Dir. Christopher MacBride
What are the ethics of showing footage of mass death in genre films? I find one of the ironies in the reception of Cannibal Holocaust was that audiences didn’t really notice that footage of actual war deaths used in the film, rather it was the killing of a turtle and a monkey that caused the most outrage. And, as irresponsible a film as that is, that response seems to prove the film’s point and perhaps demonstrates that the film may not just be pretending to have a conscience. How does that relate to this film? Well, part of my reaction is probably because seeing the 9/11 attacks twice in this film, seemed a bit excessive for what it is doing with the footage. For instance, the use of the Zapruder film combined with a speech by JFK (the context of the speech is played loosely here), is actually the most effective scene in the film. And while the protagonists of the film would certainly watch and re-watch 9/11 videos, the problem is that the 9/11 attack footage has become rather ubiquitous and perhaps lazy shorthand in film. Less is more, and while I didn’t particuarly like Spike Lee’s 25th Hour, the absent-presence of the Twin Towers was far more potent than directly addressing the attacks; or Inarrito’s staggering, sonic based approach in his short for the 11’09″01 (which was later “borrowed” for the Zero Dark Thirty open).
The film has an interesting idea. I’m fascinated by conspiracy theories, and I’ve seen a number of the “classic” viral conspiracy films. Because things like Loose Change have huge followings online, and there are whole communities looking for the Illuminati in things like Katy Perry videos, it seems ripe to enter into the horror film, which has, for most of film history, been the political barometer of American culture and counter-culture.
The problem is, this film doesn’t depart enough into fiction. It’s not that it’s particularly a bad film, rather it feels like unnecessary one, and that’s a major crime in my approach to movies. It’s basically a slightly fictionalized version of Alex Jones’ infiltrating and filming the Bohemian Grove. Which, as I watched this movie, thought would make an interesting biopic, and would love to see what an actor could do with Jones as a character. If you want creepy found footage of secret societies, why not look up that footage on youtube instead? In a way it’s stranger, more frightening to watch the footage through the lens of someone as questionable as Jones.There’s another film, The Sacrament, which I have not yet seen, but those who have seen it have criticized it for basically being a fictionalized Jonestown film. Horror, or effective horror, is metaphor, allegory, and fable. Perhaps the found-footage film’s interest in presenting itself as evidence, verisimilar witness, has created horror docu-dramas, and I don’t think that’s a good thing.
The other problem with this film, as a film, is that you know a twist is coming, and if you’ve seen any of the investigative-horror subgenre you know where this is going. From Lovecraft, to The Vanishing, to The Serpent and the Rainbow, to Kill List, to The Wicker Man, to Thesis, to bascially any Japanese Urban Legend film, looking for information never turns out well, and most of these involving cults end in oddly specifically the same way. And this film is essentially a lackluster remake of one of those films.
I do give the film credit for it’s ending, which shows more restraint than most films in the found-footage genre, and it may be the first found-footage film to show the footage being edited together. The film starts out as a straight documentary (voice-overs, experts, etc.), which is interesting, but then becomes a shaky-cam film (Koji Shiraishi is still the only person to succesfully make a documentary horror film) leaving the structured, third person documentary-style behind.