Tag Archives: found footage

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

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It’s safe to say that the Paranormal Activity franchise went radically downhill after the first film. Given the mediocrity of the second and third instalments I didn’t even bother with the following release, which, according to reviews, turned out to be a wise move. But here they are, still milkin’ it Saw-style, and on a rainy Saturday with nothing to do except lounge around I decided to pass the time with some mindless entertainment and deemed the newly released Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones by Christopher Landon perfect for the afternoon.

The Marked Ones isn’t technically a sequel (the fifth part of the series is coming out in October), it’s more like a spin-off. It is supposed to solve some of the mysteries surrounding the paranormal forces at work and touches on aspects of the previous PA films, all the while telling a new story.

I expected it to be stale as a corpse, but it is actually much more entertaining than every post-PA1 flick I’ve seen. The storyline centers around two best friends, Jesse and Hector, who are just living for the day and horsing around like teenagers do until Jesse’s weird neighbour dies and spooky occurrences start piling up. The first half of the picture is uncharacteristically humorous. The main characters are likeable goofballs and there are some genuinely funny scenes (minuscule spoiler ahead: the entire audience chuckled when Hector slid down the stairs in a laundry basket with a GoPro attached), which is a change I embrace. The movie feels relatively authentic and not like a big budget Hollywood production in general, and it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously.

The jump scares are fun and actually made me jump. Admittedly, that’s not exactly a shining accomplishment because I am a huge scaredy cat, but judging from my fellow cinemagoers’ reactions, they do work. Even so, I didn’t find the film all that scary in terms of suspense, but that didn’t strike me as a problem.

My major criticism is that for every question answered, The Marked Ones raises another, presumably to make sure that the machine can continue milking the franchise for every last penny until the end of all existence. Cliffhangers are annoying when the intention of the makers so obviously isn’t to let people reflect on the story on their own, but to make more money off sequels.

Other than that, The Marked Ones is a solid popcorn flick. For me, its strong points are the protagonists and the humour. You don’t necessarily have to have seen PA2, PA3 and PA4 in order to understand and enjoy this one, but I recommend watching PA1 so you’re not missing the key links (and besides, it’s inarguably the best of the bunch and you should totally check it out if you were hiding under a rock and somehow missed it in 2007.)

Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County

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This is my first time ever reviewing a movie about aliens. Out of the long list of human-invented monsters and entities, I find our fabricated image of aliens to be the least scary and/or interesting, so I don’t seek out stories involving them. I am tired of seeing the same old pale inverted triangle heads parading around the earth with their long limbs, technologically advanced spaceships and shady intents. I have yet to see a movie that deals with them in an exciting way and doesn’t use the worn-out stereotype of the extraterrestrial tyrant with supernatural powers.

Sadly, Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County does not challenge our idea of extraterrestrial life, either. But it did capture my attention because it is a straight to TV movie that came out one year before The Blair Witch Project and was marketed as real footage, as well. (By the by, the fact that this actually worked is hilarious. Aside from the fairly obvious movie mistakes, like glaring audio/visual asynchrony and the like, the makers included the alien actors in the credits.)

The film, which features interviews with all sorts of “professionals” in between the found footage, is told through the lens of a kid who wants to document his family’s thanksgiving get-together with his new camera. They’re all having a medicore time until the three brothers go out to check what’s wrong with the electricity. They notice strange lights in the distance, decide to investigate and end up witnessing a strange ritual performed by aliens in front of their spaceship. Things go downhill from there.

The acting struck me as substandard and very distinctly amateurish (except for the little girl, who managed to unsettle the ever-living hell out of me), which shattered hopes of the film feeling real and dangerous for me right off the bat. As entertainment, “okay” is the word I would use to describe it in a nutshell. Truth be told, this is far from the worst outcome. I actually do think it is suspenseful, and the alien intruders have some pretty creative methods to mess with the family. The psychological manipulations, especially towards the end, are seriously unnerving. I’d love to spoil a specific scene here, but I’ll keep it as vague as possible by revealing that people end up putting their tongues where they don’t belong, and it leaves you… puzzled. There are very few jump scares, which I appreciate, as well. The film tries to build to a climax of terror by using tension and subtly disturbing occurrences.

I’d say that watching Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County can serve as a nice Friday evening pastime for found footage/suspense/alien fans. The movie is not groundbreaking or challenging in any way, but it’s one of the more tolerable alien flicks I’ve seen, if that counts for anything coming from an alien flick avoider.

Cloverfield

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I think it’s time I admit to myself that I’m a non-ironic fan of found footage-style movies. An unsteady frame, organic characters, a decently creepy plot — throw a moderate dose of hysteria in the mix and I’m sold for the entire runtime. Oh, and an obscure or semi-obscure malicious creature helps, too.

Cloverfield fits the bill. It also had all the viral marketing and hype to build it up as the most spectacular monster/disaster/found footage movie ever prior to its release 5 years ago, which simultaneously meant that you set yourself up for a colossal disappointment if you bought into it, so I took my time until I finally decided to watch it, and I’m glad I did. Now that the fuss has long cooled off and there were no outside influences to taint my experience, I could go into it with a more open and neutral mindset than would have been possible in 2008.

There are some questions you just don’t ask when it comes to the genre, like why the characters don’t throw away their silly cameras and run in acutely life-threatening situations. The answer is because then we cinemagoers wouldn’t have the chance to be at the edge of our seats for 85 minutes, that’s why. But what I like about Cloverfield is that there are other, more interesting questions left to be discussed. Little is revealed about the monster, which leaves a lot of room for interpretation — it’s impossible not to notice a parallel to Godzilla, only instead of being an allegory for the damage inflicted on Japan by the atom bomb, the Cloverfield beast is an allegory for the damage the events of 9/11 inflicted on New York. Upon reading the synopsis on IMDB, I found out that in the end scene, when the military finds footage of the main characters on their trip to Coney Island, there is an object falling from the sky and into the ocean in the background. (I find it virtually impossible to see with the naked eye, especially if you don’t actively pay attention.) In interviews, Drew Goddard has stated that contrary to popular belief, the object is not the monster, but a satellite. The monster had been lying dormant in the ocean for thousands of years, and the satellite awakens it from its sleep.

So needless to say, there are myriads of theories by fans to be found on the Internet. I love when a film sparks speculation and debate of this kind. Cloverfield provides just the right amount of answers to prevent fun-spoiling frustration, but leaves enough mystery to stir the audience’s curiosity and investigative spirit.

I’ve heard my fair share of film buffs criticise the use of shaky cam for being a convenient way to hide violence, ill-executed CGI sequences, poor acting and stunt doubles, hindering complete immersion in the story and generally just making scenes hard to watch, but I disagree. To me, the use of shaky cam in movies like Cloverfield is nothing short of a must. When the whole population of New York city is seized with panic and fright, you can bet your bottom dollar that there will be chaos; and what better way to emphasise the terror and havoc visually than by not using a tripod to shoot the movie? When a situation spins out of control to this extent, messy shots make a lot of sense. I really, really dig the cinematography, but there’s a staggering amount of people who couldn’t finish watching Cloverfield because of it, so I suppose it’s a weakness, as well. (Interesting fact: our brain shuts down our vision when we turn our head quickly — this phenomenon, known as “saccadic masking”, is the reason why the use of shaky cam in films makes so many people feel sick.)

Cloverfield is one of the better movies of the genre I’ve yet had the pleasure to encounter. It starts out rather weak by depicting the boring lives of rich New Yorkers, hits its peak when the disaster strikes and stays there for a majority of the film, and unfortunately ends on an underwhelming note, but that doesn’t significantly detract from its overall quality. It’s a thrilling watch that stayed on my mind for a while.

No Through Road

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Seeing as my last two reviews were unfavourable, to say the least, I figured I’d finally inject some positivity into my little corner of El Gore and prove that I don’t just hate everything on principle. So today I’d like to present No Through Road to you, an independent short film in the style of found footage that didn’t make me want to chug a bottle of bleach.

I would honour the makers with an in-depth, rave review of their creation, but it’s impossible to talk about a 9-minute flick without spoiling it in its entirety, so I’ll keep it brief and let you see for yourself. It’s not like there’s much to draw on anyway, thanks to these guys’ admirable dedication to passing the video off as actual found footage: after an extensive Google search, the El Gore team concluded that there’s no information about its production available on the Internet. We have no idea who made this film or who stars in it, which certainly adds to the subliminal creep factor.

No Through Road doesn’t bring anything new to the table in terms of plot line and structure. A group of lanky adolescents decide to go for a drive and film themselves horsing around; it’s all fun and games until they get lost. The acting is excellent, the conversation feels natural, the tension is palpable. It’s as good as it gets in the genre and medium.

I like the clips they added randomly throughout the film of the boys trying out Photo Booth effects, playing the guitar and just being regular teenagers at earlier points in time. At times the unrelated images appear so abruptly that it makes you jump a little, which I feel greatly enhances the eerie atmosphere. Same goes for the infinitely creepy record loop on the radio, which stems from the 2008 thriller The Strangers.

That’s all I’m willing to give away for now, as this spine-chilling short is definitely worth the 9 minutes of your day. It’s undoubtedly one of the best low-budget horror films I’ve seen. Check it out below.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08rj_ioKNSo]

HATE CRIME

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Independent filmmaker James Cullen Bressack‘s latest movie HATE CRIME was quite difficult to review for me. To be straightforward with you, James and his movie want to provoke, which sometimes works really well but unfortunately also fails quite a few times. To give you an idea of what we are talking about here: HATE CRIME is a point of view found footage movie mixed with moderate french violence porn insanity and the aim of pointing to racial prejudices still existing in our modern societies.

The story and especially the idea/conversion of the portrayed pschological and physical abuse loosely remind me of Haneke‘s psycho epos Funny Games (1997) and Stanley Kubricks’s masterpiece Clockwork Orange (1971) with a pinch of neo-nazi. James, of course, has adapted the violence to the 21st century, so everything is a bit more brutal than you may expect. In short: a family is celebrating their son’s birthday when all of a sudden the party gets crashed by hate-filled nazis who resolve to torture the family in every imaginable way.

If you are into no-budget hardcore and exploitation, this movie could be interesting for you, but there are also a few things which bothered me. I won’t go into details now as I do not want to spoil the film for you. The family cast is quite decent but I had my share of problems with the villains. The neo-nazi scene is omnipresent in Europe and it is very important that we do not close our eyes and fight this bullshit, but in the end, they were not credible enough and behaved quite artificially.

The dialogues are mostly based on nazi stereotypes and seemed fittled or even improvised. As I already pointed out, the nazi subject is very weighty and just like the exploitation and especially rape and revenge movies from the 70s, James wants to focus on this theme by exaggerated violence and excessive shocking elements.

Personally, I think that the scenery and acting are too faked and seem to be uncoordinated or even improvised. All in all, if you can overlook these negative aspects and are familiar with bizarre independent flicks, you can give HATE CRIME a try.

I am looking forward to what young independent filmmaker James Cullen Bressack has in store for us in the future.