The found footage genre is very hit-or-miss when it comes to my own taste. A lot of people just can't really do it, and that's something I understand. But if it's done creatively enough, I tend to really like quite a few of them - one of them being the now unbelievable 10-year-old 'Chronicle'; the found-footage take on obtaining superpowers for lack of a better term. And, funny story, two of these actors would go on to feature in mainstream Superhero movies.
As all found-footage movies go, our basic setup is seen from the get-go where our lead, Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), decides he's going to film "everything" from now on. A good chunk of this is due to his abusive, alcoholic father, Richard (Michael Kelly) who blames Andrew for literally everything, including Andrew's mom, Karen's (Bo Peterson) illness. Andrew also gets bullied at school, but one has to admit that to some degree, he's not really the most likable person. But no worries, as this character was actually well-formed that way for good reason.
Andrew's cousin, Matt Garetty (Alex Russell) invites him to a party one night, in order to mingle and try to get himself out there, meeting people. There, things don't go too well, but he eventually meets Class President hopeful, Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan). Steve brings Andrew and his camera to meet up with Matt in order to explore a very mysterious cave that seems to have appeared out of nowhere. Upon exploring, something unknown happens that seemingly leads the trio to obtain telekinesis.
One thing I do love about this movie is the way this power works. Things seem to come with limits, and it acts a lot like weight-lifting. The more they do it, the better they get, but if they overdo it, things result in a pretty bad nose-bleed. As they videotape all of the cool stuff they learn how to do throughout the film, things don't exactly go without incident, and soon enough we see the difference between having the power to help others and having the power to help oneself. If you gained such an ability yourself, would you abuse it if you were really good at it? Or would you only use it when and if it was asked for?
One word of warning I'll give about this, along with most found-footage films, is that there's really no explanation as to how they really got these abilities. Something happens, we don't know, and we're not meant to know. One thing I appreciate about this genre is the lack of explanation. One can use imagination to fill in the blanks, and to some degree, it almost doesn't make any sense to offer up an explanation, as we're supposed to be experiencing things through the eyes of the cameraman. I do get people being somewhat miffed about that, considering a lack of structure. But for me, found footage is almost meant to be more of a theme park ride experience than an actual solid film.
There are a few examples of found footage that I'd say are really well done, and I have to say that this is one of them. It's a fun and quick way to tell a superhero story while being original, but also offering up the two paths someone with special abilities can go down. It sort of begs the question of what one would do if they had this power. For me, I like the idea of using it for mischief. You're not being a good guy, but you're not exactly being a supervillain either. There's a whole bit here where you see them do just that, and though you feel kind of bad for the people they are messing with, it does give one a pretty good chuckle.
As for the two who went on to star in mainstream superhero movies, Michael B. Jordan is likely the obvious one, as Killmonger in 'Black Panther' AND Human Torch in 2015's 'Fantastic Four'. Dane DeHaan also went on to be a crappy version of the Green Goblin in 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2'. But what's odd is that Alex Russell doesn't seem to (unless I missed something) have credit for anything like that. The guy has potential though, so we shall see if he gets added to anything in the near future. Anyway, if you ever wanted to see where at least Michael B. Jordan came from, this is an interesting watch nowadays. If nothing else, it's a cool take on not only the found-footage genre, but the superhero genre as well.
Let's take a trip back to the late 90's for a bit. 'X-Files' was all the rage, along with the idea of UFOs, aliens, and my worst fear at the time, abduction. My fear of this was so bad that I actually avoided 'X-Files' altogether, considering it just too scary for me. Fast-forward to today, however, and I personally consider these ideas kinda silly. Possible, just not really plausible. Much like hauntings, they've become something more fun to think about and hear stories about than something I truly believe in.
However, back in '98, 'Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County' was aired on prime time TV, and let's just say I didn't make it all the way through due to it being far too real for me to wrap my head around. Take a second to remember the impact 'The Blair Witch Project' had on audiences in its day, often dubbed the first found footage movie (first to hit theaters, anyway). This was one year before, and aired on TV, which made it a little more real.
This actually completely takes its idea from something extremely similar released in 1989 known as 'The McPherson Tape' (so yeah, IT actually came first). The only differences really being that this is much closer to the found footage acting and scenarios found today, and takes place at Thanksgiving. The McPherson Tape takes place on a little girl's birthday in 1983. They are both basically the same idea - a small group go out to a fuse box to check on a power outage, witness some aliens, and then try to make it through the night with their wits about them. It's all pretty laughable by today's standards, but back before found footage was a subgenre, this was about as real as it ever got for me.
Nowadays, to recommend watching either version seems silly. The only reason to, is to say that you saw some found footage that predates 'The Blair Witch Project'. Otherwise, 'The McPherson Tape' is really just a lot of babbling, talking and noise (which, to be fair, adds an element of reality to things) and 'Incident in Lake County' just has all the tropes your average movie of this type does. The cameraman is pretty much bound to be told off for filming, there has to be an angry guy going against everything, and of course, a lot of shaky cam during intense moments. At this point, this is the baseline for any found footage film, and it's very easy to throw away.
I am, however, glad that I took the time to sit through both versions of this. It's one of those fine examples of seeing how much impact a movie can have on someone for its time. Again, predating 'Blair Witch', you really didn't see this kind of thing, unless you managed to get your prying eyes on a little number called 'Cannibal Holocaust', originally released in 1980 and banned almost everywhere. It's funny what the idea of aliens did to our fear factors, especially when you watch these, which portray them a bit more as curious, seemingly harmless beings. It just goes to show that the fear of the unknown is a very powerful thing, at least until that unknown thing is revealed to be a bunch of actors in masks and black clothing.
This one taught me a little something about the 'Harry Potter' series that I had no idea about. Weird place to start, I know, but the truth is that this one starts off with mentions of Nicolas Flamel and the Philosopher's Stone. Just when I was ready to write this off as an unnecessary rip off of 'Harry Potter', I kinda figured that would have been a little too "on the nose". I Googled the name, and it finally clicked that Flamel was the only non-fictional character in the 'Potter' series. Though the idea of the Philosopher's Stone is something of a Holy Grail or Ark of the Covenant, lost in history and lore.
Anyway, I guess I missed what may have been obvious to many, but it was fascinating to me that there was some element of realism in the 'Potter' series. But of course, we're not here to talk about Harry Potter and his adventures, so much as we're here to talk about an enthusiastic archaeologist named Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) who is seeking the Philosophers' Stone, herself. On her search, she finds a series of clues that lead her into the catacombs underneath Paris, France.
She assembles a team consisting of her cameraman, Benji (Edwin Hodge), he former boyfriend, George (Ben Feldman), and guide who knows a few underground shortcuts named Papillon (François Civil) along with his team; his girlfriend, Souxie (Marion Lambert) and their friend Zed (Ali Marhyar). Together, they enter an area of the catacombs that is barred from the public, but soon find themselves trapped.
As the film continues, more and more strange occurrences emerge, and the film pretty much acts like a spook house, wherein every twist and turn involves some kind of scary imagery. For the most part, the imagery they unveil has a lot to do with their sins in life, and eventually the group finds themselves in what is almost certainly a real Hell. The catch - the only way to get out is to keep going further down.
Being that this is a found footage movie, the scariest aspect of it is probably the overall claustrophobia that sticks with you on the ride you take - especially when these guys have no way out but down, further and further. There's an uneasy sense of helplessness that comes with it, and I can say with enthusiasm that this one did the trick for me. Again, it's very much a spook house of a film, but instead of just having things jump out and say "boo", there's also a lot of unsettling imagery, and even a really cool kill or two - the car on fire stands out, particularly, but no spoilers. If you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about.
So, for found footage horror enthusiasts, I can honestly recommend this one pretty highly. I've seen much worse, and it's not quite as formulaic as one might assume. I won't spoil anything, once again, but the ending to this kinda left me in a sort of awe, and I give it credit for not following what practically every other found footage horror film tends to do. But with that said, I can also honestly point out that this one does not get very positive ratings, and admittedly, it's not without its flaws.
At times, the camera action is just plain weird, and I'm not just talking about a lot of shaky-cam moments. Often, what you see being filmed doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, like one scene where our lead might as well think she's gonna die horribly, but is still carrying a camera around, getting shots of her facial expressions. On top of that, I can see this being very basic stuff for the average horror fan. There's not a lot of new here, but what I enjoyed was the execution of it. If you're looking for something creepy and claustrophobic, it's really not a bad one to check out, in my opinion. I'm have to admit, I'm very against the grain on this one.
In order for me to review this one in fairness, I feel obligated to state here that spoilers lie ahead for the first 'Creep' film, as this one branches off of the way it ends. So, if you've either seen it already, or don't care, read on. If you wanna know what happens, I highly recommend sitting through the first one rather than jumping into this one.
We start off here with a young man named Dave (Karan Soni - or as most "Deadpool' fans know him, Dopinder) receiving some creepy gifts from an unknown stalker. Along comes Josef (Mark Duplass) from the previous film, who has since changed his identity to Aaron (the quintessential victim of the last movie), who kicks things off by confessing to David what's going on, and confiding in him that he feels like he's losing his artistic touch, and all the killing has lost its luster. You can imagine what happens here, but it sets the tone for the film instantly, pushing us right back into the dark sense of humor that made the first film work well.
Meanwhile, a YouTube video artist named Sara (Desiree Akhavan) is feeling down on her work as well. Her fearlessness leads her to interacting with creepy men on the internet, and trying to expose them to the world in an attempt to show us that maybe there's more to them than meets the eye. Things get a little too weird for her audience, though, and she feels like she needs something more groundbreaking. She finds her next project in the form of "Aaron", a self-admitted serial killer, who wants to make a video documentary about how serial killers work.
The fun of this ends up being Sara's fearlessness, and how much she's willing to sacrifice to get her story. As harsh as that sounds, it's Aaron's reactions to everything she does that really gets me. He's there to try to freak her out, but he has apparently met his match, and she often turns the tables on him, confusing him. But make no mistake, things get uncomfortable here, too. You find the thrill of it all is in guessing which one of the two of them is actually worse. You even wonder at times if she's capable of killing, herself.
As the movie unfolds, much like the last one, things get more and more uneasy. And for as much as I've praised its dark sense of humor, and its execution, it does go to some dark places to make the viewer genuinely uncomfortable at times. The catch is, you kinda don't know who you should feel uncomfortable about, and speaking for myself, it did have me guessing. It had more twists and turns than the last one, and I got more out of it as a horror/thriller. But I would still probably say the first one is a bit more comedic. It makes me wonder what the upcoming 'Creep 3' will have in store to keep things fresh.
I decided to lean towards taking another look at a few found-footage films that I've missed over the years for the month of April. I have done this theme before, but there are so many titles to choose from that this probably will be a recurring theme every year. To kick things off, we actually have a special request from a friend who wanted me to check these first two movies out, 2014's 'Creep' and 2017's 'Creep 2', in regards to 'Creep 3' being released... whenever the hell that might be.
The first film is shot from the perspective of a videographer named Aaron (Patrick Brice). He's on the way to a remote mountain town, answering an online ad to videotape a dying man named Josef's (Mark Duplass) final messages, with a main focus on the man's supposed unborn son. Aaron hesitantly agrees to Josef's terms, but the messages get more dark and disturbing as filming goes on, and Josef himself seems pretty unhinged, and overly desperate for a friend. What this essentially boils down to is a found-footage horror version of 'The Cable Guy'.
All in all, this one ended up being pretty much what I expected, and ends up being somewhat predictable at points. However, I will give the film credit enough for blending a very dark and out-there sense of humor with its uncomfortable moments. If he was lightened up a bit, I could almost see Josef being a criminal on a show like 'Brooklyn 99'. This is rated R, though, so a lot the dark humor within is a little more uneasy - especially when it comes to a wolf mask that Josef dubs "Peach Fuzz".
To give you the perfect idea of the tone that this movie sets, "Peach Fuzz" has a theme song. The first time the song is heard involves Josef dancing around and singing it like some kid, having a great time with it. The second time, however, is the end credits, in which the tone is completely different and you sit there wondering if you should laugh at the ridiculous lyrics, or be scared by them.
It could be said that the film doesn't exactly know what it's supposed to be, between a horror and a comedy. However, the creepiness of the whole situation does get very real. Duplass pulls off a very disturbing performance here that, while you often laugh at, you're also often made to feel very uncomfortable by. Some of the real comedy actually comes from Aaron's reactions to Josef's behavior, which unfortunately involves several cheap jump scares. How cheap? He basically keeps jumping out from behind something, screaming. I can only appreciate a jump scare if it's done inconspicuously. In this, the moments were too obvious - tension followed by a jolt. I still might have jumped, but it felt wasted, especially if it's just someone essentially going "BOO!" to someone else. That is just elementary Halloween pranking.
Wrapping up this "Part 1", I can't say that it's anything too special, but it's certainly not without a few appreciative factors. The performances were great, overall, between our two leads, and the dark sense of humor this brings to the table is almost something to be admired. It doesn't quite take things too far, but it does get into your head as another pretty solid cautionary tale about who you meet on the internet. But while this one is a little bit unoriginal, I must admit that the second one impressed me for what it was...
Dear God, almighty, I just dunno what the hell to say after this experience. Good way to start a review, eh? Here we have something by writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait. Yes, the same Bobcat Goldthwait with the goofy weird signature voice in the 'Police Academy' movies. That's kinda what peaked my interest in the first place because there's something to be said about comedic actors creating horror, especially lately with the cases of 'Get Out' and 'A Quiet Place'. And this... well, it certainly has a place, but it's one of those only halfway well done movies. Think something like 'Titanic' where the second half is what you should jump to to have a good time with it (although, I confess I kinda dig 'Titanic').
This time around, we have a couple who set out to a place called Willow Creek, home of the famous Patterson-Gimlin sighting of Bigfoot (the one that I'm pretty sure has since been proven a hoax where Bigfoot just kinda wanders by). Their hope is to get into the thick of the woods and find Bigfoot for themselves. The first 45 minutes or so is just them touring the area, interviewing people, and a bit of poking their noses in where they don't belong. But, like with most horror, they are defiant about that last bit, and go for it anyway. The last half hour is pretty much just a test of the audiences tension (or patience, depending on how you see this).
You see, the last half hour is both the most boring and most exciting part of the movie, where it's mostly silence, but punctuated by strange sounds and a whole lot of suspense. You wait and wait and wait for a jump scare that never seems to come, and it's effective if you have the mind for it. I did end up feeling a bit of tension in the pit of my stomach, but almost had to ask myself why 'cause nothing was happening. That, to me, is clever on Goldthwait's part. He understands how intensity building can be so much more effective in horror. The thing is, I think he just kept us holding on for too long.
This is just one of those movies where you'll either get the intensity aspect of it or find the intensity too boring and dragging to the point where it's just not intense at all. Again, it all depends on your mind set going into it. It reminded me a lot of 'Blair Witch' in that sense, but I personally found 'Blair Witch' less intense whereas this, I watched home alone in the dark at night, and it was a bit more effective for what it was trying to do. That said, please note that most of the general audience seems to be on the flip-side of that and like 'Blair Witch' more, if only because it was what started it all.
This isn't a movie I'd just throw out there as a recommendation to anyone who's a fan of found footage. It's rather a movie I'd recommend to someone who appreciates suspense in the same way I do, where it's the most effective part of the horror rather than the physical imagery of the thing. Oh, by the way, I should note, it's ALL sound, pretty much no visual - again, much like 'Blair Witch'. I'm glad I watched it, but it's not something I'd be rushing to throw on again or show other people either. It comes in on the very low end of this rating, but I can't help but admire some of the choices made despite how bad I found a lot of it.
Here we have a relatively unique found footage film that still plays with the idea of the paranormal but actually attempts to expand it. This one is about the process of turning into a vampire, and all that comes with it.
One thing I'd like to bring up about this movie that makes it stand out pretty well among others are the two men behind it. This one is written by, directed by, and stars Derek Lee and Clif Prowse as themselves. While some could see this as about as egotistical and self-indulgent as something like 'The Room', I just find another brilliant found footage loophole. Simply put, if it's supposed to be found footage, it makes sense that they try to keep it as real as possible behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera.
This starts off as an online vlog, featuring Derek and Clif as they set off on their year-long trip around the world. Right from the get-go, Derek has a few health concerns, but he trusts that Clif has his back to help him see the trip through. However after a one night stand, Derek's health takes a scary but intriguing turn. While it seems very convincing that he's incredibly sick, he also starts showing signs of various heightened abilities. Then, eventually, the somewhat obvious comes to light as to what exactly happened.
All that said, I personally found it most interesting to see the twists and turns this movie took. There are at least a couple of moments through this where it sort of just pulls the rug out from under you. Otherwise, one would like this for the same reasons one would like 'Chronicle' (my personal favorite found footage film). It's kind of about superpowers and the somewhat realistic directions we might go with them. I always found it to be an awesome concept for found footage that's so unexplored. And yeah, we have movies that fit this concept already, but how many of these found footage movies are about ghosts and/or demons? I mean, I guess this is pretty damn close to demonic possession, but still.
I'm not sure if this one would necessarily make my Top 10 when it comes to found footage films, but it has a damn good shot at it. It's not really what would would call a straight up horror movie, but it's got a bunch of creepy moments, surprising moments, humorous moments, and I can't help but recommend it to anyone looking for a new sort of found footage movie. It can remain within that comfort zone of the supernatural, but strays away just enough. I really liked it, and I'm glad I added it to my list for this month.
Now this was an interesting one. Here we have a found footage film about the production of a found footage horror film. This group of filmmakers gets together and head off to an abandoned cabin in the woods where something horrible once happened, and the place is supposedly haunted.
Little do these filmmakers know, there's more to the background story of their film than meets the eye. The film sort of goes from a satirical comedy drama about making the film, and a sort of love triangle between a few of them, to a full fledged real found footage film involving demonic possession. There are tropes aplenty, but that's just the idea. The audience is to take it as a satire about the typical found footage film. All the tropes are there; the common relationship problem story taking place among moments of horror, demonic possession, a cabin in the woods, and a couple of very sexy females (I say that as a stereotype). Hell, the ending scene is even a trope of found footage that happens ALL THE TIME. Three guesses what the final shot is. Demonic possession story. Go.
Funnily enough, one might look at this whole movie and say it's trash because it's one big giant steaming pile of horror tropes. But there's also a bunch of clever writing tucked in nice and cozy between all of the stereotypes you see going on. There's a point where the producer (I actually forget his role, but producer makes sense here) flat out calls the audience stupid, which totally lends itself to making the film satirical because we, the audience, are watching an otherwise almost insulting found footage horror. Truth be told, this is actually one of the most clever found footage films I've seen in my life, because somehow it manages to get away with more bad writing than good writing... and THAT is what makes it good. This may have broken my brain just a tiny bit. Let me see if I can put it in a movie title blender for you: It's a bit of 'Evil Dead', a bit of 'Blair Witch', a pinch of 'Scream' and a dash of "Insert found footage movie title about demons here" and has hints of the 'Friday the 13th' remake, depending on whether or not you were anything like me and saw THAT as a satire as well. Most people just hate it.
Anyway, I'm gonna go ahead and say that if you have a couple of hours to waste on brain candy, give this one a whirl. But I caution you to just take it for what it is. Try to watch it as more of a comedy than a horror, and you probably won't be disappointed. But take it seriously, and you might not get much out of it. Of course, there's also the fact that I love creativity, and I thought this concept was pretty clever. If you enjoy found footage films, give this one a look. It's the same old paranormal found footage movie with an interesting twist.
For the month of May, I thought I might aim my focus toward the overused, yet underappreciated found footage sub-genre.
Let's face it, the age of the found footage genre is starting to die away. I mean, to keep feeding us the "true story" horror gimmick, time and time again, gets really old really quickly. This is why movies like 'Cloverfield' and 'Chronicle' appeal to people like me a bit more. Their concepts are just different and more appealing than the usual paranormal activity movies like, well, 'Paranormal Activity'. For the most part, it's decided that the genre just wasn't played with enough. That is until I stumbled on some of the titles I'll be reviewing this month, staring with the surprisingly good 'Trollhunter'.
Now, I don't mean surprising as in "this is a Norwegian film with subtitles so I thought it would suck". I mean surprising as in "holy shit, something really original and interesting." If you do your homework, you'll find this on a lot of "Top Found Footage you Haven't Seen" lists (which is admittedly where I got the idea to do this month's theme). And not only does it make these lists, but it's always near the top at #1 or #2.
The basic plot involves a group of students who delve into investigating a strange case of bear killings in the area. In their sleuthing, they come across this mysterious hunter dude named Hans (Otto Jespersen). Eventually, the students learn that trolls are, in fact, very real, complete with a history, and a veterinarian's explanation of such allergic reactions these trolls have, such as exploding or turning to stone.
But I wanna just stop the description there, because as far as found footage movies go, I'll just say this one does plenty of cool stuff that a lot of other found footage movies don't. It's actually really well executed, all in all, even if there are certain gaping special effects. I actually feel like I can't criticize that aspect of it anyway 'cause it wouldn't be fair, considering I have no idea what kind of budget Norwegian films have. Quite frankly, if you just buckle up and enjoy the ride for what it is, it's one of the better found footage films out there, as long as you don't mind subtitles.
This is truly one of those hidden gems I'd love to see get out there more, so consider this review a recommendation for it as well. It was just a lot of fun, in my opinion. A good sense of humor is carried through, but there's some light horror aspects to it as well. It's really more of an adventure than a horror, if you ask me. All in all, worth checking out if you have a couple of hours to kill.