Nightlight (2013)

MARCH 30, 2015


After screwing up my schedule, I found myself with 2+ hours to kill before my actual work shift started today, and thus opted to head next door to Citywalk - specifically the AMC theater there - to watch something with my sudden surplus of free time (since moving last fall, going home wasn't a sound option - with the AM traffic, by the time I'd get there I'd only have about 20 minutes or so before having to drive back). I was going to see The Gunman, since it'll probably be gone by this weekend, but then I spied Nightlight, a horror film I never even heard of, let alone knew was currently playing theatrically. Obviously I wasn't going to let this random opportunity pass me by. Unfortunately, maybe I should have done just that.

I have no idea why Lionsgate opted to put this one out in a few theaters when so many of their acquisitions were relegated to DVD; the found footage "sub-genre" (more on that later, though I'll be repeating myself from other reviews) is dead, and there isn't anyone particularly recognizable in the cast, so I assume it had to be a contractual obligation type thing (it's also on VOD already, or at least Amazon). I was actually surprised someone else was in the theater with me; granted I'm not as immersed in this stuff as I used to be, but I would like to think I wouldn't completely miss a theatrical release - however minor - from a major studio. If it hadn't been for my scheduling snafu it might have passed my by entirely, and since the movie sucked I started wondering how many others like it I had missed in the past two post-HMAD years (or at least, the past 10 months, since Will was born). And also if those theoretical movies were any good.

A few things about the movie were admirable/novel, so I'll get those out of the way. For starters, this is the rare POV movie to be set entirely at night (and outside, save for the bookends and a piece of the climax). Blair Witch Project actually spent the majority of its scenes in the sunlit hours, but this one goes full force - even the brief introduction to our heroine and the film's narrative (a game of "Nightlight" in the woods) occurs when it's already dark out (it has to be this way for the film's "camera" to work - I'll get to that). I don't envy anyone who has to spend night after night in the woods shooting a movie, so kudos to the cast and crew for giving themselves this obstacle for the sake of sticking out a bit from its competition. Also, it doesn't dilly dally when it comes to the action - the first of our five idio-, er, heroes is killed at the 20 or 25 minute mark (thanks, ONE other guy there, for preventing me from being able to pull out my phone to check), which might be a record for this kind of thing since usually anything major like that is confined to the final act. There's a good reason for the usual slow burn - you don't want the audience asking "Why are they still filming" before they've gotten completely on board with the movie and thus were willing to go along with its fuzzy logic, but this movie avoids that since... well, again, I'll get to that.

But that's about all I can say that's positive; otherwise the movie is basically a disaster, with almost nothing working, and failing to engage on an even basic level. Since so little time is spent on setting up who anyone is before they're running around in the dark woods (and dodging trains for extra "Oh they're idiots" measure), it's nearly impossible to really care much about who lives or dies; even their immediate situation isn't compelling since they seemingly exist in a void. There's nothing that establishes how far the woods are from the populated part of town, or if any of the characters have friends/family who might notice they are missing - these are the sort of things we have apparently taken for granted in other movies. I half expected some twist that they were all dead or this was an alien planet or something, ANYTHING to justify the movie's bizarre disconnect from reality.

Which is odd, because it starts and ends with Ethan, a teen making a video that, when combined, add up to a suicide note - grounding this in an uncomfortable and yet very identifiable situation. In the first video he talks about how he tried to kill himself already, but that he will ask a girl he likes to the homecoming dance because he thinks that will cure his depression. In the second, it's after he was rejected, and he's about to go finish the job. It's sad, but here's the thing - the girl in question is Robin, our heroine, and except for a photo on a keychain they both have, we never see them together. It's not supposed to be a twist that he's talking about Robin, because not long after Ethan's introduction where he explains the keychain's significance (seriously, like, 3-4 minutes), we see that she has hers as well. In fact it's a badly inserted bit where she drops the keys just to make sure we see them clearly when she/the 'camera' lowers to pick them up, so they GO OUT OF THEIR WAY to make sure we understand the connection before they've even gone into the woods. This renders her later confession - coupled with Ethan's absence from the story - dramatically inert, because any halfway intelligent viewer will already have figured out what happened: she said no, and now his death will be the thing that literally haunts her in these supposedly ghost-filled woods. Yet the movie stops cold for her to explain that she rejected him, as if this would be some mind-blowing reveal to us (and then shows us Ethan's reaction at the very end, offering no new information and merely dragging out the ending). And with Ethan only present in these two brief moments, he can't possibly make for a good antagonist - it might as well be the ghost of any of the random other bodies buried out there (we see dozens of crosses in the woods throughout the film). And again, without ever seeing them together or even knowing much about their history, it's baffling that writer/directors Bryan Woods and Scott Beck opted to hinge the entire film on her guilt and his "revenge".

However, their screenwriting lapses are nothing compared to their utter failure at selling their novel idea properly. While it LOOKS like a found footage movie, there IS no camera - we see everything from the "POV" of a flashlight! There is no "why are they still filming?" thinking, because they're not! They're just holding out a light to see in the dark. But, admirably goofy as that is, it never really comes across very well, because apart from the 2.35 widescreen image that no consumer camera or cell phone would be shooting at, it just looks and plays out like every other found footage movie ever (and it's set in the woods, so Blair Witch will never NOT be on your mind - even BEFORE they build a scare around someone standing awkwardly facing a wall). Some of these movies have the problem that you forget you're seeing it through someone's camera, this has the unique (but equally bothersome) issue where you forget that you're NOT. Every single found footage movie that had an exterior scene at night (with the camera's light turned on) looks exactly like all of this footage, and it baffles me that they didn't beat us over the head early on that there was no camera in the woods - especially when their goddamn movie BEGINS WITH A KID TALKING INTO A VIDEO CAMERA! I guarantee you half the eventual audience won't even realize that his is the only actual camera (unless they notice the lack of people yelling "Stop filming and help us!" or whatever); the only thing they really do to try to establish the difference between it and Found Footage Movie #452 is an early scene where Robin turns her flashlight on herself while she's using her cell phone, but all that does is explain that she's not using her cell phone to film, not that she DOESN'T have a traditional camera.

And it doesn't even matter, because whether it's a camera or a flashlight we're seeing things through, it suffers from a lot of the same problems as any other found footage movie does, namely that it's too easy to forget whose POV we're seeing. If I followed its poorly explained backstory correctly, it is Ethan's flashlight that we see everything through (I wish we could say that the flashlight was the only source of evil, but we see occasional ghost monster things), so we get awkward things like our heroine switching flashlights with her would-be love interest, for no reason other than to make sure we see him wandering around and (spoiler) getting killed, before Robin finds the light again later. Perhaps if ALL of their flashlights had this magical POV ability, the directors would be able to easily reinforce that there were no cameras, simply by having a conversation between two characters cut back and forth, allowing us to see flashlights but nothing else in their hands.

So why paint yourself into a corner with such a weirdo plot device, forcing you to make your movie even sillier by working in excuses to change the POV? There is never any justification for the flashlight being the thing we see the movie's events through, beyond maybe five seconds of "Huh, that's new." Take any major found footage film (it's OK to compare, I think, since they're nearly indistinguishable) - Blair, Paranormal Activity, Rec, etc - and you can quickly explain why the camera is there: Heather was making a documentary, Micah bought it to capture footage of the ghost, Angela was shooting her TV show (and keeping it on for potential legal action later), etc. In a good POV movie, the camera and how it's used is just as essential as any of the main actors and how they act, how well they know their lines, etc. I don't know if the movie would be any good if shot traditionally since the central relationship that drives most of its action is left almost completely to our imaginations, but I DO know that their remarkably poor grasp on how to use a POV properly in this kind of movie makes it even worse.

I wasn't surprised to learn that the film was finished in 2013 (via the credits' copyright date; it was actually shot in 2012). That was when these movies were all the rage thanks to the still mammoth PA series (when this film was shot, we were between PA3 - the biggest sequel - and PA4, the one that was the beginning of the end), Chronicle, Last Exorcism... even Devil Inside, as much as folks hated it because of its ending, was a huge hit that helped green-light any number of other found footage horror flicks. But it also had another side effect that I recall filmmaker pals telling me about: studios and financiers were insisting that movies that were written as traditional narratives be converted into found footage style. But like 3D (itself killed by misapplication), the POV technique HAS to be part of the initial design, otherwise it's a disaster - it'd be like insisting that your normal New York-set romantic comedy be changed to take place in outer space without making any further changes to the script. The problem was that producers (and some just plain bad filmmakers) were treating an aesthetic like a sub-genre: what used to be a demand for slasher films was now a demand for "found footage". But even if you have no idea what you're doing, a slasher movie can still succeed if you have a few good kills, probably a bit of nudity, and a mask a kid will want for Halloween. Found footage takes a little more finesse; since you're working with a huge handicap to tell your story, it has to be something that justifies its existence within the narrative - something that can't quite be done if you're taking a regular script and adding "____'S POV" to all of the scene changes. If I had to guess, I'd assume these guys ran into that sort of demand, and didn't want to be "another" camera movie, so they came up with this flashlight idea. Or maybe they did have the idea first, but failed to A. recognize that the audience would have trouble knowing the difference or B. ask themselves WHY it should be a flashlight's POV beyond "it'll look funky!".

Try to imagine Blair Witch as a traditionally shot movie - it probably wouldn't be as effective. Why? Because the movie was designed from the ground up as something we see/don't see through the eyes of our heroes (mainly Heather), and with Heather herself holding the camera it put us in her head, letting us feel her frustration, her panicked scans across the trees to see what might be out there, etc. Or moving away from FF, think about Memento - did you ever watch the "in order" version of the movie on the special edition? If so, you probably quickly discovered that it was pretty goddamn boring - because it was a story that was meant to be seen backwards, so we would feel what Leonard felt every 10 minutes (i.e. not knowing what just happened). I can keep going, but I think the point is clear: be it a camera or a flashlight, using the POV aesthetic is a tool, and like any tool it should only be wielded by people who know how to use it. These guys either don't, or were forced to use it by someone calling the shots 3 years ago when the "sub-genre" was at its peak of popularity. Either way, it probably wouldn't work even with an otherwise well-constructed story, so it CERTAINLY doesn't work in a muddled, half-baked one like this. Sorry, but "Found Flashlight" isn't likely to take off anytime soon, even if it is a relief to watch this sort of thing without wondering who found and edited all the footage into a nice narrative for us.

What say you?


It Follows (2014)

MARCH 28, 2015


There's a funny thing about horror movies like It Follows - when it's at its best, it's largely due to the fact that writer/director David Robert Mitchell thankfully didn't spend a single second more than he had to explaining the source of the "monster" that terrorizes our heroine throughout its slightly overlong 100 min runtime. Maybe in It Follows 6: The Curse Of The Nameless It Follows Monster, we can learn that it's actually a pawn for a Druid cult looking to make a blood sacrifice, but for now we're in the dark as to where it came from, why it's doing what it's doing, how it can be stopped, etc. Even more than Myers in the original Halloween, it's a force of nature more than a flesh and blood thing, which is why it's terrifying.

So what is it? Well it's not much of a spoiler since they explain it about 20 minutes in (more on that later), so here goes - it's the embodiment of an STD, basically. Passed on through sex but working like the curse in The Ring, once you "get" it, the only way to save yourself is to sleep with someone else, at which point you'll be safe while It goes after that new target. It just walks, it can't teleport or anything like that, but it does change its appearance (and often), so it could be anyone, though its dead-eye stare and lumbering walk is usually a dead giveaway. If It gets you, then It starts working its way back, and we don't know how far back that is (thank Christ; I was dreading some sort of "if we kill the original person, everyone down the line will be safe!" type scenario). The guy who gave it to Jay, our heroine (The Guest's Maika Monroe), could be the 2nd or 3rd victim of the line, or he could be the 1000th (this thing could be milked for sequels AND prequels forever if they want), but it doesn't matter. Stopping it by investigating its own history doesn't seem to cross their minds; everything they do is about surviving by passing it on or killing it.

It's refreshing to see a movie devoid of the usual exposition and convoluted "mythology"; the movie becomes smaller as it goes instead of opening up the world to more information and characters who know what they're dealing with. Unfortunately, Mitchell applied the same "less is more" thinking to the actions of his heroes, and that doesn't work quite as well. Granted they are young adults (their exact age is unclear, but Jay attends community college, so they're at least 18 I would think) and thus maybe not quite as intelligent as Mr. Horror Movie A Day sitting in the comfort of his theater seat, but at least two of their grand plans don't make any goddamn sense at all, and they never seem to think of more obvious (if still short term) solutions to stay ahead of the titular being that haunts them - i.e. getting on a damn boat. At one point they manage to shoot the thing in the head, and it just keeps coming after them with barely a pause - so why does their next plan involve spending what seems like hours driving to a giant pool with dozens of electric appliances, hoping to get it into the water and then electrocute it? That would be like assuming a sharp kick to the groin would work on a vampire that was impervious to sunlight or stakes to the heart. There are also seeming attempts to pass it on that are left entirely to our imagination (like when Jay spies some dude-bros on a boat and swims out to them, presumably for some group sex), but we are basically forced not to think about them and just assume that it doesn't matter - you can't ever be safe from it no matter what you do. But it's hard not to think about all the potential bodies that must be piling up for the thing to keep returning to Jay.

Thus, it's the odd film that's smart (the metaphor is genius - not to mention more satisfying than the usual "if you have sex you die" lesson from slasher films) but also requires you to turn off your brain a bit (at least, the part that asks questions). Everything on-screen works great - the performances are solid, the scares work (this was actually my 2nd viewing* and I jumped three times), the score is FANTASTIC, and it's thankfully not a reference/homage fest like many a modern horror film. My friend said he appreciated the nods to Halloween but to me that's almost reaching - basically there's a scene of a girl in a classroom who looks out the window and sees her pursuer, but that's hardly specific to Halloween anymore (and the framing is all different, as is the outcome). The setting is also vague; if not for a curious Kindle-like device that's only about as big as a compact mirror, one would assume the film took place in the late 80s or something - the TVs are all 4:3 clunkers, the cars are old, no one has a cell phone, etc. On the surface one could draw parallels to Nightmare on Elm Street (suburban supernatural horror that can't be explained, sounds ridiculous when anyone tries) and early Cronenberg (sex monsters!), but Mitchell never hammers them home with something like a referential character name or even any on-screen violence of note - the body count for the film is only two (not counting the potential deaths of the dude-bros), and neither of them are explicit. A gun is introduced for the pals to shoot at their pursuer, and you think someone might get cut down by accident since none of them can aim, but one girl just takes a round to the leg and that's about it. The R rating IS earned, but not for the usual ways you'd think a horror film would be (I'll leave that surprise for you).

There are two things that could have made the movie even better for me (I know the review reads largely negative, but I did like the movie - if I was a grading man I'd give it a B+). One is that we learn most of what we ever do about It before we ever actually see the damn thing for ourselves. The film has an amazing opening scene where a victim is pursued and killed (off-screen, though the corpse is left in a Hannibal-worthy condition), where we never see what is happening, and to me that's the best chase sequence in the movie by far (it could have been topped by a later one where the thing takes on the guise of one of her friends, and we're supposed to think it IS her until the real one appears elsewhere in the setting, but Mitchell bungles it by showing It in soft focus and lumbering along same as he did for 10-12 other incarnations of the thing). Something similar happens with Jay's boyfriend Hugh, before he passes it on to her, where he says he sees it and Jay/we can't see anything, but as soon as he gives it to her, he knocks her out, waits for her to wake up, and then explains everything about it before it shows up and she sees it for herself. From then on the movie follows a fairly repetitive structure - she gathers with her pals for safety, the thing shows up, they run/drive away to a new place, the thing shows up, and so on (the movie has like four scenes of them all piling into a car followed by dreamy, silent driving montages). Had Hugh's big explanation scene come maybe after she had been confusingly chased once (the aforementioned school scene, for example), it could have broken up that repetition, keeping us in the dark a bit longer. It'd be like if Nancy's mom told her about who Freddy was before he had killed Tina. For a script that seemed to want us not to know much, it sure was in a rush to let us know what little it DID want to divulge.

The other one is the ending, so SPOILERS AHEAD (skip to next paragraph if you wish). Jay passes it on yet again, and her "victim" then drives to the bad part of town and passes by some hookers. As always, Mitchell leaves things vague, so who knows if he actually went through it or not, but as like with the guys on the boat it doesn't matter - in the next scene he and Jay are walking down the street and the thing appears behind them before we go to credits. To me, the best and most chilling ending would have been seeing them board a plane or a ship and figure they'll be safe that way, only to see the thing casually walk into the water and continue its pursuit. It'd basically be the same thing, but enforcing its persistence with a new obstacle that it easily overcomes, rather than just have it once again trailing them in the same vague Michigan suburb we've seen it doing for the past 90 minutes. There's no real OOMPH to the ending, and both times I saw it people around me were like "Huh? That's it?". It's not quite The Devil Inside or whatever, but I think Mitchell could have gone with something more chilling to send us off.

Ultimately, it's a horror movie that works best on the people that are easily scared. Not that the scares are cheap or anything, but now that I'm old and married I don't have those "what if I get a disease?" fears I had in high school, and as I've said numerous times on here I don't scare easily. If horror films get under your skin with relative ease, and/or you're a younger audience member, this will play like gangbusters, and I encourage that you see it for yourself. If nothing else, it's worth watching for the inevitable post-movie discussion filled with Gremlins-esque "What if they cross time zones?" type questions concerning the film's "just go with it" logic (my favorite so far: "Why doesn't one of them just bang an astronaut?"). And I love that it's playing on over 1000 screens right now (and not doing that bad! My matinee had like 20 people, pretty good for an indie horror film with zero advertising), as this is the sort of movie I expected to go VOD before being dumped in a few indie theaters a month later, like pretty much every indie horror movie nowadays. Indeed, in an unprecedented move, it WAS planned for a VOD release by now, but instead it got the Paranormal Activity treatment. After doing incredible business in a few (literally, I think it was 4) theaters, it expanded into a hundred or so, continued doing well, and now it's basically playing everywhere in major cities - PA was the last time I can remember a horror movie EARNING a wide release due to demand instead of just getting one. This the sort of thing I've been waiting to see happen ever since VOD became the norm for smaller horror fare, and it gives me hope that horror fans still know how to go up to a box office and ask for a ticket instead of navigating on their computer or cable box. Even if I wasn't as blown away by it as some of my pals and many critics, I'm still thrilled to see the success it has achieved. But if you're like me and can't help over-analyzing things, be prepared to say "Wait a minute..." more often than you'd like.

What say you?

*I saw it at AFI Fest last fall, but it was a midnight screening, so you should easily guess what happened. Since I was mixed I didn't think it was fair to write a review as maybe some of my issues would have been resolved if I hadn't slept through a key piece of info or something, so I waited until now - and went at an 11 am screening! - to put my thoughts down. As it turns out, none of my issues changed; the parts I missed weren't that essential anyway (and one, that boat part, actually made me like the movie slightly less since it was such a go nowhere sequence and the whole "you can't just get rid of it" thing had already been hammered home and would be again).


Desecrated (2013)

MARCH 23, 2015


My memory sucks, so I can't remember how much I've talked about Dead Right Horror Trivia here on HMAD. Summing up: once a month there's a horror trivia game here in LA, and unlike most trivia games prizes are awarded to the teams every round, rather than just the top 3 teams or something at the end of the night. Said prizes are mostly DVDs and Blu-rays, with other stuff thrown in for good measure (I once netted a pellet gun!). My team wins pretty often (and no, not because I'm on it - they've won without me), so I often come home with a new stack of DVDs, most of which I just took because no one else really wanted them or they seemed like they'd be good HMAD fodder. But that pile is building up, so (don't hold me to this!) I'm going to try to watch at least one a week and review it, good or bad. Unfortunately, I'm kicking this off with Desecrated, a movie that will be traded in with alarming quickness. I might even make a special trip just to get this waste of time out of my house.

I've seen worse slasher/survival horror movies, sure, but rarely have I seen one of this type where absolutely nothing about it works. The cover promises a gas masked killer, but the guy in the movie kills everyone sans a mask or disguise of any sort (the cover also 2nd bills Michael Ironside, but you know and I know that he's only in it for like 5 minutes, because that's how these things work). Indeed, you know who the bad guy is pretty early on, but then the movie spends about 10-15 minutes as if they hadn't already revealed who the killer is to the audience, as we see him in friendly mode, helping our idiot group of college kids with their electricity issues. In the hands of a capable director, or editor, or screenwriter, this could be unnerving fun, seeing our bad guy put on a happy face and act like he's on the heroes' side, but as it plays out, it just feels like we aren't supposed to know he's the bad guy yet.

The kills are also totally botched; our guy is an ex-military survivalist type, with landmines everywhere and what not, but almost all of the kills are the result of him pulling out a gun and shooting someone. Even actual action movies get more creative with the killings than this alleged slasher, as if the director was unaware that even the shittiest movie in the sub-genre will at least give a few kills that are at least CONCEPTUALLY interesting, even if the execution is bungled. But no, he can't even manage that much, and the movie's terrible pacing (most of the kids are killed in the final 15 minutes) means you wait around for zero payoff. There are no chase scenes of note either; the climax is nothing more than the three surviving characters holed up in a room, with the villain holding Haylie Duff (the "Final Girl", for lack of a better term) at gunpoint while her dad (Ironside) spells out more of the film's gibberish, wholly uninteresting backstory.

What else? Well the kids are all obnoxious, but like Ironside's limited role I expected that much going in. It's too much to ask of our modern slasher films to routinely give us anyone even remotely endearing (even Duff is grating), so it's only really a surprise and worth noting when a new slasher DOES give us at least two characters worth caring about. I've said this before, but it bears repeating - just because we're here to see a bunch of kids get offed, doesn't mean we should actively root for their deaths. The killer jumping out and stabbing someone isn't scary on its own; it's the fact that someone we like is in danger that really elevates the scare. You can (mostly) get away with a cast full of jerks when it's Jason Voorhees and the movie is the 12th in a series, but not in these things where this is our only chance to give a shit about ANYTHING that is presented on screen. Slasher filmmakers, consider this an assignment: aim to make your viewers angry enough to hate you when you kill off someone they love (and no, not a dog - think Randy in Scream 2, or Sarah Michelle Gellar in I Know What You Did Last Summer). If your mindset is "Let's make them such jerks you'll WANT to see them die!", just please quit making your movie right then and there - we have enough of those. Hell, *I* specifically have enough of those, as I'm sure I could write this exact same review for 5-6 of the other movies I've won over the past two years.

The guy playing the killer is at least trying to be memorable; when he's berating the kids it's easy to appreciate his presence (his "north and west" explanation to the most grating of the bunch is probably the only good moment in the entire movie), and I guess you can say the movie has a happy ending since he gets away without even a scratch - as the only halfway engaging presence in the film, I guess he deserves to live. Otherwise, the best thing I can say about the movie is that it's thankfully only 82 minutes instead of the 104 (!) promised on its IMDb page. The film was shot in 2011 and only surfaced on DVD earlier this year, and while that's not uncommon for independent productions (especially ones that neglected to rip off Paranormal Activity, at least for the past couple years - we've finally moved on for the most part), it wouldn't be a surprise to learn that the film was re-edited in an attempt to save it. The convoluted backstory (involving blackmail, insurance settlements, an unsolved disappearance, etc) probably got cut to the bone, as did the introductions (they arrive at the cabin a lot earlier than most movies of this type). I can't imagine any action was excised, but it wouldn't matter anyway - if anything could have saved this movie, adding more non-action would not be the way to do it.

So, yeah, a lousy start to this new goal. I can't guarantee I'll get one out to you every week, but I am determined to do so, mostly because I have too many damn movies laying around and would like to have that space back. My mild hoarder-ism has been costly (just this week I discovered that I had somehow lost parts to a model kit I started assembling a long time ago - I can't help but think if I had fewer boxes of random "STUFF" in my office, living room, and garage, they never would have been lost, as there only would be 1-2 places I could have tossed them aside), and my son is going to be walking real soon, so having stacks of movies here and there isn't safe. And it'd be even more upsetting if he got hurt because a stack of movies as bad as this fell on him.

What say you?


The Houses October Built (2014)

MARCH 2, 2015


I almost wish I could give The Houses October Built a pass based on its concept (and even some of its execution), because it's kind of brilliant and more inspired than most found footage movies of late. Utilizing real "haunts" (the haunted houses or hayrides, zombie runs, etc that pop up just about everywhere during late September and October) to tell its story of five assho- er, people who are taking a tour of attractions in the days leading up to Halloween. They're looking for an underground group known as "Blue Skeleton" that is rumored to deliver the scariest experience ever, and seemingly pissing people off everywhere they go, allowing the movie two key assets that most FF movies lack.

The first asset is that this has more scares early on than most, because they're taking their cameras into the attractions which makes jump scares acceptable, plus they annoy the actors by filming, so there's almost always some sort of altercation that provides tension, at a time when most FF movies are still setting everything up and delaying the scares for logic's sake (as otherwise they'd stop filming). The other one is that the movie offers far more production value than most of its peers; the filmmakers all went to real attractions and either didn't care about release forms or had to put up a lot of those "By entering this location you're agreeing to be in a film..." notices, so the cast is kind of huge, giving it a scope that I don't think I've actually seen in a found footage movie.

But the huge cast is also part of the problem - there are just too many damn cameras, and our main group is too interchangeable for the movie's own good. It's hard enough to distinguish the four guys (one has a beard, that helps) at its center, but it makes it even harder when they're seemingly always running two cameras but not necessarily showing everyone else in the frame (and camera #1 never picks up camera #2, I don't think). Sometimes you can figure it out pretty quickly, other times the scene will nearly be over by the time you realize who is holding the camera, which is a pretty big issue, I think. It's a POV movie and you're not sure whose POV you're seeing. I've said before that I think too many modern FF movies falter by having the director or a regular cameraman shooting everything instead of one of the actors (which is why Blair Witch Project, where the trio of actors were the only ones to ever shoot anything*, works so much better than just about all of them), so it's a shame that this one just found a different way to shoot itself in the foot. That they're all kind of dickish doesn't help matters, but even if they were all super lovable I'd still spend a good chunk of the movie wondering whose eyes I was seeing it through.

Another big problem is kind of a weird one (spoilers ahead), which is that I wish it ended April Fool's Day style, with all of the terror our group faces being revealed to be a prank, that everything was indeed just the really intense haunted attraction that they were after (albeit way too elaborate). When the mysterious "Blue Skeleton" group finally catches up to them and kills/captures them all, it just feels like every other found footage movie that ends with most/all of the protagonists dying, where they had a perfect opportunity to do things differently - not to mention pull off perhaps the only satisfying "it wasn't real" ending in horror history. And the problem mentioned above is even worse here; it's bad enough when you don't know who is filming when it's just some random footage of a legit haunt, but kind of a major issue when it's someone being tortured.

Dumber still, the ending doesn't offer up the epilogue it should, which would be seeing our heroes' corpses used in a haunt. Earlier in the film, one of the characters explains that it doesn't bother him that he might be seeing an actual human leg in an attraction, because he wouldn't know - and he's right. It's dark, you're going through fast, and it's not like you're touching the things, so it's kind of an intriguing what if? scenario, and something the movie could have salvaged its bad ending with (giving one of them a tattoo on a body part that becomes a prop for audiences a year later would be the easy way to sell this concept). Or even having the heroes killed in plain sight of paying audiences (who would just assume it was part of the show) would be fine - basically anything beyond what they give us would have been better, as it's just plain baffling that it ends with something that doesn't pay off a single thing. What's the lesson to learn here? Don't go to haunted attractions? Be happy with the lame ones? I just don't get it.

The film is actually a pseudo remake of something the same team made three years ago (with the same title), but I can't find out too much about it - there's no review for it on its IMDb and director Zack Andrews is obnoxiously vague about how real/fake that one was, saying in an interview that he can't really explain that one's ending because his planned followup (this?) wouldn't work as well. So I guess I'd have to see it to know what he was talking about, but I won't be doing that. Even if I was interested enough to do so, it doesn't look like the original ever got picked up traditionally, so the only way to see it (that I can find) is on the bonus features of the 2014 one's DVD. Which I don't think is lying around in my house anywhere (I'm not joking; it's possible it is - I've won stuff at trivia that I've forgotten about), so I'd have to put effort into obtaining it. But for the record, it sounds like they did an S&Man thing where it's a legit documentary for the most part and then turns a corner once you're totally sold on the reality. It's probably better, honestly, but they didn't endear themselves to me nearly enough for me to want to sit through another 90 minutes of them swearing at each other (there are more F-bombs in this movie than there are in my house when I have to assemble furniture), so oh well. My advice: skip both versions and check out The American Scream, a legit documentary about homemade haunted house attractions that will make you yearn for the Halloween season, unlike this movie which made me glad we're far away from it and thus not currently being bombarded with similar nonsense.

What say you?

*Save for one shot early on where the guy explains Rustin Parr putting a kid in the corner, which was added later to help clarify the ending.


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