkwardly? My hypothesis goes back to language: for every douchehat that really believes awful things about rape, there are ten normal folks who use the term “rape” and try to talk about it without the progressive boundaries of evolved language. Simply put…we want to have a conversation across the  trenches about rape, but we have neither the words or the safety of an arena to do so right now. So some people are going to say really stupid shit; it is up to us to re-evaluate how to react so that we can make some actual damn progress.

That is what we should be focusing on. Dividing our minds, expending emotional energy by recoiling in anger and retaliating with a salvo so fiercely overreaching that intent and perspective of the “inciting” statement is totally lost. What good does it do to take to our blogs ranting and adding Ron Rosenberg’s name to the lexicon of “rape culture”? It’s like putting up one more mugshot on the notice board: alright, we see him…shoot, there are more all the time! Arghhlebarglerage! That’s a dud trip to building up paranoid anger that has nowhere to go.

Instead, wouldn’t it make more sense to allow him–like every other human being who brings up hot-button issues–the context of our current knee-jerk obstacles around this subject? It may not be easier, but wouldn’t it be healthier to the cause of actually eradicating rape to NOT make his words stand for the whole of the gaming industry (then visual entertainment industry then entire social culture?!) I am not excusing what are clearly his personal beliefs on rape and how that fits into his gender views, though I have to admit that “wanting to take care of her” is a better reaction than “she fucking deserved it”.

I am trying to offer this perspective (and so, a summary about rape language): Ron Rosenberg is ONE person; he spoke candidly about HIS perception of Lara Croft’s new “vulnerable” character and he gave a summary of the game’s character development motivation. The term “rape” was mentioned once and was almost immediately corrected by the company, but if it wasn’t clear that we need to focus on facilitating a social communication structure where people don’t go from 0-to-60 when they see the word “rape”, I hope I’ve helped use my opinion to make it at least something to consider. 

 [Coming Soon: Final Tomb Raider post, Part 3 of 3]