The Virginity Hit (2010)
★ / ★★★★
Four desperate friends (Matt Bennett, Zack Pearlman, Jacob Davich, Justin Kline) made it a tradition that they would only smoke weed using a special hookah when each of them lost their virginity. When all three but Matt finally had gone all the way, they decided they would help him out and document every step of the way. But when they found out that Nicole (Nicole Weaver), Matt’s girlfriend, had cheated on him with a frat guy, Matt and his friends had to find other means for Matt to experience his first sex. Written and directed by Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland, “The Virginity Hit” interestingly adopted a faux-documentary style but completely missed the mark. In the end, it felt like a cheap imitation of Greg Mottola’s “Superbad” and Paul Weitz’ “American Pie” but with characters who took idiocy to the next level. The crux of the movie’s so-called dramatic tension could have easily been solved with a teaspoon of intelligence. For instance, when Matt and his friends heard rumors that Nicole had been less than loyal, not one of them bothered to approach Nicole and ask her version of what happened. They immediately decided to take the cruel path. That is, pretend they knew nothing of the rumors, convince Matt to take Nicole on a date for their anniversary, have sex with Nicole for revenge, and broadcast it over the internet. The characters thought it was all fun and games. I was shocked that not one for them stood up against what was happening and express how mean-spirited it all was. There were also some “funny” scenes like the teenagers stealing from a store, breaking into people’s private properties, and other misdemeanors that could potentially land them in court to get sued or, worse, in jail. I tried to see that perhaps it wanted to comment on rampant youth and its relationship with YouTube culture. However, I didn’t feel as if the directors had full control of their material. Its in-your-face approach was its only technique. The filmmakers should have known that the ability to pull back was an essential weapon in order to highlight the positive feedback of certain videos uploaded on YouTube and people taking pleasure in watching other people’s suffering and humiliation. There was not one character to root for here. I wanted to root for Matt because he was the one who was pushed around. There were some scenes that almost portrayed him being forced to have sex just for the sake of losing his virginity. Why did they care anyway? It was none of their business. I thought it was sad and I couldn’t help but feel angry for him. I kept waiting for Matt to stand up to his friends. Even if he wasn’t successful in his attempt, I would have ended up liking him because it meant that he had a voice and he wasn’t afraid to use it. But he didn’t. Some people had their lives ruined by the things portrayed on this film. It was too bad the material failed to take that fact into account.
★★ / ★★★★
Robert (Ezra Miller) was a sophomore in a private high school where kids were isolated from their parents so they were free to experiment with whatever they wanted. The high school made it a requirement for their students to take up sports or after school activities so Robert, having no interest in anything physical other than being intimate with another, chose to join the Video and Audio Club. While shooting at a hallway for an assignment, Robert accidentally captured two girls overdosing on cocaine. The event triggered a series of new rules as the students struggled to adapt to the death and their new environment. This film was good in some parts but it was mostly frustrating. I hated the scenes that reminded me of Michael Haneke’s “Caché,” where absolutely nothing would happen as the camera would linger at something random person or object. I think that is one of the main problems of movies adapting a style of faux-documentary or faux-realism: the filmmakers just don’t know when to cut certain scenes when the important element had been delivered. At times, nothing important would appear on screen at all. It then becomes an utter waste of time. The two main emotions I felt while watching this picture were anger and apathy. Anger because of the increasing frustration regarding dragged out scenes for no good reason. Apathy because of the subject matter. I felt like I was back in high school. One of my biggest disappointments with the film was it didn’t feature one healthy, clear-minded student with goals that go far beyond their current institution. When the two students died, honestly, I didn’t care. For me, they were just twins who happened to be addicted to drugs. Yes, they were young but that was no excuse. I was their age once but I chose not to make highly stupid decisions. It was ultimately their choice to be involved in drugs. No amount of excuse such as the classic, “My parents don’t give me enough attention” would make me feel more sympathetic toward them–dead or alive. Then my feeling turned to anger again because the very same students who called them “cokeheads” behind their backs suddenly changed their minds, claiming that they would miss the twins and “nothing would ever be the same.” Give me a break. But then I wondered whether that was the director’s purpose: to expose the drug culture of schools today and to reveal the hypocrisy of both the students and the faculties. “Afterschool,” written and directed by Antonio Campos, is a challenging film but sometimes it was just plain wooden. I wouldn’t be surprised if one decided to stop watching the movie just thirty minutes into it. However, I liked the fact that it made me curious with what would happen and to see whether my hypothesis involving the main character’s psychological state was correct. And I was.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
★★ / ★★★★
When aspiring filmmakers (Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen, Luca Barbareschi) decided to go to a rainforest in the Amazon to document real cannibals and never returned, a New York University professor (Robert Kerman) went on a journey to get them back. But when he found out that they have been murdered by the cannibals, he took the footages shot by the crew back to America. Little did he know that the contents of the film reels contained grotesque behaviors performed by the aspiring filmmakers which included rape, flaying animals, and multiple attempts in murdering the natives–all the while putting on a show for the world that the things they stumbled upon were shocking and sometimes enlightening. Directed by Ruggero Deodato, “Cannibal Holocaust” has a reputation of having the most intense images portrayed on screen. What I liked about the movie was its daring attempt to blur the line between simulated and the actuality. When I saw an image and I could not tell whether it was one or the other, that was when I thought the picture was at its most horrific. But there were a plethora of scenes where it was easy to tell if something was real of not. For instance, the flaying of the giant turtle was obviously real. I experience no pleasure in watching animals suffer because when I was a kid, I’ve seen a dog being killed in the bloodiest, most unkind way and it was later served as a meal. So it was a bit of a struggle when I saw that segment. As for the filmmakers being killed by the natives, it did not move me as much–in a positive or a negative way–because the movie tried too hard to make it look real to the point where it looked fake. However, the most disappointing element in the picture was the heavy-handed messages that it tried to get across. Questions such as the media’s role in trying to sensationalize every story in order to get reaction from the people were painfully transparent. There were also some bits and pieces about who the real savages were: the tribes in the Amazon who were “backwards” or the Americans who stupidly decided to walk into the tribes’ territories and terrorized them for the sake of having power over them? As a faux-documentary film, it felt too calculated, too controlled, and too contained so it ultimately worked against itself. As for the graphic nature of the film, I was horrified at some points because it was indeed very violent. But then I started thinking about modern horror movies of today and their gratuitousness. The “Saw” pictures suddenly came to mind and I felt that “Cannibal Holocaust” did not seem as bad as a whole. Nevertheless, “Cannibal Holocaust” is definitely not for everyone especially the squeamish. I wish it left a lot more unanswered questions. Since it answered everything for us, despite the many intense images, I started to forget about it right when the credits started rolling.
The Last Exorcism (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) agreed to have his last exorcism to be documented on camera. In the first few minutes, he admitted to us that exorcism was only real in the minds of religious Christians plagued by something they cannot explain. In other words, the placebo effect guided the effectiveness of an exorcism. Despite Reverend Marcus being a sham, strangely enough, I understood why he made a career out of it because he had an obligation to provide for his family, especially his son who had difficulty hearing. Understandably, people feel the need to compare the movie to Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’ “The Blair Witch Project” and Oren Peli’s “Paranormal Activity” because of its faux-documentary style. But I say it was more like John Erick Dowdle’s chilling remake “Quarantine.” However, I think “The Last Exorcism” had its own identity and therefore its own strengths and weaknesses. The film was its best when it described the history of the practice, the circumstances in which one should get an exorcism, and the religious heretics so willing to go to the extreme to the point where they became blind to more conventional explanations such as the so-called possessed person having an undiagnosed disease or mental disability. I was also happy with the fact that it acknowledged the cruel act still happening today in various forms depending on the culture. The picture thrived on the build-up of strange information especially when we finally met a farmer (Louis Herthum) with a creepy son (Caleb Landry Jones) and “possessed” daughter (Ashley Bell). The rising action of the girl sleepwalking, killing animals, being violent and making strange noises was unsettling and sometimes downright horrifying. However, the movie’s weakness was its own conceit. The faux-documentary style did not always work because there were times when the daughter, in an altered state, would pick up the camera and we saw what she saw and did. I loved that the film was purposely comedic, especially in the first half when the techniques of the scam were revealed, but the comedy and horror did not always complement each other in one scene. Instead of feeling scared, I felt detached and I almost felt the need to laugh because there was an underlying message that the devil despised the constructed false (if not almost illusory) reality like in movies mentioned earlier and reality shows on television. I also found some inconsistencies such as the addition of music during the scarier scenes (it was supposed to be a found footage!) and camera angles that only one cameraman can normally accomplish. Although I give kudos to Daniel Stamm, the director, for infusing a sense of (sort of campy) fun and intelligence in his project, I wanted more scenes where I find myself cowering in my shoes. I suppose that’s the reason why a lot of people did not like the movie: they wanted to feel more scared. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed “The Last Exorcism” because it was concise, confident with where it wanted to go and what it wanted to achieve, and its constant build-up was elegant. It made me think of respectable horror pictures from the late 60’s and ’70s.