Movie Review: Hi-8

Hi-8 Poster

@RJBayley checks out Hi-8 safe to assume he didn’t like it…

It’s a point often made in music: humourous pastiche music requires a level of musicianship that’s very good. Take 80s cock-rock throwbacks Steel Panther for example, or authors of the greatest song in the world, Tenacious D.

The concept isn’t one that’s often broached in cinema however, but it’s a very pertinent one in Hi-8, which stands for ‘Horror Independent 8’. It’s a good backronym I’ll grant it that. The concept is that 8 directors, primarily associated with the Shot On Video (SOV) movement of the late eighties/early nineties, were asked to created 1 short each for this horror anthology film, including the wraparound segment.

In case you haven’t seen any SOV films, (and that’s not outrageous given the fact they were shot on video, and their quality) they are a group of very bad, very low budget, incredibly rough around the edges, horror films, made by amateurs and distributed in an almost hand to hand fashion at horror festivals and the underground film circuit.

Alternate poster for Hi-8Hi-8 is the format these films were generally shot on, and Hi-8 seeks to recreate and celebrate these films in its anthology format. Hi-8 put restrictions on its filmmakers,forbidding them to use an post-internet technology (a bizarrely arbitrary and nonsensical mandate; filmmakers were forbidden from using green-screen, but assumedly were allowed to use other chroma key methods which have been around since the 1930s). As mentioned, SOV (which I like to reinterpret as “Sh*t On Video”) films are of very poor quality. So what Hi-8 is doing is deliberately making something pretty awful and near-unwatchable.

I’ll add the caveat that that is not in reference to the amount of blood spilled or gore pulled on display here. There is an admirable amount of blood and guts shown in the whole film and it’s one of the things that pulled me through to the end. Practical effects will always get credit, even if they are more obviously effects than CGI compensated practical or fully CGI ones. Some of the grue does genuinely impress, with that beloved low budget trick of using unmistakably genuine animal organs being used to bring the feeling of nostalgic warmth.

No, by the filmmakers making a film that is near-unwatchable, I mean that in reference to the quality of it. The acting is very bad, the special effects, while in-camera, are also very bad. The cinematography is very bad. The writing is very bad. The sound is very bad. The editing is very bad. The direction is very bad. It’s pretty much all very bad.

However, in reference to the opening point of the good craftsmanship needed to artificially recreate something made under an entirely different set of circumstances, and just as crucially, under a totally different mindset, Hi-8 is a puzzling and thought provoking enterprise.

The film is dreadful, but is that a result of the fact the filmmakers aren’t that much better than they were when they were making genuine SOV films?

Or is it a combination of now skilled filmmakers being given very limited equipment/budget/resources, the restrictions of which making it easy for them to recreate SOV films with no real effort?

Or is it due to the fact they have lovingly crafted and laboured on creating something that resembles something very bad? Have they really milked those actors, making them regress to a truly awful style of acting? Have they taken the editing equivalent of a sledgehammer to their script and worked really hard on battering it into something truly ugly?
Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say it’s the latter option. Perhaps there’s a great deal of artistry in the artifice, but will the art of the artifice suffice?

Either way, someone’s still done a sh*t on my doorstep.

The film, anyway you scrape it, is crap, and I’ve had to watch it. It’s not too much of a leap to compare it to a log on my doorstep. The film is easier to clean up, but I wouldn’t have to stand there looking at the turd on my doorstep outside in the cold/inside letting the smell waft in for 1 hour 38 minutes. It’s a fair swap.

Now someone might have just come over to my house, quietly opened my gate, crawled like a commando along the path so as not to be seen from my bay windows, lowered trou (ideally during crawl to maximise efficiency and minimise time, using the pelvic movement and thigh/ground contact traction to move the denim [or corduroy, I don’t judge] down to knee level) and pumped out a number 2, before slithering into the night.
Alternatively someone might have waited until I’m on holiday, crept round the back of my house and used binoculars to peer through my window to see the day I’m due back on, on the meticulous calendar my girlfriend keeps on the kitchen wall. Using this time period they’d have synthesised stomach acids, and other bodily processes, and run what their average food intake is through it, over the correct amount of time. The resulting brown paste would, for all intents and purposes, be poo – albeit, artificially created poo. Then, on the night before I return, they would have deposited the brown paste onto my doorstep with a culinary piping bag. Using a small palette knife and implements from Hobbycraft, they would then spend hours molding it into a shape that would appear like it had been forced out in the appropriate manner.

Now which does one appreciate more? The former has an undeniable spontaneity; there’s a danger to it, the a thrill of doing something you’re not supposed to, off the cuff and at risk of capture. The latter shows real dedication, a clear commitment in the time spent and different techniques needed to create something, and the knowledge that your efforts may never be known; that the finished product might so resemble what it’s imitating that people will be unable to distinguish it from the real thing.

They exist at opposite ends of an art spectrum, and both are admirable for what different methodology they employ and the various skills needed to execute them, even though both end products are indistinguishable and arguably exactly the same.

Perhaps prompting these thoughts is the real value to be found in Hi-8, a film where it’s hard to tell what’s unthinkingly bad and what’s deliberately bad.

After all this pontificating though, it’s crap all the same.

Robert Bayley

Twitter: @RJBayley

Images: IMDb & Horrorsociety

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