THE TUNNEL: Hidden Horrors Beneath Sydney, Australia

The Tunnel. 2011. Directed by Carlo Ledesma. Screenplay by Julian Harvey & Enzo Todeschi.
Starring Bel Deliá, Andy Rodoreda, Steve Davis, Luke Arnold, Goran D. Kleut, James Caitlin, Ben Maclaine, Peter McAllum, Shannon Harvey, Arianna Gusi, & Russell Jeffrey.
Distracted Media/Zapruder’s Other Films/Dishs
Not Rated. 90 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★
TUNNEL1Father Gore always has time for found footage. Even better if it’s in the faux-documentary style. The Tunnel is the story of a documentary crew heading, unauthorised, into the tunnels underneath Sydney, Australia. What they wind up finding is more than a government cover-up of overspending and waste.
While this does follow a familiar path, bringing to mind the groundbreaking Blair Witch Project, there’s a genuine air of unease that follows the characters as they go headlong into a mystery they don’t quite understand. Found footage can often lose tension to the shaky camera, screaming and other too loud noise, among other things. Here, the tension holds up, and the documentary style takes us through the various stages up to the sinister events which the crew experience.
Perhaps why The Tunnel is so effective is because it takes on a real world issue, crafting an interesting plot within that familiar story constructed as a news exposé. The natural feel of the characters, the homeless people they encounter in the tunnels, the story of the tunnels themselves, this all builds up a whole world for the film instead of just feeling like an isolated environment for 90 minutes.
TUNNEL2The faux-documentary lends an air of authenticity to the film, so the events which lead up to all the genuinely creepy horror midway through feel natural, the characters seem real. Best of all, the organic traits of The Tunnel make this better than three-quarters of the found footage out there, avoiding the typical “Turn off the camera” arguments and the expected moves of a lesser film. That being said, certain aspects, in the end, are the same we’ve seen before. Luckily, it all builds and releases a heavy dose of tense fear.
Unique locations add to the film’s feel, made possible by the plot itself.
The whole thing is just like an investigative series you’d expect to find on the BBC or another similar network. There’s an almost Gothic atmosphere, as the news crew venture deeper into the tunnels below Sydney there’s a sense something ancient, amongst mentions of the tunnels having been used as air raid shelters during World War II. Long before the evil down there becomes more concrete later on, it’s a s if the place is a haunted house, only in the form of a series of tunnels, homeless squats, and forgotten spaces lost to time.
Things take an eerie turn with Trevor the homeless man’s scene. Unnerving. Early on there’s a gut feeling something isn’t quite right, prior to any other hints of terror. Once the news crew start experiencing scarier and scarier events, recalling Trev’s brief but memorable freak out comes with the knowledge this man was giving them a warning without words.
TUNNEL3It might’ve been nice to at least get a tiny bit of elaboration on the evil lurking down in the tunnels. However, the way it’s left for what it is on the surface is a testament to the trauma of people like Trev, the other homeless who are left shells of themselves – if they’re lucky enough to still be alive – and are unable to articulate the monstrosity of whatever’s down there.
Simultaneously, we can dig out our own meaning. WWII, the Holocaust, these were modern events which shaped the world, not merely Germany. After these modern warns, the psychological traumas of people suddenly took off, generational or otherwise, and largely they were forgotten. Because post-WWII was a time of celebration, when fascism had been defeated and the world looked hopeful, full of opportunity. Our societal ills were hidden; or, society wanted to keep them hidden. This leads us to the homeless, who’ve literally crawled down into the forgotten tunnels of the war, a fittingly metaphorical space for them.
And down there, a danger grows, some brutal mutation. It feeds on the homeless, the forgotten and discarded people of our collective society. The government doesn’t care too much because it’s solving part of their problem without doing the work; out of sight, out of mind, right?
TUNNEL4The Tunnel genuinely freaked me out. It follows a lot of similar veins as the found footage classics we know and love. Yet it doesn’t go to all the same places, it plays with our expectations from the documentary standpoint while offering up nice frights weaved through the plot while we see it play out via found footage, the tapes shot by the crew themselves. This mix is something I really dig in the sub-genre, and it works for director Carlo Ledesma.
Sure, if you don’t like found footage already, you’ll probably not like this one, too. But give it a shot. This doesn’t suffer from many of the mistakes other similar films do, it’s a smart and well paced piece of work. Ledesma’s pacing is rhythmic, lulling us into a comfortable feeling before bringing out a creepy moment or two until finally falling all the way into a chaotic finale.
Might be a great flick for a group of people in October. You’ll all jump at least once or twice. The characters aren’t archetypes, they’re actual people, flawed and full of shit sometimes; other times, they’re intelligent and raw, honest. Things get emotional, they get weird, and what’s down in those tunnels? Pretty chilling. You could almost see The Tunnel as an unaired special on a news networks, uploaded years later to YouTube as part of a conspiracy people try to unravel.

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THE GARLOCK INCIDENT: Broken American Dreams En Route to Las Vegas

The Garlock Incident. 2012. Directed & Written by Evan Cholfin; from a story by Cholfin, Ariana Farina, & Ana Lily Amirpour.
Starring Ana Lily Amirpour, Adam Chambers, Sean Durrie, Joy Howard, Alycen Malone, Sean Muramatsu, Casey Ruggieri, & Larissa Wise.
Loudcat
Not Rated. 78 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★
FullSizeRenderI’m of two minds: you can make found footage and not worry too much about ‘following the rules’ of the format so long as the story’s good, scary, exciting; or, you can make found footage while sticking to the format’s unwritten rules, working to make the film feel entirely genuine as a piece of recovered footage. The Garlock Incident is of the latter class, feeling exactly as if this film was picked up from a discarded camera somewhere out in the desert.
What makes this found footage better is not only do we deal with an intense, disturbing plot on the surface, beneath there’s much to admire. The Garlock Incident explores themes of the urban v. rural landscape, how societal norms and morality breaks down outside of the city, among others. Most of all, it acts as an overall metaphor about the deteriorating American Dream by contrasting it against the physical space of Old America.
Putting a group of friends on the road to Las Vegas, on their way to make a film directed by Ana Lily Amirpour (herself an actual, awesome director), director-writer Evan Cholfin crafts a sneaky little found footage film that teases all sorts of elements, but ultimately works on suspense, tension, and draws out a psychological horror that will stick with you well after that story comes to a close.
FullSizeRender (1)Straight away, the opening just jumps into footage; as a genuinely filmed road trip would, with no title, no opening scene like a traditional film, none of that. Not even the typical “On such-and-such date a group of…” Rather, we’re thrust directly into the characters and the plot. The immediacy of how we’re brought into the film allows the found footage format a sense of feeling genuine.
Furthermore, setting this as being footage from a film crew, of friends, heading to begin the shoot on a film gives the footage purpose. Found footage without purpose can often wind up feeling dishonest, because if doing found footage, why not make sure to pose it as actual footage that was found? Otherwise, might as well film traditionally. Lily directing the film within a film lends more authenticity.
Best part of the film is its tension, how Cholfin uses vast stretches of desert to allow isolation to take hold of the viewer. Ambient noise from the wind punctuates silent moments filled with suspense. Instead of the obligatory shaky cam filming of many found footage efforts, The Garlock Incident thrives on longer, controlled, still, silent shots. In these moments, these gaps, our imagination runs wild. These psychological spaces are where the best horror of the film works its nasty magic.
FullSizeRender (3)The haunted mining town setup evokes a sense of American Western tales meets the Gothic tradition, starting a spooky atmosphere. Works on another level, though. The old American Dream is symbolised by the gold mining town, the former path to glory which led many to their demise. Contrast that with the new American Dream, being in the movies, obviously represented by Lily and her friends making a film.
Where it all comes together is in the middle, precipitating an existential haunting. Of course there’s the mystery of what’s actually happening, are they going crazy, or is someone messing with them? Mystery gives way to paranoia, which then gives way to worse, the unimaginable. People get hurt. Some may die. As many often do, through drug overdose or otherwise, people die in pursuit of the American Dream on the silver screen. In the ghost town of Garlock exists the allegorical space where these two visions of the American Dream merge, causing chaos. This is illustrated in tandem with the editing of clips from earlier auditions for the film, candid moments amongst the group, as we see the shattered dream v. the idyllic American dream, the before and after, cutting from the happier moments to the later more unnerving and downright disturbing scenes sometimes in the matter of seconds.
Ultimately, in the face of the unknown, a perceived threat, the group’s morality is gradually questioned, some of them teetering precariously on an edge until the film’s shocking climax and quick finale. This all works towards the thematic consideration of what happens to people, socially, when they step outside the boundaries of their urban spaces, into the wilderness of the rural landscape. When these people, city dwellers, go outside their limits, their comfort even, they’re faced with the primitivity of humankind. In the end, this determines what happens to the characters, if they given in to their primitive side or not.
FullSizeRender (2)Cannot recommend this movie more. Found footage will always get a chance, from me. I’m willing to give anything a shot, because there’s a craving for the deeper subjects, the scarier stories, either supernatural or utterly human. The Garlock Incident plays with the audience’s expectations, then by the final frame you’re left reconsidering everything that came previously.
There’s a horrifying climax to the film, shot from a far physical distance. However, this literal distance cannot figuratively distance us from the brutality of its emotion, giving way to a conclusion that’s one hell of a gut punch. The last five minutes challenge us to go back, look at the events which led us and the characters to that moment, and the film’s last shot before a cut to black is expected after what preceded it, yet it’s no less shattering.
Seek this out, it’s available now via Google Play. Waited several years to see this, truly worth the wait. The acting holds up, a dreadful tension full of suspense and isolation fills the air. If you want blood, this isn’t the film you’re looking for, but if you want something that’ll creep under your skin, likely to stay a while, then you’ve found the ticket. A nice, eerie found footage film for the Halloween season.

The Sequel I Tried to Like: THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT 2

The Houses October Built 2. 2017. Directed by Bobby Roe. Screenplay by Roe & Zack Andrews.
Starring Brandy Schaefer, Zack Andrews, Mikey Roe, Bobby Roe, & Jeff Larson.
Foreboding Films.
Not Rated. 100 minutes.
Horror

★★
Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 12.14.39 PMLet’s get this straight, I’ve been a huge fan of The Houses October Built since it came out. After seeing it, loving it, I looked for the original documentary that came out a few years before by the same director, the same people. There’s a palpable fear about the first film, one that gets under the skin and works at you, rarely letting up. It also had the benefit of a group of actors who were clearly close friends, reflected in the final product as well-developed, genuine characters.
But, oh, this sequel. After it was announced, I was excited. Not every movie needs a sequel these days, but it felt like there could be more to the story, if the filmmakers were so inclined to show us. The Houses October Built 2 promised plenty, ultimately delivering on little to none of what I’d hoped.
Where I was expecting another gruelling experience, rooted in the unknown yet all too human, I got only a retread in familiar territory. Not great ones, either. What’s more, the tension is near non-existent. The original was a tense experience, one haunted house attraction after another. Even when frights were expected, they were creepy, at times truly frightening. By the time the big reveal comes, it’s too late in the game. What’s worse is the ending feels like a massive bluff, in a bad way. Not that the audience is disrespected, it’s just cheap, it takes away what little power was built in the climax. If the first film wasn’t so damn effective this experience wouldn’t have been as disappointing.
Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 1.24.41 PM

The Good

Always love when a sequel gives us a taste of happened directly after the events of its predecessor. As in literally; we begin following The Houses October Built‘s finale, after Blue Skeleton has taken the group, Brandy’s pulled out of her grave and left on a desolate road. Then, it’s interesting how Brandy is framed as the wholly central character here, as opposed to just one out of a group. She and her friends, though mostly her, become internet celebrities after it was all livestreamed.
Spectacular premise. Brandy as Coffin Girl, known all over America in the state-to-state haunt circles, promises the possibility of different themes than the first. Along with that is the evolution of the haunt, the various forms of the haunted house attraction getting scarier, or more involved, some including virtual reality elements. These new bits and pieces make for the sequel’s best, most effective elements.
The Blue Skeleton POV shots following the group are chilling, perhaps the more nerve-racking sections in the film. We’ve seen this before, but now the mood changes from one of a sinister playfulness to entirely sinister altogether, malevolent. Considering the overall lack of tension, these interludes are the ones that hook the viewer efficiently, keeping us on edge and in suspense of what might happen next down the road.
Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 1.38.18 PM

The Bad & The Ugly

Quickly during the opening sequence, the atmosphere of the first film goes out the window. Whereas we spent The Houses October Built entirely in that found footage perspective of the group, this sequel goes for traditionally shot scenes, going so far as to include drone shots that feel totally out of place, like they had a drone and decided just to use it for the sake of using it. The earliest drone shot isn’t their camera, it’s an opening shot similar to the one that opened the newest season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, meant as an establishing shot. Here, it’s disorienting, and immediately there’s a sense the first film’s fantastic atmosphere will not carry over.
The found footage sections are all manipulated, too. They’re edited with music, little intros to some of the haunts. Not a total stickler for the unwritten rules of the sub-genre, sometimes people nitpick too much. However, at a certain point if the filmmakers don’t at least try adhering to them whatsoever, there’s a disruption in how we related to this type of film, and it also makes you wonder why bother doing it as found footage.
The worst sin is a dearth of tension. The Houses October Built felt harrowing in particular moments, from the actual haunts themselves to the strange cast of characters the group encounter while spiralling down a rabbit hole looking for Blue Skeleton’s extreme, travelling haunt. There are no quiet, creeping moments of terror, none of the ominous characters we saw in the first like sort of gatekeepers on the road to some horrific place. This never comes to fruition in the sequel, we’re treated to a skull mask turning up in one of the haunts as Brandy spies it and gets unnerved; this doesn’t come until about 70 minutes in.
We’re left bored until over an hour in. Despite any of the creepiness which follows, the build-up doesn’t match the pay off. The last 25 minutes work well, sadly the preceding hour and fifteen don’t provide the tension necessary to make Hellbent, their final attraction destination, as unsettling as it could’ve been. Worst of all, there’s a moment in the end where we’re led to believe a shocking, nasty, tragic act has occurred, only to be twisted around and shown this was an illusion of sorts. It’s a scene that makes the viewer feel cheated. More than that, it would’ve been perfect to end the film there and then. Instead the filmmakers undo the impact of this shattering climax, spoiling the plot with an utterly abysmal finish.
Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 1.47.58 PMIt’s hard to judge sequels separately as entirely different entities outside of a franchise. Friday the 13thA Nightmare on Elm StreetHalloween; some of the films in these series’ don’t particularly link well with the others, whether intentional or just because of poor writing, and so it allows us to look at particular entries as a sort of standalone film even under the name of a franchise.
The Houses October Built 2 is very much meant as the second blow of a one-two punch, the sequel works as a direct, sequential follow-up to the first. You can’t take this one as its own film, they should both work in conjunction. On the one hand, the plot continues perfectly, losing no continuity. On the other, we get none of the same atmosphere, none of the same mood, as if we’ve stepped out of this story’s universe and into another.
I’ll always love The Houses October Built, it’s undeniably one of the better found footage horror flicks out there; definitely at the top of the heap in this decade. Because of that love, I can’t help but be disappointed, it’s hard to contain. I always try going into a film without being predisposed to expectation, no matter how much I look forward to the experience. Sequels are always tough, in that light. I gave this a chance. Even without comparison to the other, this one feels like a missed opportunity. Maybe we’ll get a third film to redeem this little series. Until then I’ll stick with the first.

HELL HOUSE LLC: Quality Found Footage Terror

Hell House LLC. 2015. Directed & Written by Stephen Cognetti.
Starring Gore Abrams, Alice Bahlke, Danny Bellini, Theodore Bouloukos, Natalie Gee, Jared Hacker, Phil Hess, Ryan Jennifer, Lauren A. Kennedy, Jeb Kreager, Miranda Robbins, Adam Schneider, & Kristin Michelle Taylor.
Cognetti Films
Not Rated. 93 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★
Hell House 1The found footage, faux-documentary sub-genre has run wild in recent years, to the extent the horror industry’s been flooded. It’s a perfectly viable sub-genre, it’s just been destroyed like the slasher sub-genre was particularly during the 1980s. Because, at this point in 2017, the accessibility of making a low-budget found footage movie is right at our fingertips. You can take a bunch of friends out in the woods for a weekend, along with some iPhones, and by the time Monday rolls around you’ve got a little movie!
Naturally, that’s brought us to a point where there are so many found footage flicks that you can’t throw a rock without hitting one; let alone a GOOD one. But they’re out there, indeed, and they can be scary.
Like Hell House LLC, a film which uses the concept of haunted house attractions around Halloween in order to produce a found footage and mockumentary mix that ultimately gives it all a genuine feeling of realness. And isn’t that the ultimate goal of the sub-genre? To suck us into its little world, to make us feel what we’re seeing is real?
The Houses October Built was a fantastic look at the same subject, albeit from a different perspective and wholly in the found footage format. What this film does best is provide genuine scares through the use of expert suspense and tension, the atmosphere chilling from early on. The advantage of the mockumentary format is that Hell House LLC gives us the best of the haunted house attraction plot with the found footage element, on top of adding the mystery and thrill of a faux documentary. Resulting in an engaging story, not just shaky cameras and screaming and a slew of expected the sub-genre’s tropes.
Hell House 4The world of Halloween haunted house attractions is ripe for horror. The Houses October Bult was both engaging and frightening, taking us through the unsuspecting audience’s perspective inside the attractions. Hell House LLC takes us to the other side, from the perspective of a group of friends who put together haunted houses, here, they set it in an old hotel; clearly yielding scary results. The found footage aspect works perfect taking us into the action, but giving us great suspense as we watch the place come together, the eerie events which happen under the group’s collective nose. The use of a possibly supernatural backstory that comes out through the faux documentary offers an intriguing mix; whether the supernatural actually pans out becomes evident by the finale.
Story’s great. The scares are the best, though. The use of the clown mannequin is totally frightening. The moment when it appears then disappears is incredibly upsetting, in the right kind of horror way. This shtick recurs a couple times, to great effect. Worse, the second or third time around it’s more than a single character/camera witnessing the moment, pulling us further into the terror.
More subtle moments make the movie unnerving. Like a strange shot of Sara (Ryan Jennifer Jones) standing in front of a stone statue, quietly spooky. Then the strobe light scene delivers a pang of claustrophobia in the viewer alongside the character (who actually threw up in that take for real). Finally, the events of the haunted house’s opening night alluded to throughout play for us, releasing the tension built up over the course of the film. From that moment on everything descends into chaos. The finale is the icing on a creepy cake, giving the end an additional punch.
Hell House 3The Abaddon hotel here is an actual haunt attraction, previously converted from an old hotel. Like with all great locations, this one transforms the film, making it more interesting and spookier. So many found footage flicks don’t have atmosphere, here that’s just naturally taken care of by the setting. The hotel is a character on its own, akin to the lead villain in another film. This alone gives Hell House LLC fantastic atmosphere, a sense of place. As opposed to a set, the real location adds grim life to the plot, as you can imagine finding yourself in an ageing hotel, walking through its hotel, unaware of its history or what sort of entities, maybe people, are lurking within those walls.
Aside from the atmosphere, the characters and the acting keep the film steady. Found footage, almost more than any other sub-genre of horror, benefits from strong performances. The characters and their relationships here give credibility to the story, making it all feel real. More than the performances, the writing avoids a lot of expected conventions of the found footage sub-genre. For instance, the typical “You’ve ruined us all” aspect as one character’s mistakes seemingly doom the rest, and of course the question of the cameras is solved because everything is being filmed for the haunt.
Moreover, the pacing works on your nerves, as the horror never truly lets up, creeping on the viewer hard. The freaky moments pile up, the corners of your eyes get tired from scanning, waiting for whatever comes next. You expect the terror when it arrives, doesn’t change the fact it’s effective and entirely unnerving.
Hell House 2In the top ten found footage efforts of the 2010s so far. There are so many of these movies dropped on us, because it’s cheap, especially for a studio to pump them out. But even an iPhone puts you in the director’s chair. Hell House LLC, and other films like it, prove that found footage is still very much alive. Some people want to make you believe they sub-genre’s played out. It isn’t, you just have to dig through the shit at times to find the pretty little diamonds.
Hopefully director-writer Stephen Cognetti does another film soon, found footage or not. He’s got a good sense for the pacing and suspense of a horror, as well as the fact he cares about characters. Time and time again indie horror flicks pass over the characterisation for blood, over-the-top nastiness, or some other futile way of trying to fill in the gaps. When all you need are solid characters and some decent actors to bring them alive for the audience.
Hell House LLC is perfect for the Halloween season. There’s nothing better than getting paranoid while watching these friends setup their haunted house attraction, wind blowing outside, the smell of candy in the air. You can always go to a real haunt. Or just turn off the lights, flick this on, and let yourself get creeped out.

VOODOO’s a Satanic Mess

Voodoo. 2017. Directed & Written by Tom Costabile.
Starring Samantha Stewart, Ruth Reynolds, Dominic Matteucci, Daniel Kozul, Ron Jeremy, Alec Justin Henderson, Lavelle Roby, & Richard Kray.
Hypercube Films
Not Rated. 83 minutes.
Horror

★1/2
POSTERFound footage will always get a chance at Father Son Holy Gore. Because when done right there’s so much potential, both to be a compelling film and also scary. On the other side of that is that, when done wrong a found footage horror can truly be abysmal. Just utter shit. What’s frustrating about the whole sub-genre is when a movie’s got that potential, then instead of capitalising wastes every bit of its energy.
Tom Costabile’s Voodoo has a lot going on, but that’s the problem: none of it ever really plays out in full, or at least to the extent the viewer might hope. There’s a great sense of white people dabbling in things they do not understand, playing around with the traditions of other cultures, leading to a brutal reckoning. As the plot unreels and the main character, relatively wholesome Dani (Samantha Stewart) from New Orleans, falls farther into the clutches of a terrifying evil, the more interesting pieces of the story give way to something more like a frightening roller coaster ride than anything intellectually engaging.
Costabile does a fantastic job with the literal descent to hell, there’s no doubt about it. But Voodoo could’ve been more effective by dealing closely with the plot, rather than becoming a whirlwind of hellish set design, wild sounds, and a truly unnecessary bit of nastiness nearing the end. The story of a young woman, tricked by a married man and cursed by the practising voodoo wife, it’s SO ENGAGING! This is why it’s frustrating to watch Costabile not use the premise to do something better.
Voodoo1While the opening sequence does fit with the film, story-wise, it’s just a weird start. Especially considering the fact this is meant as a found footage film, and within the first 5 minutes or so there’s a mix of footage. Usually, I try not to lean too hard on one of these flicks for those types of things. But the first few scenes feel out of place where they are, maybe if they appeared later on once we know more about Dani and her situation it’d feel appropriate.
Second big faux-pas: confusing Satanism and voodoo. Big fucking no-no! They’re simply not the same things. Particularly seeing as how voodoo is a cultural practice, whereas Satanism is merely a religion of the self adopted by people of all cultures. Seeing the pentagram thrown in there’s odd, it has no connection to voodoo in its traditional sense. If the angle of white people messing around in other cultures was played out better, this inclusion of the pentagram would feel right at home; suggesting Dani’s cousin Stacy (Ruth Reynolds) doesn’t understand voodoo enough to know the pentagram isn’t related. It isn’t played out well, though. And things like this wind up looking bad.
Moreover, there’s a whole bit about Dani having an abortion which never actually goes anywhere. It has legs, definitely. If Costabile concentrated more on the story than providing an effects-laden second half, his movie could’ve explored much more territory.
All that being said, the best part of the movie comes when Dani wakes to find her cousin’s house has transformed into the gateway to hell itself, Stacy herself a raging, murderous demon. From there, she heads down into hell where demons torturing souls line the corridors, each one worse than the last. The film is divided in a perfect half, so that after the initial 40 minutes the final 40 takes the viewer on a creepy ride. All beginning in a sort of surreal moment, gripping the viewer as Dani grapples to understand what’s going on around her.
Voodoo2A great element, as previously mentioned, is how white people fuck around with things they don’t understand in other cultures. Here, we have the voodoo culture, traditionally practised by Africans/African-Americans. The cousin’s been dabbling in it, and wrongly with the pentagram fascination. Dani even stashes some beads under Stacy’s pillow, playing around where she doesn’t belong. We see the disrespect of the culture, their lack of seriousness in contemplating the consequences, which lays the groundwork for the later, horrifying trip to hell.
The best part, hands down, is the sound design courtesy of Frank Serafine; in the past, Serafine has worked on sound design elements for Space Mountain and other theme park experiences, as well as worked in the sound department on such films as: The FogStar Trek: The Motion PicturePoltergeist II: The Other SideManhunterPumpkinhead, and more. He’s helped create a unique and scary journey with Costabile. The sound alone is enough to raise a few hairs, from the demonic voices to the screaming torment of those trapped in that place, it’s a melting pot of sonic madness.
Sadly, despite Serafine’s amazing contribution, the very end undoes whatever good will Costabile built up with the wild trip Dani takes into the flames of hell. Without spoiling, there’s a totally unnecessary moment of sexual assault that does nothing for the plot. Takes away so much of the genuine terror which preceded it. There was a great moment not long before with a lecherous uncle whom Dani believed dead, her mother; this could’ve led to better representations of hell than what comes out in the wash. Again, so much potential wasted, these are brief pieces basically like offal left on the slaughterhouse floor.
Voodoo3I really wanted this to be better. It has a bunch of expertly creepy elements, I expected more at times when the better bits shined. Unfortunately, Voodoo suffers from some bad acting, plus poorly delivered dialogue and flat emotions. The wasted energy and plot elements would’ve given more life to the whole film. Additionally, the needlessly nasty sexual horror in the finale is off-putting. Dani’s descent to hell makes you forget some of its imperfections, then Costabile hammers a bad nail home with this gross finish.
Take away the ill-advised assault, the bad dialogue, Voodoo would end up more than just a ★1/2 start horror. There’s an outrageous quality to the finale that works up until those last moments. You can get lost in the insanity, the crawling dread as we anticipate nothing at all good to come in the final fleeting minutes. But, as many lazy horror flicks do, this one takes the rotten route opting for mindless misogynist horror instead of finding a better, more unique way out.
I wouldn’t exactly recommend Voodoo. More a ‘you have to see it for yourself’-type of watch. You’ll at least be thrilled for 15-20 minutes during the second half. Just don’t get your hopes up, certainly not if you want a solid found footage movie; in that case, your time’s better spent elsewhere.

ALTAR’s Familiar Yet Fresh & Character Driven

Altar. 2016. Directed & Written by Matthew Sconce.
Starring Stefanie Estes, Brittany Falardeau, Deep Rai, Jessica Strand, Michael Wainwright, Tim Parrish, Tina Johnson, Jesse Parr, & Master Dave Johnson.
Movie Heroes Studios/Schumacher III/Stellar Lense Productions
84 minutes. Not Rated.
Horror

★★★1/2
IMG_0271I’ll always defend found footage because, when done right, the results can be shockingly impressive, and really scary. There’s a lot of misfires. It’s a relatively new subgenre, in terms of popularity, considering movies like Cannibal Holocaust and 84C MoPic have been around since the ’80s, even before The Blair Witch Project turned bigger audiences onto the idea. Because the subgenre became a hot property for studios, and an easy way to make movies for amateur filmmakers or even anybody nowadays with an iPhone, we’ve been inundated with a ton of found footage titles.
Altar starts out with a typical sort of setup, with a bunch of old college classmates who wind up lost on their way to a reunion in the Sierra Nevada. From there, we see a few similarities to popular entries in the genre, particularly The Blair Witch Project. Director-writer Matthew Sconce ultimately treads his own path by using expected conventions and a few of his own tricks along the way.
This film doesn’t flip the subgenre on its head, nor does it show us anything wildly different from what we’ve seen before. It does offer a creepy, unexpected slice of horror that feels like genre comfort food – the same ole good stuff you’d hope to get, plus a twist of originality in the execution.
IMG_0274Altar succeeds investing the audience in the characters. These people feel real, like they’re actually a group of friends who’ve known one another a long time, we revisit their nostalgia alongside them on this reunion trip. There’s a lot of good organic little scenes where the characters all build up through dialogue that’s not just jammed with exposition. Even a decent explanation aside from ‘I wanna record our reunion’ that plays well into the relationships between certain characters. While not every aspect of the writing impresses me, Sconce makes it all feel natural. Lending to that are the believable performances of the lead actors.
A nice addition in the cast of characters is that one of them has Asperger’s – the guy holding the camera. Not a POV we often see, so the inclusion is great, and the fact it all comes to bear on the character himself, what happens to him (et cetera) is really great.
When you’re engaged and you care about the people in a found footage film it’s easier putting yourself in their shoes. The woods are more often than not in this subgenre used as just a default place to send actors where they can run and scream into the darkness. Whereas Altar instead puts more work into the story, adding an ultra creepy bit of ancient mystery in the forest. There’s a familiarity around many a corner throughout the film, though Sconce combats that with some ingenuity. If anything, you’ll at least find a nagging curiosity on the brain concerning the titular altar.
IMG_0276The creeps are subtle and spaced out. It isn’t until the final 20 minutes when things unleash, when the tension boils over and there’s nothing but a spiral towards madness. Sconce avoids the usual ‘Turn off the camera’ moments, the constant infighting, sudden ruined friendships over fear. He opts to go for more of a group terror, one that lingers like static every moment we follow the group of friends. It’s not as if anything unexpected happens. What works is the tense, unsettling suspense of the last 20 minutes.
One thing I loved? A character actually brings a gun with her. You always wonder why people going into the mountains or the backwoods. Well, this time someone did! Whether that helps in the end, you’ll have to see for yourself.
Throughout Altar are a few eerie images. Such as the altar in the woods itself, which is so strange from the first time we see it onscreen. The axe guy in the beginning is almost chuckle-worthy at times, yet he’ll stay with you, getting under your skin in a brief amount of time. I did laugh at him, only to see the characters sitting by a campfire later and asking myself if they were to be slaughtered. Trust me, the answers aren’t as easy as that, they’re much more gruesome fun.
When the true evil of the story comes round, the first appearance is fuzzy, out of focus. You can pick out a shape, enough to feel frightened. Later, the evil becomes more defined, as it takes the characters on a hell of a ride.
IMG_0278I personally feel Altar‘s more worth your time than many efforts out there. Better than most of the sequels to Paranormal Activity. There’s a solid ending, too. Not one that begs for another film with a weak finish. Rather, we’re treated to – in this day and age of cinematic universes galore – a closed-ended story. There’s a mythology that of course isn’t totally laid out through expository writing for us, part of why I dig the storytelling. No sequel setup, no mush mouth explanations of worthless dialogue trying to create a huge backstory for the movie’s big evil.
Herein lies the greatest strength of the movie: it gives just enough without giving us more than necessary. I’m impressed, Mr. Sconce. Hope we see more soon. Horror won’t ever pass up guys like him, working with familiar territory and giving us his own take.

THE DARK TAPES: Fresh Indie Found Footage

The Dark Tapes. 2017. Directed by Vincent J. Guastini & Michael McQuown. Screenplay by McQuown.
Starring Emilia Ares Zoryan, David Banks, Jonathan Biver, Sara Castro, Michael Cotter, Denise Faro, Brittany Fisheli, Jo Galloway, Aral Gribble, Shane Hartline, David Hull, Clint Keepin, Casey James Knight, Shawn Lockie, Matt Magnusson, Anna Rose Moore, Tessa Munro, Jake O’Connor, Cortney Palm, David Rountree, Katherine Shaw, Wayne River Sorrell, Meredith Thomas, Brittany Underwood, Julian von Nagel, Ryan Allan Young, & Stepehn Zimpel.
Thunder Road Incorporated.
Not Rated. 98 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★1/2
Dark Tapes 1Director Michael McQuown sent me a screener for his and co-director Vincent J. Guastini’s independent film, The Dark Tapes. I’d heard of it awhile, hearing plenty of good things. Not overhyped; hyped just enough. I’m always ready to dig in on a found footage flick, no matter how tired the sub-genre seems to get with so many low budget efforts being pumped out simply to get a director and some actors a credit to their names.
The Dark Tapes isn’t a perfect movie. There are a few missteps that could’ve been avoided to make the whole thing more effective, certain tapes in the lot aren’t as good as others. Often anthologies suffer from this fate. The lesser tapes are still good. There’s nothing bad here. Each tape, regardless of its setbacks, has an eerie quality to it respectively.
McQuown and Guastini use a meagre budget wisely, choosing to use effects sparingly and, for the most part, they work. This is one of their best moves, because they don’t set the bar too high yet clearly focused on staying creepy. There are standouts in the series of tapes, presented through the narrative of being proof of government conspiracy-type stuff, the truth the powers that be suppress and keep from the people – a couple deserve their own full-length treatments. Certain segments stand up with some of the best of the V/H/S series (no surprise considering Guastini is not only an effects guy, he did work on the third entry, Viral).
Dark Tapes 2My only beef, and I’ll get to this first before discussing what I enjoyed so much, is that the directing is mostly excellent. Then, they choose to show us too much. For the longest time what we only get glimpses of in frame is what drives the pulse-pounding terror. As you can see in the photo above, that’s a startling shot. Love that moment; freezing the frame only compounds the fear. However, the directors lose some of that momentum later when they choose to show this demonic figure up close for too long. They try offsetting this with the use of camera glitches (et cetera). But it never makes up for the undoing of the fright from seeing the creature long enough we can start picking out some of the less stellar aspects of its creation.
The rest of the tapes are presented with brief shots and bits that are framed properly so that the low budget qualities don’t glare. And honestly, it’s only the one main demon in the “To Catch a Demon” segments that comes off as cheesy, which is late in the game. Otherwise, in the “Amanda’s Revenge” tape, the creatures (or whatever you want to call them) look legitimately gnarly, in the best horror sense. Particularly in that tape, we get some wonderfully old school film shots, the rickety frame, catching a presence in the distance, and it’s so genuinely perfect for the type of eeriness for which this segments is aiming.
Dark Tapes 3The tapes have an overall framing narrative, though I think that while there’s a connection between the tapes as a whole, it isn’t as connective as the filmmakers might hope. Mostly, I don’t feel that the connections are tight enough. The writing is interesting, at every turn. I can’t help think McQuown could’ve brainstormed something better to make them all into the cohesive unit the beginning (and mid-credits) speech we hear wishes it’d become. If this were tighter then it would’ve greatly improved the film.
But the stories, they’re fresh. Even in the moments some of them don’t exactly work as intended, they’re innovative. I found “The Hunters and the Hunted” was my favourite because it caught me so off guard once the revelation came, until then I expected a run of the mill bit of paranormal shlock; a proper twist, if there ever were! Also enjoyed “Cam Girls” except the end devolved into a ham-fisted mess. Before that it was wildly creepy, the editing made it feel very kinetic and full of horrific energy; while it falls apart later with absolutely no subtlety and a ton of unnecessary exposition that could’ve been given to us through imagery earlier (a missed opportunity), this segment  was insane.
And “Cam Girls” has an underlying metaphor in it, about our porn-obsessed culture that involves men watching women through their screens performing, some thinking they’re falling in love just by watching. If only the plot of this segment were worked out better, it’d be a devastating short.
Dark Tapes 5For a low budget, non-studio film, The Dark Tapes has an impressive production value. This is one of the things that keeps even the lesser pieces involving, it’s better than the average indie found footage attempt. With so many of these sub-genre flicks saturating the market, incredibly easy to make on a shoestring to non-existent budget, it’s nice to see what’s so obviously a labour of horror love come to the screen from these directors.
Sure, not every segment is perfect. A couple are scary as hell. And like I’ve yammered on, even in those segments which don’t measure up there’s still things to pique your interest. If anything, the effort the team on this film put in is astounding. Kudos to them all, I certainly hope that McQuown and Guastini do more, whether it’s in found footage that’s up to them. Without a doubt they’ve got horror sensibilities.
The Dark Tapes, warts and all, is one of the better found footage movies I’ve seen as of late, running the gamut of horror, thriller, and science fiction with relative ease. Like Tales of HalloweenHolidaysV/H/S, and Southbound, this is an anthology worth dipping into for a fright.

Barrett & Wingard Deal Another Terrifying Blow with BLAIR WITCH

Blair Witch. 2016. Directed by Adam Wingard. Screenplay by Simon Barrett.
Starring James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, & Valorie Curry.
Lionsgate/Room 101/Snoot Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 89 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
posterThis movie was a loaded gun for me when it hit. First, since I first saw The Blair Witch Project I’ve loved it completely. In all honesty, the marketing got to me when it was released, and for those who experienced it in the early days of internet there’s this buzz that still gets you going every time the movie plays. You get taken back to those trailers, the opening scenes, all the faux-reality, but the terrifying faux-reality that gripped horror lovers.
Second, I dig Adam Wingard and his frequent collaborator writer Simon Barrett. They haven’t reinvented the wheel, yet every project they take on is unique. They have such an excellent rapport as a director-writer team, which translates well into each film. A Horrible Way to DieYou’re NextThe Guest; each of these, for me, was a thrilling experience, albeit in their respective ways.
When it came out finally that The Woods, their latest collaboration, is in actuality Blair Witch… well, needless to say, I got excited. Taking on a sequel to one of the most groundbreaking horror films ever made, after the first fairly miserable sequel Book of Shadows failed to impress, is a monumental task. Not everyone is going to love Blair Witch. People seem to fall into a couple categories: either they think it strays too far from the original (to which I smirk questionably), or they think it’s too similar (there goes that smirk again).
Me, I find Wingard and Barrett’s film admirable, in a lot of ways. It gets more intense than its predecessor, that alone is saying something; hard to beat, but this sequel gives many of the best scenes from the original a run for their money. More than that Barrett’s screenplay, as opposed to the improvised and looser style of The Blair Witch Project, does wonders for the tension and gives the actors good stuff with which to work, ultimately allowing for better performances. Not every last person is going to love this. I do, and I hope others were as thrilled as me when they sat through its terror.
screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-8-29-18-pmOne of the immediate aspects I noticed, and enjoyed a ton, is the great sound design, helping to put it above the intensity of the first film in specific moments. There’s a feeling of being lost in the woods alongside these people because of the sound; a hovering, pulsing sound wraps the audience up, as it surrounds the characters. This, in conjunction with the camerawork – chaotic and frenzied in the more mortifying moments – makes for good scares. The original movie does well with its bare sense of reality, having the actors sent out into the woods relatively on their own and manipulated into being scared. Blair Witch succeeds in its mission to creep people out partly due to the sound and the visuals together, plus the fact Wingard did things similar to The Blair Witch Project‘s directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez.
Mainly, Wingard used an air horn in the background of scenes in order to attain the right amount of jump from actors. And some will say, “That’s what an actor is for, they should just act!” – I say nonsense. Sure, don’t go William Friedkin and fire a gun next to somebody to scare them. I feel like the air horn is fine, it did elicit appropriate reactions. There are honest places actors sometimes aren’t going to get simply because they need to be genuinely scared to get there, not pretend scared, and Wingard gets the actors under his care to that place, manipulating horror from them in an unexpected way. Moreover, the actors just haul you to the darkness of that woods and far too many times, in the best kind of sense, you’ll feel as lost as they do, disoriented, frightened, paranoid; the whole gamut of terrifying emotion.

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-29-03-pmscreen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-30-23-pmThe acting is great, aside from any of the jump scares or the pure bits of scary madness. And it’s strange, because I’ve seen people complain that the acting is no good, or that it takes away from the tension. Totally disagree. Each of the actors gives it their all, as well as the fact a couple of them give absolutely awesome performances.
Wes Robinson & The Following‘s Valorie Curry as Lane and Talia, the would-be guides into the Black Hills woods, don’t only play interesting characters Barrett penned in addition to the others, they’re two of the best in the cast. Robinson particularly gets to the core of the paranoia driving so much of the story’s suspense. Once things progress to a certain point, both Robinson and Curry take us into a horrific space that gets eerier by the minute.
James Allen McCune (whose stint on Shameless was incredible) plays the brother of Heather Donahue, the catalyst of the adventure, and he does a nice job straddling between non-belief and belief until the situation becomes painfully clear near the end. I also can’t forget to mention Corbin Reid as Ashley. She plays a role that could’ve easily been lost in a bunch of blood and moaning and crying; while there’s a little of that, Reid brings an uneasy feeling to the gut when we see her character descend into the forest’s terror. Everybody involved brings their A-game, even the couple more minor characters. With a bigger cast this time, in contrast to the original’s trio, Blair Witch utilises every one of them to the fullest extent.
screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-36-52-pmI don’t want to spoil any of the best moments, although I have to mention one, hopefully without giving away too much. Just before the final half hour takes us into a frightening place, a scene involving the wooden Blair Witch figurines takes their presence to a whole new level. I can’t say much more – other than the actors’ reactions combined with the editing, and again the sound design, make for the moment that both shocked and pounded me into a state of horror.
Blair Witch is about on par with its original. Maybe a lot of others don’t think so, but damn it, I do. And I can’t deny that. I went into this expecting that there was a possibility I wouldn’t be thrilled. Regardless if Barrett and Wingard made this, two artists I admire and love to see working in any capacity (the latter’s stint with Cinemax and Outcast did wonders for the TV horror lover’s soul), I didn’t count out disappointment.
Yet no part of me was really disappointed. Barrett and Wingard did interesting things with the legacy of such a beloved piece of horror cinema. They refused to move too far from the film Myrick and Sánchez. Likewise, they branched out a bit, too; they didn’t retread too many paths. I loved the ending because it goes out on a similar note to the first, and in doing so almost shows us how the first actually ended. Dig it. As well, there’s an interesting conception of time in the screenplay; that’s all I’ll say. This does wonders in terms of writing to make the movie different, yet similar in a weird vein to the original film. If you want a good spoiler-filled look at this idea, check Screen Crush’s interview with Wingard here.
So even if there’s no general consensus, or even if that consensus is that this sequel doesn’t hold up, I dig this one. Barrett and Wingard confirm once again they’re worthy of helping to carry genre film forward, year after year. And who knows, maybe this will help a franchise get going, which I’d love to see. This didn’t wow at the box office, but it did make a profit for a relatively low budget film in today’s Hollywood system. I know that I wouldn’t mind seeing at least one more film surrounding the legend of the Blair Witch, no matter who takes it on. This movie proves you can update or reboot films years later without being totally derivative and without straying too wildly from what made the original so popular.

BE MY CAT: A FILM FOR ANNE is One Blurry Line Between Movies & Murder

Be My Cat: A Film for Anne. 2016. Directed & Written by Adrian Tofei.
Starring Adrian Tofei, Sonia Teodoriu, Florentina Hariton, & Alexandra Stroe.
Produced by Tofei. 87 minutes.
Not Rated.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★posterFound footage annoys certain people. Me, I’m always willing to give it a chance. There’s a lot of good stuff out there – unique, innovative stuff. No shortage of it, but now and then you’ve got to dig through a heap of trash to find the diamonds. Be My Cat: A Film for Anne uses its found footage premise well, driving the main theme of the film: obsession.
Director and writer Adrian Tofei blurs the line between fiction and reality so well that at times it’s easy to forget you’re watching a film. Using the idea of trying to get the attention of Anne Hathaway in Hollywood, Tofei puts himself in the lead role of a director badly wanting to make a movie with her. This isn’t exactly a totally original premise. It’s the way Tofei enacts his plot, the dread which follows and everything in between that makes this slice of found footage different.
As is the case with most of the sub-genre, this entry doesn’t have much style to it. That matters not. Tofei’s acting, his eerie presence, and the raw qualities of the filming, these are elements which make this a worthwhile watch for any fans of the found footage style.
img_4032There are plenty films involving stalkers in this sub-genre, but they’re so often masked, or unseen behind the camera’s lens. Tofei is upfront and centre the entire time. This allows us a way into his mind, giving the audience a passenger side seat to the psychosis that overtakes him gradually; or maybe it’s been with him the whole time. Either way, it’s ugly. Not in a way which detracts from the story. There’s a compelling feel to watching this guy unravel.
Obsession is the theme driving everything. Underneath, this film is about the blur between fiction and reality. Philosopher Jean Baudrillard talked about the simulacra and how the world’s become hyperreal, in that everything real has more so become just a form of something fictional we all recognise (that’s a very liberal take on his extensive concept). In a way, this is how Be My Cat is structured. Tofei dives deeper and deeper with each scene into that psychosis I mentioned, along with the audience. The further he gets into the movie he’s making to send Anne, the more he feels justified in the things he’s doing. “This is the sacrifice Im making,” he tells the camera, as if urging us to believe in him. What happens is a process of dissociation. Tofei dissociates from the self, becoming his character – Adrian, himself – far too literally. Reminding us that he is in fact this character Adrian and not the real Adrian, he says: “I would never do something like this.” Real murder becomes mere character action, the progression of his psychosis is then development in his dangerous metafiction view of the world, through his film. It’s like method acting gone past the point of normal psychology.
img_4029The story’s trajectory is relatively obvious. Early on we understand there’s something not quite right with Adrian. Doesn’t take long. It’s how he takes us there that makes the plan uniquely terrifying. Adrian’s kinda crazy, kinda nonchalant attitude is unsettling, at the same time not wholly without charm either. His character, gradually flipping from fiction to reality to metafiction, engages the audience even in the slower scenes. You can’t help wondering what he’ll do or say next, which keeps you off balance, and never quite capable of pinning him down with any understanding.
A pivotal moment for his character comes when he says that “boys and dogs are bullies” when he talks about girls and cats. We hear a bit about why he likes cats, or why the character likes them. And this is one major point of division between Adrian and his fictional character Adrian. There’s a clear line you can follow, watching the dissociation get worse.
This movie isn’t built on shock value, either. You expect it to be, but what the story focuses on most is Adrian’s descent into fiction that becomes brutally real. Along the way there’s obviously blood. Rather than go for a gory mess constantly, the blood is at times partly off-screen and the full nastiness is hidden. What’s worse is one scene where a victim comes upon a slow realisation that Adrian is actually preparing to do a homemade dissection on her. Too creepy. He fully dissociates from reality at this point, the ultimate separation, and doesn’t for a single second come to grips with the real murder he’s committing.
img_4031I remember hearing of Be My Cat and just the short description, the Twitter account, caught my attention. There’s an edgy psychological aspect that sinks its teeth in and never lets go. Admittedly, I know that some may not find it as compelling. Not everyone wants to do a slow burn into madness in found footage format. And that’s fine, I understand. I suggest giving it a chance. Tofei has done something here that’s on the verge of greatness.
There are times you might feel the acting isn’t up to par. I disagree. Tofei’s uncomfortable moments are used to good effect, and that also plays into the worrisome metafiction of the film overall. The performances of the actresses are equally as impressive. When you fall down the rabbit hole of despair alongside the fictional Adrian Tofei and his unsuspecting victims it’s all the more troubling that the performances on either side of the murder-victim aisle pull you into a space where fiction gets questionable.
Can’t recommend this film enough. I’ve seen it described as revolutionary for the found footage sub-genre, as dangerous, many other things. They’re pretty much all right, as far as I’m concerned. Looking forward to whatever this guy takes on next. If Be My Cat is any indication, Tofei has an intriguing perspective on the horror genre.

Digging Up the Past in THE TRIANGLE

The Triangle. 2016. Directed & Written by David Blair, Nathaniel Peterson, Adam Pitman, Andrew Rizzo, & Adam Stilwell.
Starring Andrew Rizzo, Lee Rizzo, Brick Patrick, Nathaniel Peterson, Ciara Rose Griffin, John Budge, Nicholas Daue, Hendra Mylnechuk, Andy Greenfield, & Karen Jean Olds.
Firework Brain/BadFritter Films.
Not Rated. 94 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★
img_3997When found footage films go for different concepts from what we see so often, there’s always a bit of worth in watching them. Not that it automatically makes them good; not at all. But credit where credit’s due. Every inch of found footage could be the exact same plot, over and over, if it weren’t for a few great titles out there. Even a few that follow the repeatedly lifted plot of The Blair Witch Project are still good, simply for the fact they’re actually scary.
The Triangle is a horror, yet it isn’t traditional. Having loved Ti West’s The Sacrament and its fictionalised retelling of the tragic Jim Jones story, my initial worry with this movie was that it might follow too closely in line with his, either ripping it off or just feeling way too similar to be any good. It actually goes in its own unique direction, to surprising lengths. The story starts out as a real documentary, in that the postcard these guys receive from an old friend is true to life. From there, reality gives way to beautifully organic plot, to strange horror bordering on science fiction.
This is one found footage flick that has great camerawork, which is an added bonus to all the weird, wild plot developments over the course of a lean 94 minutes. You won’t quite know what to expect, and part of that works on your nerves. A lot of complaints I see online are simply due to the slow burn plot. So, if that’s not your thing maybe you’re not the target audience here. I’d still suggest giving it a chance because of the unique events that unfold in front of the camera, as well as some of the questions you’ll be left asking later.
img_4001Just starting from the premise it’s an interesting way to begin this faux-documentary. A vague, mysterious opening with the postcard, holding endless possibilities. Wondering about many of those sketchy possibilities is a reason why the initial scene is kind of tense. There’s also this hopeful mood, too. Still, a lingering sense of uneasiness accompanies the postcard and even once they decide to head out after their friend there’s an undeniable apprehension inside them all. Like them, we feel on the precipice of a life changing adventure, never knowing if what’s next could be something terrible dark, or if it’s all worry for no reason. You might doubt your thoughts, which is a recurring feeling, and it’s in those moments The Triangle catches you in its tangled web.
There’s talk in the community, as it is with these types of places, about self-sufficiency. What does that really mean, in the end? What must one sacrifice in order to gain it? Or, do these cult-like people simply give themselves over to something or someone else to replace modern society (et cetera)? Often so-called self-sufficiency in these communes, in reality, requires devotion to an Other: a god, a deity, or in these situations a charismatic leader in Rizzo. And when there are these hierarchical positions amongst supposedly open, free communes, there are always secrets, things kept from people and those people kept in the dark about something. Of course we find this is truer than ever throughout the course of the plot.
Any horror, mystery, thriller needs suspense and tension. If not, there’s nothing to grasp onto and even an interesting story can end up plenty less compelling. From the time these guys get to the Ragnarok commune there’s a great deal of slow, mounting tension while the documentary crew – representative of the modern world, that old society from which the commune tries escaping – clashes with everyone they meet. Not in a totally overt way, either. That’s  one reason why it feels dangerous. There is a gruelling passive-aggressiveness about their behaviour, especially Rizzo; he’s the number one. His sense of domineering status and narcissistic attitude comes out more and more after we get to know him a bit. At first, he doesn’t seem to hold that narcissism. He’s open, welcoming, friendly, foolish. As the time passes this changes, and Rizzo emerges, subtly, as absolutely like all those other cult leaders in history. That’s his, and their, ultimate aim is to talk the talk, walk the walk, no matter what lies behind the veil. Perhaps scarier is the fact Rizzo isn’t the only narcissist in the cult, that he’s a mere figurehead for a main group who all share something in common that others in the commune don’t – what that is, you’ll have to find out on your own. Such a thick tension goes on for a long while, then once the mystery of the plot breaks the impact of the coming horror feels significant. We get time with all the main characters, not only Rizzo, so after having spent that portion of the film getting into their lives and their emotions, et cetera, it’s gripping to watch what goes on past the halfway mark.
img_3999SPOILERS: from here on in there’ll be a bunch of spoilers – turn back, lest ye be spoiled!
The commune is named Ragnarok, based on the Ragnarök of Norse mythology which is most commonly translated to mean “the final destiny of the gods.” Later in the film we discover a core group in the commune has had what they call “the dream” and it’s about being led on a journey by this shapeshifting creature, at the end of which it disappears leaving a dinosaur skull – a tyrannosaurus – and then, as one of them puts it, “at the end of the dream, were gone.” Certainly by the time this dream comes up we’ve seen the skull they’ve dug up in a nearby cave, we get the sense it has an effect on people emitting a high-pitched noise the closer you get to it. When the end of the film comes, the main group from Ragnarok who’ve had the dream are all ill, going a bit crazy, and they wander off up into the hills. We see a flash of light in the cave, and everyone is gone.
What does it all mean? Here’s my take.
One of the purposes of their commune was to try and get back to a time they felt was lost in modern society. These people reject the modern world so much that when it comes time for them to sign releases for the film crew, at first there’s significant contention. This changes, yes, but Rizzo even talks about simply not having time for the logistics because they live in the middle of a desert, no real houses, self-sufficient, so they’ve rejected that entire system of living. Point being, they wanted to go back to a lost time, a time before, another place almost. In the end, as it went in their collective dream, a nearly genderless woman comes to take them up to the dinosaur skull, and then they’ve disappeared (“at the end of the dream, were gone“). Have they been transported through time, back to another place? Did they will it to happen through their collective brain power and wanting it to be true? They strip down, almost in a primitive sense. As if going somewhere closes aren’t needed. Everything speaks to going back to the past. Right on down to the fact they’ve dug up the past, literally, by finding the fossil. We’ll never know where they’ve gone. Not for sure. We can only assume from what we’re given, and it’s good fun trying to piece the puzzle together.
img_4002I’ll probably be in the minority, although I couldn’t care any fucking less. The Triangle is an interesting addition to the found footage heap, definitely nearer to the top of the pile. When I felt it was about to rip off West’s recent Jim Jones-inspired effort, the plot threw me for a loop. Not everything was perfect. Even for a slow burn this one takes its sweet time drawing out the story.
All the same, no matter its mistakes this is a weird, worthy little movie. The camerawork is top notch for found footage, giving it more credibility than about half of them in the sub-genre. Better still, I enjoyed the performances and they help make this faux-documentary feel more like the real thing, giving the emotionally charged moments a sense of gravitas. You can do much worse than this movie, as the suspense does a fine job making the stretched out plot feel like an enjoyable breeze.
The Triangle deserves a watch. At least one. Maybe you’ll be pissed off, having felt it was a waste of time. Or maybe, like me, you’ll enjoy trying to figure out the answers to all the questions left after the finale. Either way, it makes you think. And that can’t be said for so many other found footage horrors out there. This one isn’t filled with shaky camera angles, screams, or even blood. It works on your brain until the last moment.