The found footage genre is a weary, thoroughly beaten horse. Every movie has to devise a new means by which a group of characters happen to catch a meaningful narrative through nothing but happenstance and a sick determination not to turn off their camera. The Blair Witch Project began the trend, and since then a series of films have attempted to make the same magic happen.
It’s not hard to understand why – there is an added layer of reality to the personal nature of found footage that augments the plight of the characters and helps to build empathy. Not only that, the purposeful “badness” of the film quality can mask lower budget special effects. All of this makes it the perfect medium for people who need a shortcut to the veneer of quality and relate-ability.
So now that I have spent over 130 words basically belittling and degrading the DNA of your entire method of storytelling, I guess I should say what I thought of you, personally. Well, it’s my pleasure to say that you manage to transcend the shortcomings of your genre and prove yourself a fun little ride that doesn’t overstay its welcome.
One of the reasons for your ascension over the horde of other found footage fare is the fact that you actually allow for the use of multiple cameras, meaning that there can be some semblance of higher cinematic language. You can cross cut between conversations, you can allow for different angles of the same action, which makes the spectacle of your story more dynamic than the usual single-camera point of view. Not only that, but thanks to the particulars of your plot, you can even use third-person camera angles.
Which is good, because your story is definitely one that deserves a little more attention that a Blair Witch style exercise could manage. Andrew (Dane DeHaan), a loner with a terrifyingly bad home life and only a cousin for a friend, hates everything about his life, and so one day he decides to just start filming everything. It makes sense, in a weird way. The idea of bringing your life into a third-person kind of view, of being able to look at everything through the clinical lens of a camera, allows for a balm to the emotional exclusion of real life.
Then one night, at a pretty retro-seeming barn rave, Andrew’s cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and his friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan) find something strange in the ground and need Andrew to film it. An excursion into the odd cavern results in an encounter with a massive blue crystal which grants the trio a set of weak but enviable powers of mental manipulation. Telekinesis, they soon discover. They also discover that with gradual practice they can make their powers stronger.
Watching these three grow their friendship and their powers, and watching Steve – the most popular guy in school – and Matt try to coax Andrew out of his shell and into a semblance of self assurance is a surprisingly moving experience. There is a desperation and a broken kind of earnestness to Andrew that makes him worth rooting for, and Steve and Matt’s desire to impact him positively is so apparently and honest that its hard to watch the moments when it fails.
This, of course, is all leading to the moment when a difference of ideas as to what these powers means leads to a conflict that no one is prepared for, but even that inevitable battle is grounded in emotion and the relationships of the characters. In spite of this grounding, though, it still feels like a little bit of a let down, and a betrayal of the more realistic and character driven roots of the story to descend into common super hero-esque spectacle.
Visually your director John Trank outfits you rather well. Andrew’s pretension toward being a real videographer means that he tries some interesting framing now and then, and his powers allow him to actually capture himself in the third person. This, coupled with the aforementioned multi-camera approach, means that Trank can do things that actually allow him to showcase some directoral talent.
Aside from a final act that feels slightly rushed and a denouement that has the slightly-too-obvious hook for a sequel in it, you are a spry, well paced and competently made film that features stronger than average performances and enough humor and action to keep anyone entertained.
Brian J. Roan