And now a couple of bona-fide stinkers. I’m pairing them up, as they share a common framing device (‘found footage’), and they’re both rubbish. First, the lesser of the two evils:
The Devil Inside
This rotten mess is yet another exorcism affair. Laughably billed as ‘the film the Vatican doesn’t want you to see’ – suggesting, if nothing, the Pope and his cardinals have better taste in films than you might expect – it conforms to most of the rules of the priest-versus-demon sub-genre. At least 2010s highly flawed The Last Exorcism attempted to offer something new, and last year’s even less impressive The Rite had Antony Hopkins’s heft to help it along.
To be fair, at a trim 83 minutes it at least has the decency to be short, and there are few (pretty cheap) jumps – though even moderate horror fans will see them coming a country mile away. This is not a flick for the veterans, who will find the premise, the scares and the execution risible. Nonetheless, I can’t imagine even horror neophytes being too impressed, particularly given the pointlessly oblique ending.
Along the way, the filmmakers essay a new benchmark in gross overestimation of the audience's capacity engagement with rich, spoiled little fuckwits. I suppose there's loud music and teen-aged T'n'A if you want it (maybe take a look at yourself if you do), but otherwise this is an offensive and artless insult to the intelligence of even the most rudimentary mouth-breathing stulti-plex audience
The 18 certificate - and it takes a lot to get an 18 these days, in this case because of the BBFC's guidelines on depicting consequence-free drug use - will keep out the target demographic, I feel. In any case, anyone past the age of twenty (and most below it) will find very little to like in this cold, dull emotional void of a film.
Having got those out of my system, I want to add a little cri de couer regarding found footage movies. I can understand why they are enticing to filmmakers. The tradition is said to go back to Cannibal Holocaust (a better film than its silly name suggests, though it does indulge in the nasty Giallo tradition of real-life animal cruelty) – but I’d take it back much further: it’s equivalent in literature is the kind of epistolary novel exemplified by Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), consisting entirely of letters, diary entries and so on. As a storyteller’s shortcut to engage the audience with visceral immediacy – and to absent the omniscient narrator (silently implied in cinema by the camera lens) – there’s nothing new about it.
|Stoker: "I blame that Samuel Richardson..."|
And for horror movies, it can work. Certainly The Blair Witch Project, the catalyst for the slew of found footage movies that have followed, is a cracking film, making the most of the narrative device. However, the only other films to have really successfully used the format since were the Spanish horror Rec and last year’s The Troll Hunter, which share a similar ‘documentary team getting more than they bargained for’ premise.
This year’s breakout hit Chronicle – like Project X, not a horror film – also used the found footage device, albeit (in my view) to the film’s detriment. The question at the back of my mind is always: who is the mysterious editor who has put these things together? Why? How have they located and obtained all of the footage?
You might assume it’s some sort of government agency, or the police – but I can’t imagine that their priorities would include ensuring character development and an audience-friendly running time of ninety-odd minutes. Surely this dubious authorship undermines the verisimilitude and immediacy that is the whole point of the found footage device in the first place? The Blair Witches and Troll Hunters are able to sidestep, or even explicitly acknowledge, this issue, thus retaining that elusive this-could’ve-really-happened chill.
The truth is that found footage is a lazy way of filmmaking. There’s no need to worry about cinematography, score, or other filmic conventions such as establishing shots. Cinema is, of course, about telling stories through both sound and image, and the found footage device limits the director’s ability to do this. There’s no doubt that found footage can be done well – as with genre conventions (or low budgets), the restrictions of the device can precipitate deeper, more poetic truths – but let’s face facts: 95% of found footage movies inhabit the mediocre-to-dreadful spectrum – and how many deeper truths are contained in Paranormal Activity 2? By their very nature these films lack grandeur and beauty, and all too often serve to underline storytelling deficiencies.
All of which is a very pompous and long-winded way of saying – enough already with the found footage! If you must release crappy, boring films, at least have the decency to make them look or sound nice. I’d even rather a film was in 3D, as at least that shows some kind of visual ambition on the part of the filmmaker – an acknowledgement that cinema is about visually engaging your audience. Anything to save us from any more of this cheap, ugly, grating and dull crap.