419. 2012. Directed by Ned Thorne.
Starring Mike Ivers, Scott Kerns, Ned Thorne, Ezra Mabengez, Cara Loften, and Emilea Wilson. 120db Films. Unrated. 84 minutes. Crime/Drama/Thriller.
4 out of 5 stars
I’m always on the lookout for new films to watch. As of now, I’ve seen a little over 4,100 movies – that’s including made for tv movies, short films, straight-to-video stuff, and of course all the regular feature films I’ve seen.
So I’m always trying to find new titles that I’ve not seen, that I’ve put off seeing, et cetera and so on. Recently I got more into iTunes and also Google Play. Tons of fun deals, good selection. On Google Play especially, I’ve found a bunch of stuff I have not been able to track down anywhere else – at least not for the prices they’re offering, anyways. Even just the rentals are awesome.
When I came upon this one, 419, it looked pretty intriguing and possibly something fresh, exciting. So many found footage movies out there are really lame, however, 419 had some potential to me.
I wasn’t disappointed. There are some fun things going on in this movie and it doesn’t go for all the same tropes, it doesn’t suffer from all the regular pitfalls that others do in this sub-genre.
I’m personally a big fan of found footage. Some horror fans seem to act like horror movies that go found footage are all lame, they’re just cheap ways to film. Some times that is exactly true. In opposition, 419 is not a horror. It’s a pretty cracking little thriller that has elements of crime and drama, of course. This is a smart use of found footage in a way that presents as organic; something which other found footage films seem to be lacking, except the proper ones. The setup, the execution, and some decent acting from the lead actors makes this a decent outing in the found footage sub-genre, and something that isn’t boringly typical like so many of its fellow found footage titles.
Nigerian Penal Code – 419 is the code designated to acts of fraud.
We open to the story of Mike (Mike Ivers). He is a struggling actor who was recently scammed via e-mail. Falling for one of the Nigerian online scams, Mike is lured in by a man who eventually takes him for a ton of money. However, his friends Scott (Scott Kerns) and Ned (director Ned Thorne) decide to go with Mike to Cape Town, South Africa. Armed with little information, the trio head to meet with a local friend named Ezra (Ezra Mabengeza) who may be able to help them with their search.
Initially, things in Cape Town start out well. Ezra takes them to some places about where Mike and his friends try to extract a bit of information from people around the neighbourhoods. Clearly, though, they are out of their element amongst the poverty stricken locations Ezra brings them; a world they do not fully understand. And unfortunately for the trio of best friends, there soon proves to be complications; dark and dangerous ones.
I think overall 419 adheres to almost all of the unwritten found footage rules of the sub-genre. You can nitpick and maybe find a few shots here or there, but I don’t think there would be enough to say it detracts at all from its effectiveness.
Not only that, the story works well. The characters interact and act individually as real people would in such a situation. At one point when Mike and his friends start to see how crazy things could get, which is early on, they really start to question things – particularly Ned and Scott. They realize things are intense and there is potential for much further intensity.
There are some typical found footage moments of “Turn off the camera”. That being said, they’re not as typical as you’d see in other movies. For instance, the first time Mike asks for the camera to be turned off, there’s persistence not to but eventually it happens. There’s nothing too prolonged on that part like some other film scripts decide to go with, where we’re treated to scene after scene of pure argument over whether or not the camera is going to get turned off and put away. So while you expect these moments, a film can either go too hard with them or use them, sparsely. 419 does so in a way that works with the plot while not becoming an overbearing nuisance that keeps happening, over and over.
It wasn’t a case of the best acting I’ve ever seen, but I can’t say this was poorly acted. These guys seemed like three friends who were close, who had history. They felt natural together as a group. Not only that, I thought they all acted natural in the situations in which they found themselves. The script, if there was one officially, worked well and I think if there was one it contained decent writing.
So many found footage efforts come out seeming illogical at times, or all the time, because much of the dialogue and so many of the characters come out as unreasonable people; doing and saying things in the moment that sound unnatural, irrational, and downright stupid. Here, I didn’t feel this much, if at all really. The characters were all expectedly leery about things after coming to their senses; always at least one of them kept stating “we need to take a step back” and it made sense, it’s only normal someone would realize how wild their entire adventure into South Africa to try and find this online scam artist is getting.
One part that comes off so well, and natural, is after Mike has been doing cocaine in a bathroom at some club. His friends are pissed with his behaviour, and one wonders how the hell he even got any because they’d only been in Cape Town about 4 days; I found that so true and so sensible, and wondered it myself before the lines happened.
There’s no doubt that 419 is a slowburn thriller. Nothing quick about the plot of this film. For the longest time it plays out a lot like an actual documentary of their trip, there’s not too much going on in terms of convoluted action or dialogue. I like how organic things feel, but then the plot descends into its more sinister and dangerous thriller aspects.
BRIEF SPOILERS AHEAD! YOU WILL BE FUCKING SPOILED LEST YE TURN BACK!
While I’d predicted that Ezra was less than honourable because of some of the things he did/said beforehand. Still, when things really hit the climax of the film I found myself surprised all the same. There was good tension and suspense leading up to those moments. The hostage stuff was god damn scary at times. So real and raw, truly freaky.
HERE ENDETH THE SPOILERS!
I liked how part of this also played out after the fact, so we’ve got a real documentary style feel to the found footage used here. We get people close to Mike and his friends, fathers, et cetera, as well as a woman involved in the whole case concerning Mike and the people they all encounter in Cape Town; plus a few other ‘talking head’ type interviewees. Gave this all a sense of realism that truly worked for me. Effective way to go about things instead of dramatizing all the events of the climax. Good way to push the story along near the end in the final 20-25 minutes. I thought it went smooth and paid off on all the slowburn-like tension built up throughout the first hour.
A really chilling moment that speaks to the universality of that gangster image in the Hollywood/other films we see glamourizing illegal lifestyles, et cetera: one of the South Africans, a young man involved in some of the darker things which come later throughout 419 walks around in a room by himself, on camera, imitating the musings of Tony Montana as played by the fabulously wild Al Pacino. Some may think it’s funny. I thought it was disturbing and spoke volumes.
One of the better found footage films I’ve seen from the past few years, I have to say. Mainly because there’s an excellent, organic feel to so much of the dialogue, the relationships between the main characters feels incredibly real (the betrayal between them all comes off so much harder because of these facts), and I thought the finale was amazing. There is one last sort of twist that I did not expect; maybe others might, I just really didn’t see it coming.
So I’m going to go right and put this up as a 4 out of 5 star film. It’s a truly well-done and intelligent bit of found footage that doesn’t go for straight up horror. Instead, we get a nice thrilling little crime drama that takes us into the peril of three friends who find terror in South Africa. Definitely not the typical found footage we always see, even if it has some of the sand watermarks in its DNA. Regardless, I cannot say this is a bad film, not even mediocre. This was awesome. Very refreshing to see a better take on the found footage sub-genre than so many cheap, independent efforts. Check this out on Google Play or anywhere else you can get your hands on a copy! Well worth the effort to track this down. Crackerjack ending – loved it a good deal.