Director: Ti West
Writer: Ti West
Cinematographer: Eric Robbins
by Jon Cvack
Another great found footage film coming from Ti West, whose previous movie The Innkeepers was extremely disappointing, especially after House of the Devil went down as one of the best 00s horror films. The story involves a Vice documentary crew (yes, the newsshow), investigating the disappearance of a fashion photographer’s sister, Caroline, who ran away to an exotic and foreign hippie commune somewhere in Central America (I think), guarded by men with AK-47s. Vice journalist Sam (AJ Bowen) and his DP (Joe Swanberg) are dropped off by helicopter that won’t return until the following day. The two enter the camp which appears to operate like your everyday late-60s hippie commune, except surrounded by jungle and with much better amenities - minus the guards holding AKs.
Best part is Joe Swanberg playing a bandana wearing badass cameraman who, contrary to your average horror film, actually has a lot of personality. I think it's my favorite role of his.
However, it's The Father (Gene Jones) who leads the show. While his looks fits the generic image of a cult leader, his performance is mesmerizing, providing a frightening and commanding presence in each and every scene.
Caroline (Amy Seimetz) fits the environment perfectly as an impressionable new age hippie who’s been swayed by the rhetoric and has unwavering faith in the cause. While her brother acts as a partial throwaway, it’s forgiven after an amazing single take scene between the siblings, who enter into an impassioned feud.
It’s these performances in particular which has made me realize the value of having good characters in found footage films. While other traditional movies could have engaging photography, effects, music, etc. to compensate for weak performances, found footage has no where else to go. Character & story is 90% of the narrative.
Many have mentioned the Jonestown Massacre in reviews. The inspiration is apparent, but it’s what West does with the material that makes it so great. He follows the number one commandment of found footage films - make sure that how the footage was found makes sense. I see it time and again where the footage just magically made it into someone's hands (see The Conspiracy ). Often the people who assembled the film describe how hundreds of hours were discovered and it's now available to show, which is all well and good so long as someone was there to either a) find the footage or b) had a legitimate means of getting it; namely, if the movie ends with the characters alone and dead, whoever killed them probably wouldn't leave the footage behind (The Blair Witch Project exempt).
Contrary to most films in the mini-genre, this isn’t another supernatural spin. It’s a plausible story, unfolding in a plausible way. I cared about everyone, I wanted to know what would happen next, and even though I read the Jonestown spoiler, the story was so engaging that I had completely forgotten about the comparison. It's a fun film.
BELOW: A great clip of The Father (Gene Jones)
Thoughts on films, old and new
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