Tag Archives: found footage

TIFF 2017: High Fantasy

High_Fantasy_06Lexi is a white South African millennial who has recently inherited a ridiculous amount of farmland in the middle of nowhere. She is fully aware that her family stole this land from some black people and she gets a little touchy whenever the subject comes up. Which it often does when she brings her three black South African millennial friends on a camping trip on her family’s land.

The four friends (3 girls and a guy) have very different histories and worldviews, but the mood is light and friendly on the first day. Things take a turn for the awkward on Day 2 though when they wake up to discover that they’ve somehow swapped bodies overnight. The fallout is brilliantly captured by director Jenna Bass on her iPhone in found footage/mockumentary format.

Whether in South Africa or even right here in Canada, 2017 is a tricky time to make a film about racial tensions. The worst thing one can do is to reinforce the myth of easy answers just to get your Hollywood ending. Bass -and her four stars who co-workers the script with her- are very careful to avoid this trap. The interaction between the characters are every bit as messy and unpredictable as they should be. It’s a little bleak, refreshingly honest, and avoids the typical lazy talking points.

As for the fantasy gimmick, it works and it doesn’t. It does provide some opportunity for some comic relief that seems to emerge organically from the situations without resorting to too many Freaky Friday clichés. It is confusing though; I did spend a lot of time trying to remind myself who was in whose body. Which is a bit of a problem. Given how much of the story lies in subtext, it becomes important who’s saying what.

That’s all fine though. I don’t mind having to work to keep up with a film this sincere and well-acted. It just seems that much of the conflict between the characters boils to the surface due to extreme stress and not always specifically because they’ve swapped bodies. So I had to wonder if this all would have been less confusing had they just ran out of gas.

High Fantasy is exactly the kind of film that most of us go to festivals for. It’s a low budget and unique film that is surprising and challenging. You’ll probably be begging your friends to watch it so you can have someone to talk about it with.

Originally published at www.cinemaaxis.com

10 Cloverfield Lane

I have been trying to make sense of 10 Cloverfield Lane for months, from the moment I saw the title of this movie at the end of its trailer. And after seeing the movie I’m still searching for answers.2834c660-9db5-0133-6e17-0efce411145f

Hinting at a connection between this movie and Cloverfield was probably not the best idea that J.J. Abrams has had. Cloverfield massively disappointed me. It seemed like a great concept, putting the camera in the middle of monster-created chaos, but Cloverfield ended up being your typical found footage crapfest from start to finish. So to suggest this is a sequel or prequel or some other form of spinoff was a weird choice, especially because the trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane contained no hint of a connection between it and Cloverfield other than the similar name (and thankfully also contained NO FOUND FOOTAGE).


The common name is not a coincidence but it was a terrible idea. It ruined what might otherwise have been a nice twist two-thirds of the way through 10 Cloverfield Lane.  To paraphrase Shakespeare, this same movie by a different name would have been just as mediocre, but at least the title wouldn’t have tipped off the audience that there was more outside the bunker to be afraid of than a lady with a melted face.

So if you’re making this movie, why tip your hand in the title? Does the Cloverfield brand really have that much value? Am I the only one who disliked that movie? I mean, I totally hated The Visit and others apparently thought it was good. So I’m open to the possibility that a similar thing happened with Cloverfield, but I would be surprised. Tell me whether or not you’re with me in the comments but know that I’m judging you based on your response.


It felt good to get that out of my system and now I think I can focus on 10 Cloverfield Lane as its own movie. In two words: don’t bother. The group of 13 year old girls sitting behind us couldn’t take it seriously and neither could I. There are way too many disparate elements at work and as a result the movie is disjointed from beginning to end. There’s nothing remotely redeeming or original here.

If end-of-the-world movies were drinks, 10 Cloverfield Lane would be a glass of three random types of bar-rail liquor, served to guests without a taste test. So it’s only fitting that 10 Cloverfield Lane gets a score of three bottles of cheap scotch out of ten.


The Visit

Can we please put an end to the “found footage” genre?  It worked in the Blair Witch Project but since then it just comes off as a distraction and a crutch.  The Visit is the worst example I’ve seen because it tries to add a new wrinkle, i.e., that the 15 year old protagonist wants to make a documentary for her mom.

Except it’s an absolutely idiotic wrinkle because guess what?  We don’t see the finished product here [SPOILER ALERT #1] even though she survives!  [END SPOILER ALERT #1] It makes no sense at all for her to make comments in the movie like “oh, this would be a good opening shot”, or leave in her warm-up interview questions, or present her filming chronologically rather than in the order she’s talking about in the film, and while at the same time leaving no doubt that she has taken the time to do quite a bit of editing because there are two cameras on the go and we cut back and forth between them as we would if we were watching a regular movie.  So if this child prodigy is so serious about her craft, why didn’t she complete the movie before letting us (and presumably her mom) see it?

Plus, at one point [SPOILER ALERT #2] the crazy old grandma (who is supposedly out of her mind at the time) picks up the camera, moves it upstairs, drops it so we (and, when they review the footage the next day, the kids in the movie) can see perfectly her threatening knife work that is being performed 20 feet away from the camera, then she picks the camera back up and puts it where she found it, then presumably she goes back to being out of her mind.  [END SPOILER ALERT #2]

So what the hell, M. Night Shyamalan?  What is the point?   All any of this pretense did was take me completely out of the movie and make me madder at you than I was after seeing The Last Airbender at the drive in.  And I don’t know whether the Lady in the Water references were intentional but either way it was a terrible idea to go there.

There is nothing to recommend about this movie at all.  It is not new.  It is not smart.  It is not scary.  It is not entertaining in any way.  Jamie knew the “twist” about one minute into the movie.  The protagonists are annoying caricatures (terrible 12 year old white rapper and pretentious 15 year old kid filmmaker) who further took me out of the movie because if anything I was rooting for them to die.  And then when we finally get to the part where everything comes to light, it’s over in 30 seconds and I think it would have been entirely unsatisfying even if I had cared about the kids’ survival.

The Visit is a terrible movie.  It is among M. Night Shyamalan’s worst, and at this point those depths ought to be very hard for him to re-achieve (and this is coming from a guy who hasn’t seen The Happening or After Earth).  Is there any way we can convince him to just call it a day?

This is a big fat zero for me.  I absolutely despised it and I want an hour and a half of my life back.

Into The Storm

This no-star cast makes a movie with a recycled script and boring, unformed characters, but if you’re in it for the storm porn, there’s plenty of that.storm

Sean and I saw this at the drive-in this summer and even on a peeling outdoor screen that’s older than my grandfather, the visual effects were dazzling. Back before it was forgettably titled Into the Storm, it was known as the “found-footage” tornado movie, and yes, the tornado scenes really are that seemless. When you are taken alllllll the way the funnel of one these suckers, and then come crashing down, you’ll feel like you’re on a roller coaster.

But only a movie this dumb can actually drum up romance between intense bouts of almost-dying. Twice. When the film pits twister vs people, you sometimes wonder if you shouldn’t just root for the damn tornado, especially when two doofuses looking for Youtube fame continually pop up in what I can only assume is a bid for comic relief, just minus the comedy, and the relief. The plot basically consists of “Oh no, here comes another one!” and the second the wind dies down, the film just flops around like a fish out of water.

Frightfest 2015: The Blair Witch Project

In October of 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland while shooting a documentary.

A year later their footage was found.

blair witch 2

So begins one of the most puzzling horror hits of the 90s. So effective was its marketing campaign that it had many convinced that they were watching a documentary even after the closing credits. Actress Heather Donahue later revealed that her mother received condolensce cards from frends who honestly believed that her daughter was genuinely missing and presumed dead. The Blair Witch craze was so strange and so devisive that it managed to earn an Independent Spirit Award for Best Feature Film and a Razzie nomination for Worst Feature Film.

With over 15 years of hindsight, it’s all too easy to take The Blair Witch for granted. Within months of its release, the impact of some scenes had been diluted by way too many Blair Witch spoofs. The film’s unexpected success went on to inspire so many imitators that Sean recently called for an end to the “found footage genre”. To be 17 though, as I was, when the movie first hit theaters was a truly terrifying experience that took me days to recover from. Watching it today, its barely lost even a bit of its initial impact.

blair witch

For those who haven’t seen it, The Blair Witch Project follows three student filmmakers who spend a weekend in the woods to make a documentary about the legendary Blair Witch, who supposedly haunts the area. The poor kids soon find themselves hopelessly lost in the woods and stalked and psychologically tormented by unseen forces (presumably the Witch). Directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez rely entirely on the hand-held “documentary” footage to capture the horror.

In fact, Myrick and Sánchez really did rely on their trio of actors to be their camera operators. Spending eight days in the woods alone, the actors improvised almost all of their dialogue and rarely knew what the unseen crew would throw at them next. The unorthodox approach pays off. The three lead perofrmances were convincing enough to fool so many audiences into thinking they were watching a real doc, after all. The Blair Witch may not be real the the tears and fear often are. It would even be compeelling just as a story of three students lost in the woods. Of course, it’s their tormenter who makes The Blair Witch Project a horror classic. Unseen by the audience, we have only the reactions of the tormented and our own worst nightmares to rely on. The Blair Witch is whoever you want her to be, whoever you are most afraid that she is. The film works every bit as well as your own imagination does.