Found Footage Flail: Real Cases of Shadow People, The Sarah McCormick Story

What’s the horror: shadow people, or ghosts, that hang around in dark corners and scare people silly while stalking them

Does the dog die? No animal cruelty

Gore factor: None

Re-watch scale: Only when I want to torment myself, or someone else

Honestly, reading this fake news report is way more exciting than watching the movie

I don’t normally write analyses of movies that I dislike, but this one is SO SPECTACULARLY BAD it deserves some mudslinging. I normally appreciate even the worst found footage for the effort involved, but this one is so bad it’s downright offensive, and there isn’t one redeeming character in the mix. It is INSANELY awful. Let’s dig in.

Things start off normally enough – we get a few talking heads of people who’ve seen and suffered with the shadow people phenomenon, then cut to a TV news report about the disappearance of three student filmmakers, one of whom is Sarah McCormick. Why the case is consistently called the “McCormick case” when there are also two missing young men is a bit of a mystery, and until we realize this is without a doubt the most entertaining section of the film we might have questions about this. Trust me, it’s not worth discussing as there’s absolutely no reason for this film to exist at all, so who cares about the details. Moving on.

Once the media reporting section is done, we cut right to the report that footage has been found that might help with the case. Then we cut to a “memory card #1” title, and right to the footage in question. And here, friends, is the opening line of the film, which I think sums up the entire movie nicely:

Indeed, movie. Indeed.

In true form, the individuals involved in filming this documentary start off right away by filming everything that happens as if it would ever be used in a real doc. It wouldn’t. Do we care that Sarah has packed a lot of stuff in her bag? No, we do not. Do we care that Sarah appears to have prepared for being an interviewer not at all? Well yeah, actually we do, and it’s not encouraging to watch her struggle to simply tell who she is and what she and her “crew” (and it’s not encouraging that the videographer of this crew doesn’t know what frame rate to shoot in, and Sarah has no idea what a frame rate even is, and that we’ve already heard 75 fucks and shits when we’re only four minutes and eleven seconds into this ordeal – cursing is the fallback position of any FF film that doesn’t know what else to do with itself, and we’ve already arrived at that milestone) are heading out to shoot. Sarah never does manage to cough and stutter out that they’re going to interview some individuals who claim to be haunted by shadow people, and they end up deciding that it might behoove her to write down what she’s going to say in advance (ya think, movie? YA THINK?).

Strap in folks. This is as good as the dialogue gets.

A few more shots of people cursing and putting bags into a trunk, and we’re off to what will turn out to be the MAJOR SET PIECE of this movie – the car. Folks, approximately 90% of the movie takes place in this vehicle, and at no time does anyone in said car discuss shadow people. No one in this car is haunted by shadow people – at least, not that we know of. No one in this car, at any time, sees a shadow person – at least, not that we get to see. Instead, we get endless stretches of time where these three sing, burp, fart, and convince themselves they’re amusing when mugging for the camera.

We’re six minutes in, people. SIX MINUTES IN.

Once when I was in college, I went with a group of friends to a big old cattle ranch that was owned by the grandfather of one of us, I forget who, I just know it wasn’t me. This was in the nineties, and I brought a huge-ass camcorder with me to record the event for posterity. Did we mug shamelessly for the camera while pretending that was how we acted all the time? Yes, we did. Did we laugh hysterically at every joke told on camera, no matter how dumb it was? Of course we did. Did we record hours upon hours of ourselves walking through forests or riding in trucks, commenting on the cows, the lakes, the grass all around us? Yep. Did we tell tons of private jokes that made no sense to anyone else? You betchya. And did we force others to watch this drivel when we got back home, simply because WE had such a fun time acting like fools that we were convinced anyone who watched that crap would be equally amused? Heck yes we did. The difference is, we didn’t turn that shit into a movie. And these people DID. This is every single person with a camera who ever thought they were so super-entertaining in life that they didn’t need to do anything except turn the fucker on and the world would be amused.

You know what no one has ever said about Real Cases of Shadow People: The Sarah McCormick Story? This.

Sarah doesn’t know how to use her iPhone’s GPS. Hilarious. The driver – I still don’t know his name – explains to Sarah what B-roll is. Hey, guess what B-roll is, Sarah? It’s this movie. Driver makes a joke about being psychologically scarred by the death of his mother. Heh. Little kids losing their parents. Hilarious. It’s not even true, as it turns out – but I would totally believe that the parents of all three of these dipshits went out for milk and cigarettes one day and never came back. Who could blame them? I say let the shadow people have these three.

You know what’s really funny? Beans. And people who eat beans.

You might be forgiven at this point for assuming all this nonsense is just character building, showing the dynamic between the characters before the action kicks in. I assumed that the first time I saw this also, so I wasn’t super-annoyed yet. I mean, we’re only nine minutes in, so spending some time getting to know these people and how they interact with each other isn’t an unexpected development. But we’ve already been made painfully aware that these three aren’t anywhere near as funny as they think they are. And at nine minutes in, we may already be hoping none of them survive, but still. The true horror of this film is not yet evident. And shortly after they film themselves eating beans and corn (with great difficulty, I might add) we get a scene or two that actually tricks us into thinking there is going to be a real movie here, and it’s about to get started.

But first, we have to film Sarah peeing along the side of the road for some reason, when they are clearly in a populated area with an abundance of bathrooms. We listen to Sarah as she sputters out the story of the first person they’re going to interview – y’all! They’re going to do something! – with a man whose daughter disappeared months ago, a man who claims to have seen shadow people right before the disappearance. Okay, this might get good.

But first, we have to film the driver peeing on the side of the road. And Sarah tells us she peed on her sandal. Then the driver says he stepped in Sarah’s pee. Sarah wonders what will happen if an animal comes along and smells her pee. Oh, I say we wait for that to happen, movie. I’d totally watch that.

Oh hey, the driver’s name is Joe.Thanks, movie. This may be the first useful piece of dialogue we’ve gotten so far.

Dude in the back seat wants to sell something he calls “nut art,” because he thinks his ejaculate comes out in pretty cool designs. He’d like to ejaculate onto canvas and sell that shit. Of course he would. And if you’re wondering why I’m subjecting you to this stupid dialogue, well reader, I had to sit through it, twice I might add – so you get to sit through it too. The backseat nut artist makes an incest joke. Classy.

Oh sure, leave the talking to the gal with pee on her sandals.

They’re out of the car! Hooray! It looks like there is going to be an actual interview of an actual person who has something to talk about other than human excretions. But not only did Sarah NOT change shoes, she’s totally dressed for a day at the beach here, which annoys the shit out of me. I mean, can you put on a blouse with a button or something? Would it be so hard to make yourself look somewhat professional for this important interview? Although, interestingly enough, Sarah does a pretty good of convincing the man, who has decided he doesn’t want to talk to them, to let them in for a quick couple of questions. She actually sounds sympathetic to his situation here, and her voice is – dare I say it – calming. This just serves to frustrate me more, since it appears Sarah could have been a much more compelling character, had she anything to do besides laugh at fart jokes. Oh well – this is about all that actually happens in this movie, so let’s pay attention.

Credit where credit is due, Sarah does a good job with this interview. She shows genuine empathy for the father’s plight and appears to be a good listener. She simply lets him tell his story, asking guiding questions as necessary. And his story is compelling, leading me to wonder why the movie had a good idea like this and then whiffed it so completely. Because the story he tells is one I would totally watch. He’d started seeing shadow people right after the birth of his daughter. They were usually around or in her room. They were always in shadow, but they were darker than shadows, more like an absence of all light, and they could still be seen in darkness. He’d turn the light on, however, and they would disappear. Later on, her daughter started talking about seeing these shadow people also, but Dad always pretended that he wasn’t seeing them even though he was – he wanted his daughter to feel safe and protected, and since he had no way to stop these shadow people from lurking about, he didn’t want his daughter to believe they were real. Then one night she came into her parent’s bedroom in the middle of the night, saying she woke up to a bunch of shadow people holding her down in her bed and telling her to go back to sleep and never wake up. They tried to comfort her, she went back to bed, and was gone in the morning. Again, why didn’t we get to see this movie? So much more interesting.

The movie tells us via title card that we’re now on Memory Card #2 and I don’t know why it’s bothering because we then cut to the trio in the car. Again. Sarah does a decent job telling the camera that they are going to interview a woman whose husband disappeared years ago, and again I wonder how much more likeable Sarah would have been if she’d never hooked up with these bozos. But now I understand why the only person the cops ever looked for was Sarah. I mean honestly, would you worry about the disappearance of a guy who thinks this is decent casual conversation?

And by the way, no she didn’t.

Interview #2 is up – the subject this time is Mae Montgomery, who, as Sarah already mentioned, lost her husband years ago when he just up and disappeared. She seems nervous, but much more welcoming and forthcoming than the previous subject, and she appears to really want to tell her story. Sarah is, once again, a good interviewer, asking questions in a gentle voice and expressing sympathy in appropriate places. Oh Sarah, how I wish you had better friends. Mae has some interesting things to say about the shadow people, how they compel people to look at them by feeding off their energy and then refusing to allow them to avert their eyes. It’s an interesting discussion, but it’s also clear the director told the actress to play this all kooky like the woman is some nutjob (not to be confused with nut art, let’s be clear). Which is a shame, because it cheapens all of the interesting things she says. She sees the shadow people as extensions of human beings, their “shadow side” so to speak. She has advice to give, having dealt with seeing them for so long – try not to fear them, as they will feed on it. Remember that if you are seeing a shadow person, they want something from you. And although most of them are evil, there are shadow people that are kind. Then her lamps start flickering, and the trio starts hearing weird labored breathing sounds, although Mae insists she doesn’t hear anything (it’s clear she’s lying because she’s lonely, and doesn’t want the trio to leave), and Sarah flips the fuck OUT.

See that lamp behind Mae? Yeah, it flickered.

I know that a big frustration with horror movies is how dumb the characters are, how instead of doing the logical thing and getting the hell OUT of any situation where lights flicker and growling sounds are heard they stick around out of curiosity. Well folks, Sarah is EXACTLY that person we all claim we’d like to see in a horror film, because she shuts it down and practically sprints out of poor Mae’s house. And guess what – it may be the logical reaction, but it’s boring as hell on film. How could someone so fascinated with shadow people just bolt when there’s evidence occurring right in front of her, while cameras are rolling? This should be exactly what Sarah wants to capture. She should have taken Mae up on her offer to stay and moved the fuck IN. Set up cameras all around the house and waited for the magic to happen. I mean, come ON, Sarah, we all know how this works. But no, Sarah does the smart thing and leaves, and we are terribly disappointed. Because now, we’re back to this:

At least Kyle – oh hey, backseat guy has a name now! – is saying something I can actually agree with.

Yep, we’re back in the car. Sarah is dashing my hopes for her to ever become an investigative reporter when she shows ZERO interest in investigating the very thing she’s supposed to be investigating. You know it’s bad when Backseat Kyle takes a more logical approach to anything than you do.

Oh look, it’s memory card #3, and we’re – in the car again. But this time it’s raining. They’re listening to some random song that must be someone’s cousin’s band because we hear way too much of it, and without dick jokes no less. Then the camera dips into this weird slow motion mode for no reason whatsoever, and then we’re in Georgia and a clock is chiming. And hey look – they’re out of the car! And they’re walking! Backseat Kyle is filming, Sarah is carrying a backpack, and Sloppy Beans has a bug on him. They want to smoke, but no one brought a lighter. They borrow one from a passerby. Sarah is on camera again, explaining that they are going to interview another woman whose daughter disappeared. She is not wearing anywhere near as much makeup as she has been so far, and she looks so much better. Thick blue eyeliner does not a good smoky eye make, Sarah. Keep that in mind for future reference. Oh wait, you don’t have a future because you’re missing.

Backseat Kyle raves about her “fucking fantastic” performance, which is high praise for someone who simply managed to explain what they were about to do without, I don’t know, squirting? Based on their previous conversation on the subject, I take it that the boys don’t like it. And I hate it that I know this. Then we take some time to walk around downtown somewhere in Georgia, because why the hell not? You in a hurry or something? It looks very quaint, wherever it is. Old stone streets that the trio struggles to master. “It’s like hiking,” says Sloppy Beans, and no, it is not. It’s like walking on a stone street, and nothing else. There are bugs, and it is hot. And then…

oh for fuck’s sake

We’re back in the car! Someone found a cheeto that looked like Harambe the gorilla and sold it for $100,000. And it’s hot. Sarah, for no explainable reason, is tired. She wants a nap. Seriously, why? You have done two interviews over the course of I don’t know how many days they’ve been driving now because it HAS to be more than one by now. How could you possibly need a nap, Sarah? Did all that running away from a good story that might have given you actually decent footage tucker you out?

We’re then treated to a time-lapse of the trio pitching a tent, yep, a TENT because apparently we’re going to camp now. Why? This adds nothing to the story of shadow people, but we do get to see Sarah in a bikini which I suspect is the real motive here. She looks good, and we’re treated to audio of Sarah explaining why this documentary means so much to her while she wanders around on the beach. It seems she’s had similar experiences, and that’s why this movie is SO important to her. So important that you bolted at the first evidence of shadow people you caught on film, important like that, Sarah? I can’t help but think this backstory would have been much more effective had we actually watched Sarah talking, but hey, bikini.

We watch Sloppy Beans and Backseat Kyle mug for the camera, and you gotta give it to these two for consistently coming up with unique ways not to be funny. It gets dark. The sunset is impressive. Sloppy Beans plans to imitate an Australian wilderness dude for the entire night. There’s a fire. And a raccoon? It’s hard to tell, because it’s dark. Sarah thinks they got some good footage. Whatever you say, Sarah. I want to like you but you make it hard sometimes. A plane flies overhead. Sloppy Beans entertains himself by repeating the word “Albequerque” over and over again in an Australian accent.

Yes, we’re still doing this. Just wait until he farts in the tent.

Now we’re in the tent, and you guessed it – the conversation is all about farts. Who farted, how they farted, what the fart smells like. Then they discuss each other’s stinky feet. Then Backseat Kyle shushes the other two and says, wait wait wait, did you hear that? And they all fall silent. And just when you think the movie’s gonna go all Blair Witch on you, Kyle farts loudly into the silence. Hilarious. Hey, wanna know what girl farts sound like? Because this movie wants to tell you. And tell you. And tell you.

It’s morning now. Everyone gets up, ready for another busy day of interviewing people who’ve seen shadow folks hanging out on the beach. Backseat Kyle zooms in on Sarah’s rack. It’s pretty good, not gonna lie. Oh Sarah, your rack deserves to get attention from far more decent men than these two. Oh wait – now we’re back in the car again. They’re going to see a Ms. Phillips, whose daughter disappeared quite recently. Turn right here, Sarah tells Sloppy Beans, who promptly turns left. Heh.

The trio gets to the Phillips house, and the aforementioned Ms. beckons them inside. As soon as she points out her little dog and is sure to tell them all that it doesn’t bite and is super-friendly, we are certain that said dog is going to make a meal out of Sloppy Beans. The dog stares into the camera and growls. I’m with you, dog. And also, heh.

Ms. Phillips is eager and outgoing, and ready to tell her story. Backseat Kyle actually does a decent job with the B-roll here, focusing in on little house details that inform us what Ms. Phillip’s life is like – a collection of little wooden angels playing musical instruments, a photo of a volunteer fire department that most likely includes her husband, a wedding picture, and a few of those wooden signs with sayings painted on them in whatever that half-cursive, half-print font is that wooden signs with sayings painted on them always use (I’m assuming the font is called “Hobby Lobby” or “Michael’s”). It looks like a cheery, soccer-mommy kind of place, and Ms. Phillips adds to the warmth with her welcoming personality. Again I am reminded of the ways in which this could have been an interesting documentary. Hey, maybe something else supernatural will happen, and Sarah won’t cut and run this time. But no. Instead, Mr. Phillips shows up, looking a hell of a lot like Wayne Newton, by the way, and he is not down with this interview shit. He chases the kids out of the house.

Yeah, now you know how we feel

They stop at a depressing-looking gas station and complain about bad smells and bugs. Guys, if bad smells and bugs appear everywhere you go, maybe you’re the problem. Just saying. Backseat Kyle entertains himself, and no one else, by performing racist imitations of other nationalities. It’s wildly uncomfortable. Hey Kyle, got any new poop jokes for us instead? For fuck’s sake – now he’s just making gurgling noises for no damn reason while Sarah and Sloppy Beans laugh. There’s no way they actually think this is funny. Or maybe they do, because a plastic bag floats over the car and they lose their shit like it’s the most hilarious thing that’s ever happened.

And now we’re lip-syncing.
Who screws up the lyrics to Row Row Row Your Boat? Jeebus.

Now Sloppy Beans is doing a terrible Redd Foxx imitation. God I wish Redd Foxx were still alive – can you imagine? He would destroy these idiots. He’d slap the Redd Foxx right out of Sloppy Beans’ stupid mouth. Sorry, I just checked the runtime, and we’re only halfway through this mess. It’s the big one, Elizabeth. I’m coming to join you.

Now they’re on the hunt for a random guy who wouldn’t give Sarah much information, not even his real name, but he does have a video he wants to show them. Sounds like a really bad idea, guys, so by all means full steam ahead this shit. They find themselves in a desolated area – old warehouses that are rusted and overgrown with weeds, abandoned cars, et cetera. Maybe, just maybe, this is where something scary actually happens? It’s the right place for it at least – no little wooden Hobby Lobby signs here. It really does look like a location where some spooky stuff could go down. In spite of myself, I feel a bit of anticipation. In the end, all we get is a jump scare by a grouchy old man who suddenly pops into view in Sarah’s passenger-side window. And this dude is pissed. He berates and insults the team, which is pretty enjoyable, I must say, claiming that they don’t know what they’re doing (true) and that others have tried to document shadow people before, and they all end up disappearing (if only). Then he says he has video of something to do with shadow people, but he won’t show it if the camera is running. Kyle does keep it running, but makes zero effort to actually film the video grouchy dude is showing Sarah on his phone. Sarah sees something that makes her react with shock, and cut. Then we’re BACK IN THE CAR.

Dear God, just make it stop

They pull over to pee, and yeah, Backseat Kyle films himself whipping it out. Then we cut to Sarah, who sings a few bars of some bluesy song I don’t know, and she has a really nice voice. I feel bad for this actress for being involved in this mess. She has some talent, but none of that has a chance in this mess of a movie. Not that it matters in the least, but Sloppy Beans, who apparently also saw Grouchy Guy’s video, tells Backseat that it’s security camera footage of a dude walking on some ledge and then getting swallowed up by a shadow and disappearing. Would have been nice to see it, but never mind. Backseat Kyle is too busy doing that found footage thing where one character refuses to believe anything that any other character says about supernatural events. So they bat that around for a while – that didn’t happen. I swear it happened. Come on you’re lying. I’m not lying. etc. etc.

They’re in Tennessee.


They’re back in the car. Now they’re filming a stream. Back in the car again. Now Sarah is walking along the side of the road, filming scenery with her iPhone. Back in the car again. Trees and more trees. This is like some backwater Skinamarink shit now – just images with occasional sounds. And annoying background music. Siri tells them to turn left, then Sarah is standing on a bridge. Is it possible a shadow person is going to snatch her away? Now she’s under the bridge, down by the river. She almost falls. They react as if this is funny, so whatever movie. Back in the car. Then back outside. Jesus, even for this movie this is some seriously confusing footage. Are they literally driving for half a mile and then pulling over only to get back in the car and drive another half mile and pull over again? Because if that’s not what you’re doing, movie, then for fuck’s sake put the driving footage together and the outdoors footage together and stop chopping this shit up. It’s ridiculous. Although I will say this much; I’ve never been to Tennessee, and it does look beautiful.

Well said, Sarah.

More car footage. The car pulls into the parking lot of a restaurant. Then they’re driving again. Then the car pulls into the parking lot of a hotel. Thank god we’re seeing all this parking or we’d never know that they ate dinner or how they got to a hotel! They check into a room. They shower. They review the day’s footage, and no one shows any concern that it’s all garbage, so I call foul. There’s a fly on the wall and no, I do NOT want to be that fly. They sleep. They’re back in the car. Then they’re outside the car loading luggage into the trunk. Wait, what? They already left the hotel, didn’t they? The movie is completely off the rails at this point. No one has the slightest idea what’s happening.

I swear to God, they’re now hiking. They’re hiking. The movie has officially become a travelogue, and a terrible one at that. We get a shot of Sarah peering over a cliff. She looks pretty, but we can clearly see her unfortunate tramp stamp. Goddamnit, Sarah. Make better choices. I want to like you! Now they’re eating again. I’ll spare you the shot of Sloppy Beans opening his mouth while it’s full of food and waggling his tongue at the camera. True to form, we cut from that scene of them eating their food to a scene of them – no lie I swear – STANDING IN LINE TO ORDER THAT FOOD. Who edited this mess? Now they’re touring a cave. There are thirty-three minutes left in this movie. THIRTY-THREE MINUTES. Remember when they were interviewing folks about shadow people? Yeah, those were fun times.

OMG – shadow people! We found them!

Now they’re riding a tram up a mountainside and we’re treated to the recorded tape spewing information for the tourists. Did you know there’s an eight-degree difference between Chattanooga and Lookout Mountain? Or that Lookout Mountain has the steepest railway in the world? Back in the car. Tunnels. More tunnels. I expect the movie at any moment to flash back to the day Sarah was born, but it doesn’t. Bridge. Tunnel. Train. Trees. After all of this Tennessee tourism shit we’ve been watching for twenty minutes, Sarah asks Backseat Kyle if the camera is rolling – come on, Sarah, do you really have to ask the man who filmed himself peeing if he’s rolling? – then she turns to it and says, “We’re in Tennessee right now.” No shit? Wild! I thought they were in a rain forest. Anyway, they are on their way to their last interview. Let’s hope something happens. Or nothing happens. Who cares. Sarah says they’re going to interview a Stephanie Yost and she really thinks it will be an interesting story. Backseat Kyle speaks for all of us at that moment:

MOST of them, though? They’ve filmed two.

The only thing keeping me going at this point is knowing that eventually, they are going to disappear.

Sarah does not take kindly to Kyle’s negativity, and Sloppy Beans chastises him for not being civil (ie, telling the truth). Then Sarah, bless her heart, takes responsibility for the entire, shitty endeavor by blaming herself for being a bad interviewer. This is ridiculous, seeing as she’s been a fine interviewer, aside from being too scared to stick around and film the flickering lights. And honestly none of them have sucked at their jobs – the sound is fine, the camera work is fine. The problem is that they’ve interviewed two people and been iced out by two others, and are instead filming themselves eating and peeing and farting and thinking it’s interesting. Kyle continues to speak truth to power, and as much as I hate to agree with this cretin about anything, he’s totally in the right here. They should have made the most of the interviews they did have, and the fact that they didn’t makes the fact that they’re still pursuing this shitty documentary a moot point. Even if this last interview is any good, it’s not enough to make a documentary out of, and they still don’t have any documented evidence that the phenomenon is real. He really hammers the other two about this, which Sarah again interprets as him being negative, when in reality he’s the only one making any sense. Sarah is far too sensitive to her subjects’ feelings and doesn’t want to push them, and while that’s nice and all, it doesn’t exactly bode well for her journalism career. So preach, Kyle.

Ok, so now we’re in much more familiar found footage territory. Kyle and Sloppy Beans think they’re lost, and Sarah insists they aren’t. Backseat Kyle starts complaining and Sarah starts getting snappy. It may be the first time I’ve ever been happy to see bickering in a found footage movie because at least it means the movie has remembered what it’s supposed to be. Oh hey – they found it! Stephanie Yost’s house is in sight. And ol’ Steffy is standing on her porch with her hands in her pockets, looking all sorts of unhappy. She’ll give the interview, but she’s not letting them in her house. Way to keep your home smelling fresh, Stef.

Turns out Stephanie lost both her sister and her brother to what she believes are shadow people. Man, that’s a hell of a bummer. Soon after the second disappearance, Stephanie and her mom fled the house, and she’s not seen any sinister shadows since. Sarah asks what happened to the house, which seems like a weird question, but it sets up Stephanie to say it’s just a few miles away. Sarah asks if they can go film it, and Stephanie reluctantly agrees, although she doesn’t recommend it and warns them that they shouldn’t go.

We’re one hour and twenty-two minutes in, folks, and we’re entering an abandoned house. I feel like this should have happened about one hour and twenty-one minutes ago, but whatever. They peer in the windows, but it’s too dark to see anything. Sloppy Beans tries the back door (I know that sounds like one of his awful sexual encounter tales, but in this case it’s literal) and eureka! It’s open. Then Sarah inexplicably exclaims that there’s no way they’re actually going inside. What the fuck, Sarah? I still want to like you, but this is ridiculous. First off, I am sure the woman knew you would go inside, why else would you go there? And secondly, what kind of documentary filmmaker are you? Why would you pass up an opportunity to film a creepy, abandoned house where two children were taken by shadow people? What do you need, a written invitation? A cookie? A lot of vocal haranguing by two obnoxious idiots? Oh wait – that’s what she actually gets, and it works. I really hate Sarah for making me agree with Backseat Kyle and Sloppy Beans. Not really, Sarah. Against all logic and reason I still like you. And I would totally respect your desire not to encroach upon the Yost’s privacy if you weren’t making a documentary that needs exactly this type of footage.

Backseat insists they spend the night in the house – which isn’t in nearly bad enough shape to be all that scary, but is definitely in good enough shape for them to sleep there without getting tetanus or something. And as Kyle points out, this is their best shot yet to catch a shadow person on film, seeing as Stephanie was convinced that the house itself had something to do with the supernatural weirdness she experienced as a child – she never saw another shadow person again after they moved out.

Come on, Beans. You have no best judgment.

And oh my god – this movie is FINALLY acting like the movie it’s supposed to be. Backseat is talking about putting security cameras all over the house. Yes! Why did this take so damn long? Stephanie Yost and your creepy, abandoned but still totally livable house, where have you been for the past hour and twenty-eight minutes? Just think gang, something might actually happen now. The last supernatural event we got was back at Mae’s house when the lamps flickered and growled, remember that? Good times. They discuss how there’s no electric or running water, but I’m so happy they’re finally DOING something that I’m not even gonna question how they’re gonna run all these cameras with no power. Or how they’re going to catch anything in the dark. Screw it – I’m taking what I can get.

My god, somebody pinch me, because Kyle is actually acting like someone who knows what he’s doing right now. It’s the first time he’s been even remotely tolerable. He even addresses the no power issue in a fairly plausible way. And thank God, because there are only 14 minutes left in this thing. They’re all very tired, so maybe next time don’t waste a day hiking and exploring caves? Just a thought. Sarah needs to pee. She makes Backseat go with her because she’s scared. He gives her shit because of course he does. While they’re back there, Beans sees something on one of the cameras.

We haven’t heard anything so far about shadow people acting like poltergeists and moving stuff around, but whatever movie. I’ll take what I can get.

And hey, we actually see it this time! One of the stuffed animals sitting on a couch bounces around a bit on its own. Sarah immediately wants to leave because of course she does. But it is pretty creepy to see. Even though they’re trying hard to make it look like it’s night when it’s clearly still daylight outside. Sarah is scared. She feels a presence. It’s clear the guys don’t feel what she is feeling, but you can’t blame them for not wanting to leave after days of getting nothing and finally having captured something, anything, supernatural on camera. Sarah comes clean, admitting to the guys that she did see shadow people when she was a kid, that one was tormenting her father to the point that he shot himself, and that she once woke up with a shadow being hovering over her bed. She’s telling this to explain why she’s so scared, but before the guys can react a clock starts chiming. It’s a clock that was clearly not working before, but now it’s somehow working again. And while this is all kinda fun, typical haunted house stuff, I can’t help but notice how it doesn’t fit with any story of shadow people we’ve heard up to this point. Nothing about things moving around or stuff starting to work or ceasing to work in its presence. So far we’ve only heard about the shadow people being seen and making other people disappear. So, this is all a bit weird as it doesn’t fit the story so far as we know it. It’s as if the director suddenly realized he only had ten minutes to get to the scary part so he just threw every horror trope he could think of into this house, even if it made no sense.

Five minutes left, and a door slams somewhere in the house. Now Beans wants to leave, too, but Backseat is holding out. He heads back into the hallway where they heard the door slamming. We see the camera fall, and just like that, Backseat Kyle is no more. I mean, we had a decent scary moment there, but we definitely did NOT see any shadow people, and the way Kyle got got doesn’t exactly mesh with the other stories we’ve heard so far. But we’ve only got a few minutes left, so we’ll have to take what we can get.


I mean, you can kinda see it

It takes about fifteen seconds for Beans to also poof into nothingness. We don’t see anything, he’s just there one minute and gone the next, and Sarah is left alone screaming his name. Now, Sarah has never once been carrying a camera throughout this disaster of a movie, and there’s no logical reason why she would be carrying one now, but a camera whirls around and sees what is almost, kinda sorta, a shadow of some sort, and then she screams and it’s all over. So, okay, I guess. At least Sarah gives us some good screams before she disappears. Wouldn’t you know the one time Beans and Backseat decide to be quiet is the one time it would have been cool to hear their voices?

And that, my friends, is the absolute worst found footage movie I have ever seen. And now you’ve more or less seen it too. You’re welcome.

Found Footage Fave: Lake Mungo (SPOILERS!)

What’s the horror: ghosts

Does the dog die? Nope

Gore factor: None – just a few shots of a drowned body

Re-watch scale: Heavy rotation, in more ways than one

Lake Mungo is my favorite kind of found footage: mockumentary style. It follows The Palmer family – mom June, dad Russell, and brother Matthew – and the bizarre events surrounding the death of the daughter, Alice. The director, Ausstralian Joel Anderson, has not directed another motion picture since this one came out in 2008, and not much at all is known about him as he was hesitant to do interviews when it came out. Perhaps he wanted to keep the mystique of the film alive, who knows, but it’s a shame he hasn’t done anything else as this is one of the most bittersweet and sad mockumentaries I’ve ever seen. There is a lingering sadness to this one that haunts for days – which is part of what’s happening to the Palmers in the film. The extent to which we, as the audience, empathize with this family is intense, at least for those who loved the film. There are those who go into it hearing such fantastic things that they come away disappointed because the horror here is mostly of the human variety – the way the family deals with grief, and the way you can live your whole life with someone and not really know them at all. It’s got its share of creepy moments, and one humdinger of a jump scare, but this is a quiet film that deals with the silence and unanswered questions the living are left with when a loved one dies, especially one as young as Alice.

The actors are very convincing in their roles; I’ve heard it said that their acting is ‘wooden,’ but to me, it’s quite a genuine representation of how a family would act in front of a camera while discussing the death of a loved one. What some people think is wooden acting is, in my humble opinion, exactly the way a family like this would present themselves on camera; they’re keeping it together for the cameras, trying to get Alice’s story out into the world, and they’re going to do their best to stay collected and calm lest the whole thing goes off the rails. The mother and father both come across as smart, stoic, and damaged, but determined, in the end, to move on. The brother does the same, but his way of processing his sister’s death is, well, a bit problematic.


Mom, Alice, and Grandma Palmer

We first get the backstory of what happened to Alice Palmer. News footage tells the tale of the young girl who drowned in a nearby lake (but NOT Lake Mungo; that’s for later) and was found by a rescue team several hours later. The family had been on a day trip to the dam when Matthew decided to return to shore, leaving Alice swimming in the water alone. He reaches the shore, and Alice is nowhere to be seen. Police are called, and when her body is found Dad is called down to identify the body. Mom wasn’t up to seeing her daughter that way, and as Dad admits in his interview, that may have been a mistake.

Alice’s room as it was the night she died

Soon after her death, the family begins to hear strange sounds around the house. A contractor working at the dam where Alice drowned finds a figure in the shadows of one of his photos that looked mysteriously like Alice. Matthew sets up cameras around the house to try and capture what might be going on, and in several shots we see apparitions of Alice, sometimes walking past the camera, and other times hiding in corners of rooms. Things seem to be going down the same path as so many horror movies and mockumentaries that came before, but then – a twist.

A ghostly image of Alice Matthew captures on camera

Another couple discovers footage they took at the dam on the same day as the contractor, and once they realize the coincidence, they go back through their videos of the day to see if they too captured Alice’s likeness on film. And it turns out they did capture a figure in the background, just like the contractor, except from their angle, it’s clear that the figure is not Alice at all – it’s Matthew wearing her jacket.

Matty has some ‘splainin’ to do

It turns out that his mom’s growing conviction and obsession with the idea that the body Russell identified that night was not Alice, and that Alice might still be alive, prompts Matthew to run with the idea in order to convince his father to exhume the body and put his mother’s obsession to rest. At least, that’s why he says he did it. It’s really not clear that Matthew himself really understands what compelled him to pull off such a macabre scam, but it does come across that he did so without malice and was perhaps acting out some sort of desire on his part for his sister to still be alive. For whatever reason he did it, his stunt works – Russell starts to doubt that he did actually see the body of his daughter that night, and he agrees to allow the body to be exhumed and DNA tested. This is where you might expect another twist, but there is none – the body is Alice’s, after all. She’s really, truly gone.

The movie does something clever here; by having Matthew explain to the documentary crew exactly how he pulled off getting those ghostly apparitions of his sister on film, the director is essentially allowing the character to reveal his own secrets. Using old videos of Alice and strategically placing the television playing the footage opposite a mirror or other reflective surface, Matthew has made it appear that Alice’s ghost is haunting the house. It’s a pretty neat trick, and it has the audience looking out for further tricks as the story moves forward. But things aren’t that simple here. The story is just getting started.

Lake Mungo, looks creepy as hell to me

A psychic has gotten involved by this time; he runs a local radio show where people call in and ask him to help with all sorts of paranormal issues and with connecting to dead relatives and the like. June feels strangely comforted by his presence over the airwaves and asks him to come help them out. He even holds a seance wherein they try to contact Alice, but nothing happens.

As we delve into Alice’s history, it’s clear things were not quite right between her and her mother. It’s handed out in little bits and scraps, but it seems clear that June had become rather distant towards Alice as she grew into her teenage years; as if there was some deeper level of love June was unwilling to invest in her. It’s revealed that this coldness, for lack of a better word, runs deep on Mom’s side of the family, as she experienced the same distance from her own mother as a child. Alice and June, in short, were just not getting along at the time of her death, and it’s clear Mom carries the guilt of that in her heart. At one point she tells the camera that she hopes Alice knew she loved her, which is telling. She’s not at all sure Alice did know.

And in spite of Matthew’s revelation about his deception, the strange noises around the house don’t stop. June decides to go back over the old tapes he produced, wondering if she can see anything else in them that might explain whatever is going on, and sure enough she finds something in one of the videos – there’s a figure hiding out in Alice’s bedroom, all crouched down in a corner. Even weirder, Mom tells us that this figure is – their neighbor?

Meet the neighbors – on second thought, don’t

June rightly decides that if the neighbor – Brett Toohey was his name – is skulking around Alice’s room at night, there’s got to be a reason and it’s probably not a good one. Some snooping reveals the truth about Brett’s late-night visit (or visits, who knows how many times the guy snuck in there). He was looking for a tape that June found in Alice’s belongings. How does June know he was looking for this tape? Because the tape reveals that Alice had become involved in some sort of sexual “relationship” with Mr. Toohey and his wife. It’s not clear when this situation developed or how long it had gone on – Alice had babysat the creepy Toohey’s children for years – and it’s also not clear why Alice has this tape in her possession. Now, Alice can’t be more than 16 or 17 at the time of her death, which makes this nothing like an actual sexual relationship at all and much more of sexual abuse of a minor, but the movie doesn’t dwell on that, which isn’t the greatest choice in my opinion. But I hate to admit that at the same time, this revelation about Alice is oddly effective; the flat-out oddness of the revelation, and the magnitude of its effect on Alice, serve well to deepen the sadness and detachment she had from her family when she was alive. Who knows how she felt about this situation with her neighbors, but we can project plenty onto it – it’s deeply wrong, and probably scarring for Alice emotionally, and it probably caused her to feel isolated not just from her family but from everyone around her.

Dr. Slatter, the psychic

And it’s not just the tape June discovers. In Alice’s planner, June finds a business card taped to one of the pages – and it’s the same psychic the family has been consulting with recently. Why does Alice have his business card in her calendar? Because as it turns out, Alice had been going to see him for readings or sessions or whatever he calls them in the weeks before her death. Dr. Slatter claims he didn’t tell the family he knew Alice due to confidentiality issues, but June ain’t buying it, which seems reasonable. Based on his situation he never should have agreed to meet with the Palmers once he realized who their daughter was, but he did it anyway, and he doesn’t have a really great explanation as to why. He is quickly booted out of the picture, but the whole situation adds yet another layer to Alice’s secret life. Why was she going to see him anyway?

Searching for Alice’s body

June finds something else in Alice’s planner that triggers a memory; Alice had several days marked off for a trip to Lake Mungo with high school friends at the start of summer. June recalls that Alice wasn’t the same after taking that trip. A few of Alice’s friends are interviewed who reveal that they, too, noticed a change in Alice after that, and that she actually seemed upset about something while still on the trip. Several of Alice’s friends share cell phone footage they took on the night in question, when something clearly upset Alice, and through the dark and shaky video June discovers something – in the background of one shot, Alice can be seen by a small copse of trees, burying something in the ground. Off they go to Lake Mungo.

It’s easy enough for them to find the spot where Alice did her digging, and soon enough they uncover Alice’s cell phone – she’d told June when she got back from the trip that she lost it – along with some jewelry that was special to her. There’s footage on the phone, so they fire that bad boy up and get to viewing.

Alice, looking less than happy to be there

It’s shaky footage of Lake Mungo as Alice walks along, alone in the dark. In the very far distance, her camera spies movement. Then a small speck. The speck gets bigger and it’s clear that it’s a figure. It walks slowly but directly towards Alice. The closer it gets into view, it becomes clear that it’s a person. A female. And slowly it dawns on us – as it must have dawned on Alice – that this figure, this person, is her. The figure moves closer, and we recognize the odd distortion of her face matches the disfigured face of her corpse when it was lifted from the water. This is Alice seeing herself dead, drowned – the face moves right into the camera, and seems to float there for some time. Then it shrieks like a damn banshee and lunges at her. The video cuts out. And that, my friends, is the jump scare to end all jump scares. The director has been slowly tightening the tension for almost an hour at this point, and we’re all ready to spring right out of our seats from being wound so tight. It’s a horrific jolt, being so out of place in such an otherwise quiet film, and it’s wildly effective.


So this is why Alice started seeing Dr. Slatter, and this is why she was so affected by the Lake Mungo trip. She saw her own death coming for her. We see footage of Alice in one of her sessions with the psychic, and she describes to him her feelings of isolation and loneliness. She describes a dream in which she walks into her parents’ bedroom at night, soaking wet, and stands at the foot of their bed, crying and begging them to wake up. But they don’t respond. They don’t hear her. They can’t help her. And Alice realizes she is completely alone. It’s – pretty sad, actually. It’s a terrible realization for someone to have at her age, and it’s a terrible way to feel at any age. Whether or not we can believe she actually saw her own death that night, we can sympathize with her pain, and it makes her premature death all the sadder, that she had to die while carrying the burden of so much fear and loneliness.

This seems to be the missing piece in the puzzle for the family. After making this discovery, as June describes it, they actually start to move on. They don’t make any actual decisions to move on, it just sort of happens, as if they are finally able to put Alice’s memory to rest. June even visits Dr. Slatter one last time, to get some closure on the whole experience before they move out of the house where so much tragedy has happened, and try to put themselves back together again. At this point, the film cuts between a session Alice had with Slatter before she died and the session June is currently having with him. June describes walking into the now-empty house, and moving towards Alice’s room. Alice describes being in the house alone, and hearing her mother coming towards her. June sees herself entering Alice’s room and looking for her everywhere – but she can’t feel her in the house anymore. “She’s gone,” she tells Slatter, and she appears to be at peace. In Alice’s session, she describes her mother not being able to see her, even though she is in the room, and then her mother turns and walks away without saying a word. “She’s gone,” Alice says, and from her perspective, it has a completely different tone.

Matthew’s backyard photo, with the image of Alice in front of the bushes

The film moves from this scene into a replay of photos and filmed moments the crew has shown before, but this time our eyes are drawn to what we missed before – even in Matthew’s faked images, there’s a presence we’d never noticed in every single one.

The same picture, with another Alice sitting on a bench off to the right of the frame
That’s definitely NOT Matthew in Alice’s jacket
And that’s not Matthew off to the left either
Can you see her? It’s tough to make out, but she’s standing behind the cabinets

Faked apparitions or not, it appears Alice has been in the house with them since her death. And based on her session with Dr. Slatter it seems Alice was having experiences of her life after death before she died. And while the family has found the closure they were seeking, selling the house and moving elsewhere to start over, it’s not so clear that Alice has gotten the closure she needs to move on. Looking back at that first photo we saw of the family, taken on the day of their move out of the house, we can see Alice staring out at them from the window behind them.

Check again

So what does this mean for Alice? Is she trapped in the house now, doomed to haunt it for all eternity? Or does her staying behind mean she’s releasing the family and letting them go? Did she guide June to discover her secrets for some reason? Or is she simply trapped in the house, watching the family carry on without ever being able to reach them? Does she know she is dead, or is she still stuck in the house, thinking she’s alive and no one’s listening to her? There aren’t any answers to these questions, which seems fitting really. It’s like June says at one point: “Death takes everything eventually. It’s the meanest, dumbest machine there is, and it just keeps coming and it doesn’t care.” 

The movie isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s slow, and quiet, and definitely not your typical horror film. But what it definitely IS, is haunting. It’s one of the most effective portraits of being haunted by grief I’ve ever watched, really, because of how subtle and confusing it is. And the way the filmmaker managed to create a haunting that torments the dead as much as it does the living adds to the grief.

We as the audience are left feeling more like Alice at the end of it than the rest of the family. We’re stuck in that house with her, watching them leave us behind, and we don’t at all know what that means for us, and where, if anywhere, we will go. And that, my friends, is terribly, tragically sad. And scary as hell.

Found Footage Flail: There Are Monsters (SPOILERS!!)

Reason for filming: A group of film students are sent on assignment to collect alumni interviews for their college.

What’s the horror: Aliens, zombies

Does the dog die? No animal cruelty

Gore factor: Minimal

Re-watch scale: Occasional re-watch.

There’s a cool story at the heart of There Are Monsters; I just wish it was executed differently. While this movie is labeled as a found-footage film, for at least half of its runtime none of the characters are actually doing any filming; they’re all on-screen being filmed by some other camera. Based on that, it’s baffling to me why they chose to use found-footage techniques for the entire film. It’s perfectly fine to use occasional found-footage in a movie and more traditional methods for the rest of it; plenty of films have done this to good effect. But for whatever reason, the filmmakers chose here to keep a consistent, shaky-cam style even when none of the characters are doing the filming.

This isn’t a still from the movie but it could be

To make things worse, this is actually some of the most over-the-top shaky-camera work I’ve ever seen in a found footage film, and it’s not even really a found footage film. That’s quite a feat to accomplish. There are actually entire scenes that are NOTHING but blur and movement – we cut to a scene of blurred light that is also spinning around for no reason, then just cut to another scene without any idea why we watched that madness. The camera is constantly shifting out of focus while characters are on-screen, and at times it just never focuses on any of them at all. Even scenes that are just the four characters having a conversation go by in a whir of motion; the camera constantly jump-cuts between them and goes in and out of focus to boot. It’s kind of a mess.

Why is this happening

So why would I ever write about a movie like this, or ever bother to re-watch it? Because the story, while derivative, is told quite an interesting way, and the movie is great at building tension and providing a decent payoff in the end. There are also some great jump scares and cool effects at play; I just wish the found footage conceit had been done away with altogether.

One of the better jump scares

The story is this: a group of film students set off to interview alumni that the college can use on their website. Along the way, the crew of four starts to notice people around them with some really strange behavior. They see unresponsive people standing still with their backs to them. They keep seeing twins everywhere. And every once in awhile someone gives them a creepy smile that’s just a little off – keep in mind, this movie was made in 2013, well before this year’s Smile hit theaters, so it’s not like it’s copying that particular feature.

Two of the main characters, Beth and Terry, take all of this weirdness to heart straight away, but of course we have to have that one person who just refuses to believe any of it is real until the last possible moment. That person in this movie is named Jeff, and the actor looks so much like the dude from Entourage that I had to stop and look him up to see if it was the same guy. It isn’t.

Guy Germain
Kevin Connolly from Entourage. Seriously, how is this not the same person?!

Maybe it’s my loathing for Entourage that made me hate Jeff so much, but I think it had more to do with just how long this character stayed committed to naysaying everything that happened as no big deal. I wanted to cut out his tongue if he used the word “just” one more time (It’s just the wind. She just has a cough. It’s just the flu. They’re just getting ready. You get the idea). Seriously, his refusal to take anything seriously becomes quite maddening, especially when one little glimpse at his friend Dan’s diary scribbles convince him everyone’s been right when he’s been confronted with far better evidence by his friends that he JUST refuses to believe.

Maybe it’s Maybelline?

It turns out that some sort of force, possibly alien, is taking over human bodies, creating exact replicas of them that take over their daily lives. And while these replicas look exactly like their human counterparts, they don’t know how to behave like humans, and their attempts at it often fail – like the freaky twins’ makeup applications above. This works well in the opening act of the film to keep us interested in what the hell might be going on without giving away too much – a receptionist at a school is wearing her shirt inside-out. A man in a waiting room writes random letters and scribbles all over his crossword puzzle. As previously mentioned, the group comes across random people standing with their backs to them, perfectly still and unresponsive. And occasionally, someone dazzles them with that unnerving, too-wide grin. So what exactly is going on?

The film does a good job building up all these strange occurrences, culminating in a pretty awesome scene where whatever’s going on starts to happen to everyone all around them. And once Jeff is finally convinced that people are losing their minds – or their souls, or whatever – the group takes off running. It turns out that enough humans have been taken over by that time that the strange force controlling them all decides there’s no longer any need to hide, and once that happens, it’s zombie time.

In looking up the cast for this movie, I discovered this actor died from brain cancer at 32. RIP, buddy.

From this point forward, the movie becomes your typical third-act run-from-the-monsters-and-try-to-survive fearfest, but shaky camera aside it’s well-done – although it goes on just a bit too long, and does that thing where it manages to pack in about three endings where the movie easily could have stopped, then keeps going. But the chase is fun, and there are some good jump scares thrown in for added pizzaz. Unfortunately, the damn cameras just get shakier and shakier, even though no one is filming anymore, which seriously mars the enjoyment of the film overall. It’s too bad the director went this route with it, because it’s pretty solid otherwise.

Found Footage Fave: The Houses October Built (SPOILERS!)

Reason for filming: A group of life-long friends rent an RV and go on a road trip the week of Halloween, to try and discover the most extreme haunt experiences possible.

What’s the horror: haunts gone wild

Does the dog die? No animal cruelty

Gore factor: None

Re-watch scale: Heavy rotation. This is another one I can watch at any time.

The Houses October Built is an interesting found footage film with a lot going on all at once. It’s part documentary (there are real interviews with real haunt workers), part horror story (just how much of what’s happening to these characters is a part of the ‘extreme’ haunt they’re trying to track down, and how much of it is the work of true psychopaths who are out to cause them harm?), and part social commentary (the protagonists make a lot of assumptions about the ‘backwoods’ haunt workers they encounter in the small towns they pass through, and it’s at least hinted at that their privileged unawareness is part of what causes their trip to go awry; there’s also the issue of how the four male characters’ slightly toxic masculinity at times puts the one female friend in danger)This is not a universally-loved found footage film by any means, but in my opinion everything melds together in a pretty satisfactory way, even though at times it can feel scattered or even slightly out of control. It’s an interesting mix that creates a pretty unique found-footage experience.

A lot of the enjoyment of this movie hinges on how you feel about the five characters you follow through the film. It’s a road trip story, with five Texans (shout-out to Texas!) who rent an RV and film themselves going on a week-long road trip across both Texas and Louisiana, looking for off-the-beaten-path, more-scary-than-usual haunted attractions. A lot of time is spent with these characters in the RV cutting up and discussing what they want to get out of the trip, and if you don’t find them likeable or their chemistry engaging I can’t imagine you would enjoy watching this one. Personally I find them all likeable (although some are more likeable than others, but that’s necessary to move the plot along when things start getting dicey – someone has to be the asshole that keeps pushing the more cautious characters into sketchy situations) and I find their chemistry to be very natural and charming (two of the characters are real-life brothers, and several of the cast members really are friends). We spend a lot of time with these people in their journey across Texas in their rented RV, so being able to tolerate them is pretty essential to enjoying the film.

Let’s meet the team! Bobby, Jeff, Brandy, Mikey, and Zach

The film starts off with some actual news reports of haunted house tragedies that have occurred in recent years – the haunt worker who accidentally hung herself for real while working but who was already dead before it was discovered, the haunt worker who was actually an escaped murderer. And who knows how much interview footage they actually recorded during the making of this thing, but they definitely picked the more chilling segments to intersperse throughout the movie, such as the dude who described his experience as one of “getting out of my own fucked-up headspace and taking out all that aggression on someone else for a few hours.” Yikes.

Interview with a clown

Each aspect of the film – the haunts themselves, the interviews, the characters’ reactions to their surroundings – escalates over the course of the movie, and if nothing else, this is a movie that knows how to build tension. The first few haunts are impressive, but more fun than scary, yet each successive attraction grows darker and more disturbing. There’s a shift from the concept of a haunted house patrons want to enjoy to a terror experience they have to endure, and the boundaries of what is acceptable to portray and impose on people are subtly, but constantly, being pushed. Throughout this descent, there are also many warnings about the various stages of danger these people might be in, with the one female character, Brandy, being the most vulnerable. At one point, a character in a haunt starts whispering her name and telling her, “Brandy…you’re donna die.” At another point, some shady male characters who appear to be working with an extreme haunt (it’s unclear to what extent they’re involved) traps her in a bathroom and threatens her. There’s another incident where someone sneaks into the RV and films the gang while they are sleeping, and whoever is behind the camera takes a particular interest in Brandy, even reaching out and pretending to caress her sleeping cheek.

Clown confrontation

At each escalating stage, it’s unfortunate that Brandy’s friends fail to recognize not only that Brandy might be an actual target but also her growing discomfort with what’s going on. After the two men trap her in a bathroom, we hear Bobby saying to the others, “We can never leave Brandy alone again,” which is NOT a realistic solution to the problem. When the video that was taken in the RV ends up online in a haunt chat room, the dude’s response is “don’t tell Brandy, she’ll freak out and want to leave.” Perhaps the best example of the men’s inability to recognize that they are in over their heads and are actually not able to protect her, we hear Zach yelling to some haunt workers “Don’t you touch her!” while he’s got a bag over his head and his hands tied behind his back. In response to this command, the haunt worker simply kicks him to the ground, and Brandy is left to deal with the situation alone.

None of the men come across as assholes, and they genuinely care about each other as friends, including Brandy – they are just clueless about the fact that they are getting themselves into a situation they can’t control. In fact, they simply seem unable to conceive of the idea that there are situations they can’t handle, even as the evidence that indicates the opposite stacks higher and higher. There are points throughout the journey where most of them express doubt about whether or not they should continue, with the exception of Zach, who, as the organizer of the whole trip, is the most insistent that they all see it through to the end. It’s one thing to seek out extreme haunts when we know that’s what we’re going for, but it’s another thing to be surrounded by a bunch of assholes out in the woods, complains Mike at one point. It’s all part of it, Zach reassures him. We just have to go with it. But by the time the final “extreme” haunt begins. it’s clear even Zach is nervous and feigning more confidence than he actually feels.

The source of this mysterious extreme haunt experience the group hears about and eventually finds – or rather, the haunt experience finds them – is sketchy from the beginning, and the film does a good job of making the origins of this climactic event unclear. There are hints from the first haunt stop that the group has made some enemies – at one point, Mikey finds a ladder and sneaks up onto the roof of the building, shouting an Almost Famous-like “I’m a Halloween God!” into a megaphone and inspiring a chorus of raucous cheers and applause from the hundreds of haunt-goers gathered below. It’s a silly, spontaneous, frat-boy-ish move that has no ill intent, but that seriously pisses off the owners of the haunt. In fact, haunt characters/workers from that first haunt (as well as each successive one) will make appearances at later attractions, sometimes even though they have traveled hundreds of miles since then; the camera will quickly pan past a familiar clown or creepy doll-girl or deranged rabbit that we know we’ve already seen at some past stop, but the images flash past so quickly that we can’t be sure. So – are they being followed from the beginning. and if so, why? Is it merely because they’ve managed to earn the ire of some haunt owners, all of whom communicate with each other using private message boards online? Or do they simply travel around from haunt to haunt themselves? Is it possible they’re all a part of this mysterious “Blue Skeleton” group the gang keeps hearing about and pursuing, the roving haunt attraction that’s so underground and extreme, its location changes from Halloween to Halloween, and can only be found through private channels?

This is NOT a happy clown

There are other moments where the group’s journey into the seedy underbelly of haunt attractions highlights their own naivete about what they’re playing with. At one stop, the gang stops the RV for some beers before heading out to the evening’s attraction, and they encounter a haunt worker hanging out in the same area. They strike up an uneasy conversation, as the worker doesn’t appear to be all that thrilled to find them hanging out in what he clearly thinks is his camping spot, and things take a turn for the worse when Bobby starts talking about his fasciation with the haunts they’ve seen so far. He mentions how there are all these little kids working in the haunts, because out in the “backwoods” there are no rules and no one’s going to call CPS. “What you mean backwoods?” the haunt worker aggressively barks back, clearly unhappy with the label

As the haunted houses get darker and more death-oriented than your standard ghosts and ghouls (we go from aliens and evil clowns to rapists and mad scientists ripping people open on operating tables), Zach gets closer to locating the notorious Blue Skeleton, and eventually makes the connection he needs. This is when shit really gets weird. They’re given a location of some dive bar where they’re supposed to meet with a “Mr. Giggles” who will tell them how to make contact with the extreme haunt group, and this bar scene is worth the wait. The entire bar seems to exist for the sole purpose of creating a creepy atmosphere for thrill-seekers searching for extreme haunts; even on a weeknight every patron in the bar is dressed up as ghouls and behaving as if they always dress that way. A couple in rotted out clothes drags themselves slowly across the dance floor, some huge dude in a prison outfit and a face smeared with blood sucks on a brew, and two zombies sit at the bar counter smoking like it’s any other Tuesday night in the world. Everyone is in character from the moment the group walks through the front door until the moment they leave, and it’s bizarre. When the guys ask one of the zombies about Mr. Giggles, the huge prisoner-ghoul pulls up “Halloween Spooks” on the jukebox, and a demented clown – who eagle-eyed audience members may recognize as having been seen in previous haunts already – comes shuffling out onto the dance floor, bizarrely gyrating and wiggling towards their table. The look on Brandy’s face here says it all:

The guys are called outside to meet with the aforementioned Giggles, and Brandy makes the terrible decision to go to the bathroom. This is when the two zombie dudes decide to corner her in there, and she manages to push her way past them in time for Bobby and Mikey to question them. Brandy is shaken, and the guys decide they have to be more careful about leaving her alone, but sadly, they don’t decide that things have gotten out of hand and that perhaps they should quit their haunt journey while they’re ahead.

It may be too late for that, anyway; because the haunt now seems to be following them. Aside from being filmed one night while they sleep, they also find themselves surrounded by a whole host of costumed creepers a few nights later. A weird cow heart shows up in their RV fridge one morning, causing Mikey to barf into the sink clad in nothing but his hot pink boxer briefs – which is quite an image. On Halloween morning, a huge pumpkin is thrown against the side of the vehicle, with an invitation to New Orleans inside. When they throw open the blinds, they find five blue skeleton masks stuck under the windshield wipers. Mikey and Brandy are the most disturbed by this, but no one but Zach seems the least bit interested in pursuing the invitation. In spite of their obvious discomfort, all the pressure to be the one to say no way falls to Brandy, and she can’t bring herself to do it under the circumstances. She’s basically bullied into participating, and without her leading the opposition, no one else steps up to suggest they bow out. So on to New Orleans they go, blue masks in hand.

This is actually from the sequel but whatever

Halloween night in New Orleans is as insane as you might imagine, and in the chaos the man-child Jeff is the first one to pick a guy in a Blue Skeleton mask out of the crowd. Unfortunately, he thinks it’s Bobby, who is wearing the exact same blue hoodie as this guy, and he follows the dude into an alley like an idiot (sorry Jeff, but situational awareness is a skill you need to develop). Suddenly he sees someone else in the alley, and it’s the weird porcelain doll-girl from the very first haunt, along with a deranged rabbit we’ve already spied miles ago before shit got too real. Jeff turns around, and a whole host of deranged clowns and haunt workers from previous haunts are closing in on him. He gets the shit beat out of him, then he’s tied up and dragged off. And that’s the last we see of Jeff.

Oh, Jeff. These people are not your friends.

Back to the remaining four. Zach has called Jeff’s cell phone, which now has a message on it saying they need to meet someone at a random address out in the middle of nowhere if they want to see their friend again. Cut to the RV trumbling along in the darkness. Inside, the mood is grim. No one’s speaking, and everyone is some combination of pissed and terribly concerned. Mikey asks where in the hell they’re going, and Bobby stops the RV to yell at him about how he doesn’t know what to do, either. Any thought of this whole Blue Skeleton/extreme haunt thing being a game are gone now, and everyone’s starting to lose it a little. A car approaches them in the distance. It stops. For a moment nothing happens, but then Zach gets a text. Get out of the car now, it says, or your friend will die. Mikey is confused. This isn’t real, right? he asks Zach. I mean, let’s just go out there and get this over with, we know what this is. It’s the extreme experience they’ve been seeking, we the audience think, but even we are not sure. Is this a haunt, or are they all in danger? There’s no way to know.

And there’s not much time to think, because as soon as Mikey says he’s not scared because its not real anyway, Zach gets another text. You will be scared, it says. So…they can hear inside the RV now? I don’t have much nice to say about Zach about this point, but at least he takes it upon himself to be the one to get out of the RV and approach the waiting car, since this was all his idea in the first place. Shortly after he leaves, however, the RV is shaken and glass is broken; the remaining three fall to the ground and within seconds, several big skeleton-masked thugs break in and drag them all away. Oh dear.

Oh shit – Can they hear us?

There’s a bus ride with blaring music and everyone but Jeff – who really is never seen again – seated inside with black bags over their heads. Eventually the bus stops, and the three guys are taken outside, leaving Brandy in the bus alone with two skeleton-dudes. She’s weeping openly now, and begging not to be left alone. The guys shout and scream for her to come with them, but surprise surprise that no one cares. I’ve done my fair share of reading about the extreme haunt experiences, and when they are done properly, participants are give a safe word they can say at any time and their experience is immediately ended. But there are no safe words here, and it’s clear that whatever’s going to happen from here on out is definitely not going to be well-organized, safe, or possibly even legal. Thanks Zach.

To maintain the found footage conceit, Blue Skeleton is also filming the experience, and they give each person a camera to film everything that’s going on. That takes a big suspension of belief to accept, but I’m willing to allow it. We first follow Brandy into a creepy as hell dilapidated house where lights flash on and off, music blares out for a few seconds at a time before cutting off again, and doors slam at random. Zach appears to be locked in a darkened room with nothing but a blue light overhead, while Mikey and Bobby wander around in the dark looking for a way out. They are all IMMEDIATELY over it and asking if they can quit. No one answers. Eventually, they all end up getting the crap kicked out of them as their cameras cut out. It…doesn’t look good.

Cut to Brandy, unconscious and bloodied, being stuffed into the trunk of a car. She’s taken out to the middle of nowhere, where a deep hole has been dug into the ground. Simultaneously, the other three wake to find themselves locked into coffins. Cut back to Brandi, who’s laying in a wooden box. As the lid is closed on it, we see that there’s a camera inside. She comes to, but only after the lid has been closed, and we watch as she screams for help while hearing dirt being piled on top of the lid. They’re burying her alive. Likewise, we cut to the guys in their coffins, all banging and scratching, trying to get out. Then we cut to a shot of one of the Blue Skeleton guys, still wearing his mask. He looks directly into the camera, and it cuts to black. The end.

Poor Brandy really needs new friends

Some people are unhappy with this ending, calling it anticlimactic, but I think it’s perfect. To me it indicates they’re all going to be killed, and that’s the ending I still go with, even though a sequel was filmed that blows that theory all to hell (and as a sequel, it’s…not good). In my opinion everything points to this being the end of the road for the group, and the threats have seemed pretty real. So I choose to believe that’s how the story ends. It’s open to interpretation, however, which I think is what some don’t like about it. It also feels abrupt after so much skilled tension-building, but that doesn’t bother me either. Your mileage may vary, but overall I’d highly recommend this movie for something unusual that makes the most of the found-footage format in a unique way.

Found Footage Fave: Rec (SPOILERS!)

Reason for filming: A local TV show called “While You’re Asleep” is spending the night in a fire station to show what life is like for the firefighters who work there.

What’s the horror: a deadly zombie virus

Does the dog die? No animal cruelty

Gore factor: Pretty high. There’s a lot of blood and gore in this one.

Re-watch scale: HEAVY rotation. Even though I just watched this one, it was an instant fave. One of the best found footage films out there, in my humble opinion.

Zombies are usually not my thing. And since the pandemic began, neither are movies about deadly viruses that force people into quarantine. But having watched just about every found footage film I could find, I finally decided to give this one a go, since I’d heard so many great things about it. Well, not exactly – I first watched the American version, which was filmed a few years after this one, called Quarantine.

Quarantine was good, but mostly it just made me want to watch the original. And I have to say, the original is better, even for those of you who hate having to read subtitles (personally I always have the subtitles on even with English films, so I’m fine with it). While Quarantine sticks pretty close to the original with its story, it lacks some of Rec’s urgency and chaos and moves at a slightly slower pace. And most importantly, the main character, Angela – the female reporter – in Rec is just far more likeable than Quarantine’s. She comes across as much more down to earth and professional than the Quarantine version, who comes across as much too flirty and, at times, is both a sexual harasser and a victim of sexual harassment, both of which seem to be fine with everyone involved. Quarantine actually has Angela stroll into the firefighter’s showers and film dudes naked – no, seriously, she does – while they strut around bragging about the size of their dicks. This sort of nonsense continues throughout the first 10 or so minutes of the film, before the real action begins, and it’s incredibly off-putting. I found it hard to forgive any of them for their sleazinesss even when they were being face-ripped and slaughtered one by one. None of them come off well in the opening moments, and it does affect how much we care about what happens to them down the line.

Did you know firemen have dicks? Cuz I’ve seen them!

But enough about Quarantine. Rec has none of this skeeziness. The Angela in this film is way more focused on trying to get a good story than just hang with the boys and be the Cool Girl. She films the firemen at dinner, playing basketball, even their sleeping quarters when things get dull (but at no point does she follow them into any showers) and basically hopes against hope that a call will come in so they can film the men in action. Oh Angela. You are going to regret the granting of that wish. Which is a shame, because have I mentioned she’s extremely likeable? Because she is.

This is the only Angela who matters

It only takes about eight minutes from the start of the movie for a call to come in, and off they go. Angela and Pablo, the cameraman, hop a ride on a fire truck with Manu and Alex, the two men who’ve been tasked with escorting the camera crew around on this night.

This is Manu. And there’s a reason there are no pictures of Alex to be found.

As the truck arrives at the destination – an apartment building where a report has been called in about an elderly woman trapped in her flat – they see a police car that is already on the scene. “Maybe this is more serious than we thought?” Angela asks while trying not to sound too hopeful. They enter the building, where several of the tenants are milling around in the foyer area. It’s dark and cramped and very echo-y, so the various conversations they’re having among themselves make it sound like there’s a lot more people down there than there are in reality. The crew heads up the stairs where a policeman is waiting in front of an apartment door. Much ado is made of the fact that there’s a camera crew with them, but Angela sticks to her guns, insisting they have permission to film, and tells Pablo to keep the camera running as they enter the apartment. He does.

Conchita is not having a good day.

It’s clear right away that the tenant, Conchita, is in a state. Pablo briefly turns on his camera’s light to reveal that she is also covered in blood. Yikes. As one of the cops approaches her and tries to calm her down so they can get her some help, Conchita goes off. She tackles the cop and basically rips half his face off with her mouth. It’s shocking, and pretty gross. We see Angela run in the opposite direction from the melee (smart move, Angela) while Pablo, ever the professional, turns his light back on and gets right in there to film the good stuff. It’s utter chaos as everyone’s screaming and the men are trying to get Conchita off the cop and drag him to safety. Conchita’s forgotten for the moment (although Alex was instructed to stay with her, ahem) as the team rushes back down the stairs with the bitten cop bleeding profusely. And we’re off, folks.

The men try to rush the cop out of the building, but…there’s a problem. A swarm of policemen are now crowded around the front – we can see the garish flashing of their blue and red lights reflected off the concrete walls – and they refuse to let the men out. They are refusing to let anyone out, it seems, and no one inside knows why. Soon enough they’re given instructions by someone with a bullhorn. “The health authorities have decided to close off the building. Please stay calm and we will get you out as soon as possible.” Unsurprisingly, this announcement generates the opposite of what you would call calm.

Angela is NOT having it

Much chaos ensues. The firemen are shouting about needing to get the injured man to a hospital. The one remaining cop is trying to get everyone to follow the instructions of whoever’s outside calling the shots. He’s also trying to get Angela and Pablo to stop filming, but they’re having none of that. And the tenants want to know why they can’t go back to their rooms, at least, but the cop says everyone has to stay downstairs. There are sirens blaring, and lights flashing, and people bitching and shouting, and then – BLAM! Poor Alex slams onto the floor in the background, and it appears he’s been thrown over the first floor railing. It’s another huge shock, and it kicks things up another notch for everyone involved – and thanks to the found-footage POV, the audience is a part of that sad bunch. We’re trapped, and it’s clear there’s something awful going on.

Oh look! I found a picture of Alex. A few hours after this, his poor head will be cracked wide open. So long, Alex. We barely knew ya.

Back up the stairs we go, to find out what the hell Conchita’s been smoking that gave her the strength to chuck a firefighter down a stairwell. She’s not playing around, though, and immediately charges at the team when she sees them, so down Conchita goes in a blaze of bullets. She’s down folks, but I wouldn’t count her out just yet. This zombie thing’s got legs. And teeth.

Things are getting serious now, and the crew is trying to find another way out of the building. But the cops outside are one step ahead of them, and every exit they find is in the process of being blocked and covered with a huge-ass tarp, so they can’t even see out. One woman is holding a daughter, who has a fever and has been waiting for her father to bring them antibiotics, but he can’t enter the building to give them to her. Two men are in the process of bleeding to death. One old lady’s been shot. And everyone’s stuck in the foyer of what’s become a prison. It’s madness. Then there’s another announcement from the bullhorn: A “BNC protocol situation” has been declared, and they’re going to send in a health inspector to assess the situation. BNC, apparently, stands for biological/nuclear/chemical threat situation. Yikes.

But wait, there’s more! Soon everyone’s cell phones stop working. So do their televisions and radios. And the building supervisor, who also happens to be a medical intern, says the two wounded men won’t last much longer. And the little girl’s fever is getting worse. There’s more rushing about trying to find a way to escape, but every exit’s been blocked off. There’s a lull in the action here, as Angela films an update by interviewing some of the tenants about what they’ve seen and what they think is going on, and the intern tries to keep the injured men from dying. An elderly couple bickers with each other about what they think is really going on. A Chinese woman struggles with her Spanish to describe the fireman falling from upstairs. The little girl’s mother threatens to sue when this is all over. Angela interviews her daughter, who tells her she’s sick with tonsillitis, and she misses her dog Max, who’s at the vet. An older dandy who is mostly concerned about his face being shiny and that the camera films him on his good side blames the Chinese for the whole thing, as does Lawsuit Mom a little later on. Ah, racism. It’s not just for Americans.

A health inspector enters, covered by a bright yellow Hazmat suit complete with full head mask. Now that’s reassuring. Off he goes to get some blood samples or something from the wounded men. Angela and Pablo find a way to peek into the area where the injured are being held and film the proceedings. There are handcuffs, and needles, and lots of whispering. And then both of the dying men rise up off the tables and attack. The poor intern gets bitten by Alex. Somehow the health inspector manages to escape, as do Manu and the cop. They lock the intern up inside the room with the two zombies. It’s too late for him. He’s been bitten.

There’s no getting around it now for the health inspector; it’s time to spill the beans. It turns out that a day before a dog was taken to a vet. He was sick, and fell into a coma. All of a sudden the dog roared back to life and started attacking everything in sight. They had to put it down. A microchip led the health department to this very building. “Was the dog named Max?” Angela asks. Yep.

Oohhhhh I see – so the “let’s blame the Chinese” lady turns out to be the one who brought the virus into the building? Interesting.

Just as everyone starts to surround Mom and her daughter and demand – I don’t know what – answers? Retribution? – the daughter barfs blood into Mom’s face and runs screaming up the stairs, with her eyes all bugged out and her teeth grown sharp. The mother is trying to chase her daughter up the stairs, understandably, and so to stop this the cop handcuffs her to the stairwell. Then they go up to find the little girl on their own.

Not worth saving. Nope.

They find her, all right. And in trying to save her the last remaining cop gets bit, and tells the rest of the team to leave him there. They do. It’s a smart move, even if it is a futile one, because this thing is spreading fast and there’s nowhere to go. They’re trapped, and it’s clear that they’ll soon be outnumbered.

And damn, ya’ll, Conchita’s still not down for the night! Poor Manu has to sucker-punch Nana AGAIN before heading back down the stairs, where he passes the Chinese couple and the vanity man who are on their way up. “They’re getting away!” he shouts as they pass, and as Manu makes it down to the foyer we see the door where they’d locked away the intern and his newbie zombies opening. They need to run away, but whoever handcuffed Mom to the stairs has lost the key, and they can’t free her in time. As Angela, Pablo, the health inspector, and Manu run up the stairs, we see the zombie trio come rushing out of the back room and immediately making a meal of her. “I’m sorry,” Manu tells her as he rushes away, which I’m sure made her feel loads better.

Conchita AGAIN?!

They encounter vanity man in the hallway and lock themselves into an open apartment. The health inspector locks himself into a bathroom, telling them that he’s been bitten and to stay away. Unfortunately, the door doesn’t hold, and the health inspector ends up ripping off half of vanity man’s face before Manu, Angela, and Pablo run away. So long, vanity man. Here’s hoping the health inspector at least left your good side intact.

Back out in the hallway now, the quartet realizes they’re running out of options. They can hear the sounds of raging lunatics all around them, and they’re unsure where to go. Angela says they need to get into the storage room, but they need the intern’s keys since he was in charge of the building. But no one can knows where he lives, and they can’t even remember his name. Finally Angela recalls it – Guillem – and they make a mad dash for the mailboxes in the building’s foyer to find his apartment number. They quickly find it, but oops – Mama’s woken up from her nap, and it does NOT look like she accepted Manu’s apology.

Zombie Karen wants to speak with the manager

Fortunately she’s still handcuffed to the stairwell, so they manage to skate past her while she rages and reaches for them wildly. More zombie encounters ensue – the Chinese dad, then a random woman I don’t even recognize. There’s a sad little scene where Manu asks Pablo to help him take down random woman, and he puts the camera down to do so, and all the audience sees is her sad little feet in house shoes twitching away as they kill her. It’s a weird, tragic little visual. They run into a darkened room and struggle to find the light. As soon as they do, the light goes on and oops – Chinese mom is right there, zombied out and raging. Watching this scene makes me wonder how much fun it must have been to play one of these creatures – just going shit-wild and making as much ruckus as possible must have been a blast. Then Manu grabs a mallet and puts an end to that shit, and off they all go to open up the intern’s apartment and find his keys.

It’s important to note what’s going on here: we started out this disaster on the first floor of the building, where most of the tenants were gathered together to wait out the situation. The cop was trying to keep everyone in one place to control the chaos, but unfortunately, he failed. Conchita was still upstairs causing a ruckus, and then the little girl got loose and ran up there as well, and as the two injured men and the just-bitten intern busted out the back door it became a free-for-all, with everyone running off in all directions, and for the most part getting themselves infected. And now we have the last remaining three getting pushed higher and higher up the stairs towards the top of the building. And what can they do then? The chances that the cops outside have left any roof access unblocked is slim to none. They’re running out of time AND space to survive. And with every passing second there are more zombies coming to life and running amok. In short, it’s not looking so good for these three.

They make it to the intern’s apartment and Manu uses his death mallet to bash the door open. He WAITS OUTSIDE – Manu nooooooo!! – while Angela and Pablo make a desperate dash through the rooms to locate the keys. The TV is still on, with the intern’s dinner sitting on a tray in front of it, a small reminder of how quickly these people’s lives have gone from normal to nightmare. Angela and Pablo are beside themselves by now, barely holding it together as they trash the apartment looking for keys. They finally find a huge keychain full of them and grab them all, then dash out of the apartment only to find Manu gone. Noooooo not Manu! Angela clearly agrees with me as she starts crying and calling out his name. Unfortunately he answers her:

Manu noooooooooo!!!!!

I have to pour one out for Manu here. He never stopped trying to help people reach some sort of safety. I know he’s just a character in a movie, but believe me when you’re watching this thing it feels like you’ve been involved in this situation for years at this point, and losing Manu is a real heartbreaker. When you lose Manu, you know you’re out of luck entirely. It truly feels now like only a matter of time until our dear TV crew is done for, too. Plus, we know how found footage films end, and no one ever survives this shit. But just like Angela and Pablo, still we hope, although I’m not sure a world without Manu is one worth living in. But I guess we gotta try.

They end up reaching to the top of the building – the penthouse – which is a suite no one has occupied for many years. We heard this earlier in the evening when one of the cops was asking who all lived in the building. Anyway, here we are at the end of the road. It’s the top apartment, and there’s nowhere left to go. They make it inside just in time, as the rush of zombies are right on their heels. They slam they door and find themselves in total darkness. We hear the screaming zombie horde and Angela’s manic wailing as Pablo tries to turn on his camera light. When he does, they find themselves surrounded by newspaper clippings and papers and files. A quick camera zoom around the room makes it clear that some sort of – dun dun DUNNN! – lab experiments have gone on up here.

There are needles and an old tape recorder up there, too, and Angela plays it back to reveal that there was some sort of Vatican project going on up here, wherein they took a possessed girl and tried to isolate an enzyme that made her possessed, or something? Then the enzyme mutated and became contagious, I think? That’s all I can gather from it. But no matter, because while they are listening to this an attic door up above them slams open, and Pablo sticks his camera up there to see if there’s any way to escape through the attic. He finds some wicked creature up there instead, that smashes his camera light and breaks it. He resorts to using his night vision to see what’s going on in the room, which unfortunately means Angela is completely in the dark.

That’s probably for the best, because what Pablo sees through his camera is pretty terrifying. I’ll spare you a shot of it here, but I did find this picture of the actress playing Angela posing with the person who played the role of the possessed girl, who it turns out has been locked up in this penthouse for years.


Imagine seeing that through a night vision camera, lumbering about and smashing things around, trying to find out who’s in her room, and you get the idea. It’s awful. Soon enough the creature finds Pablo and smashes him to death with a hammer. Now we’re down to just Angela, the only one left in the building alive. We see her in the dark, crawling towards the camera that Pablo has dropped, and in the background we can hear all the screaming and growling in the building full of zombies. Then she screams as she is pulled backwards into the darkness, presumably by the possessed creature. The end.

Rec is considered to not only be one of the best found footage films around, but one of the best zombie movies out there as well. It was so successful that it spawned three sequels, all of which I have watched. None of them live up to the original but overall they’re not bad. I may or may not recap them at some point. Alls I can say at the end of this is that if you ever watch just one found footage film, make it this one. I have my other faves for sure, but this one tops them all. It’s that rare beast that would not have been better served without the found footage conceit; it’s actually BETTER because of it, which is really unusual. For the most part a film is made in this style because of budget constraints, but Rec without the found footage angle wouldn’t be nearly as fun of a ride.

Found Footage Fave: Hell House, LLC (SPOILERS!!)

Reason for filming: Mockumentary – several years prior, a haunted house attraction experienced disaster on opening night, and several tourgoers as well as all the employees died. The film serves as a documentary that tries to uncover the truth of what happened.

What’s the horror: ghosts, demons, supernatural

Does the dog die? No animal cruelty

Gore factor: very little.

Re-watch scale: HEAVY rotation. This is one of my favorite horror movies, found footage or not.

Spoilers below – don’t scroll if you don’t want to know

Hell House LLC (usually just called “Hell House” – they may have had to add the “LLC” since another movie is out there with the Hell House title) is that rare treasure of a found footage film that even people who dislike the genre appreciate. It hits all the right notes, is incredibly creepy, has a consistent feel and pace throughout, and has good actors in all the main roles. The documentary format lends an air of realism to the story, and is very well-done – somehow they had the budget for a scene of the aftermath of the tragedy, complete with ambulances and stretchers and a shit-ton of fire trucks, which is impressive. There’s also another fantastic set piece in the “Abaddon Hotel” – which is a real Halloween haunted house attraction under another name. It’s old, it’s creaky, it’s creepy, and once it’s all dandied up for opening night it’s hard at times to tell what’s real and what’s part of the show.

The hotel the night of the disaster

We start the story with Diane, a reporter who is putting together the documentary to try and get to the bottom of what happened that caused so many deaths in this Halloween haunted house. There’s been no real news since the incident, and no one with any authority wants to cough up any info.

Diane, the reporter

Diane is contacted by Sarah, the one surviving crew member of the company that ran the attraction, who wants Diane to help her tell her side of the story. Sarah shows up with a bag full of tapes – it appears the crew was filming everything that happened in the lead-up to opening night, with the intention of using the scenes for promotion or perhaps a documentary of their own. Sarah gives Diane the tapes, and from that point forward we cut between Diane’s interview with Sarah and footage from the tapes she provided.

Sarah says she’s “in a good place now.” She’s not.

We also get a few interviews with tour-goers who were there that night, a local historian, and a photographer who snuck in and took some photos after the incident. All of these actors play it straight, and take the documentary format seriously. It’s very convincing.

The historian
A tour-goer who survived
The photographer
Photographer’s shot of the basement complete with creepy handprints

The Hell House footage begins as the crew drives to a new location the company’s founder, Alex, has scouted out for the coming Halloween season. Sarah, Diane’s interview subject, is Alex’s girlfriend, and even though the sole female character is relegated to girlfriend status, Sarah does a good job giving her character a personality of her own. It’s unclear what she does to help the team prepare the house, but she’s always around doing something, and the crew has good chemistry with her that makes her feel like part of the team. There’s also a lighting crew made up Tony and Paul – they’re the two who also man the cameras, with Paul taking the lead in that department. A tall stocky redhead named Mac rounds out the team; where Alex and Mac are overly serious and focused, Tony and Paul are laid back and full of wisecracks (“What are you doing?” Alex asks Paul one day as he wanders around filming. “It’s my day off,” Paul responds. “What? There’s no days off, get back to work!”).

Paul, Mac, Alex, Tony, and Sarah

Paul, as the main cameraman, is the head jokester; he has a good sense of humor that unfortunately often gets sexual harassment-y with one of the female actors they hire to work the haunt. She doesn’t seem to mind, but still, it grates. Tony is less defined; he seems to be a good-natured guy who wants the company to succeed, but that’s about all there is to him. Mac is pretty much a dick; it’s clear he can’t stand Paul, and is constantly blaming him for everything that goes wrong in that way someone often does in found-footage films that keeps them in denial about what’s really happening. This prevents Mac from realizing the truth about this mysterious hotel they’ve – rented? bought? it’s never clear – until it’s too late.

Alex and Mac with their actors: Joey the gas station clown, Melissa the harassment victim of Paul’s humor, and the woman who works the door and is never given a name

This is emphasized in a scene that’s really refreshing for a found footage film; if you’ve ever wondered why people get so much evidence on camera of strange happenings that they never just stop and show to the people who don’t believe them, well, here’s your reward. Because Paul actually does just that. After catching one of the incredibly creepy clown mannequins they’ve installed moving around on its own, Paul shows the footage to everyone. And of course, Alex and Mac chalk it up to Tony and Paul messing with them, no matter how much Paul persists. They do the same thing when Paul shows them footage of an extra mannequin just appearing and disappearing in a strobe light room, which is an awesome scene, by the way. With each flick of the light, we repeatedly see an extra body appear and then disappear in the next flash. But Mac and Alex have money to make, and they aren’t going to be stopped by Paul’s shenanigans.

The extra mannequin that appears between strobes

Let’s talk about those clowns, because they are wicked. There’s one that’s practically another character in the cast, and all it does is stand around and move its head once. But it’s menacing as hell, and every time it pops up onscreen it gets your heart racing. Clowns, blink-and-you-might-miss-them hooded figures in corners, and a zombie girl who just appears in Paul’s room one night when he turns on the light, creeping closer and closer to him every time he peeks out from the covers he’s hidden himself under – the scares are fairly small and quiet, but they are effective. It’s a slow burn, and being introduced to the disaster of the night in question at the very beginning of the movie builds tension.

Zombie girl
Completely creepy clown

When we finally get to the big night, we get to see this scene again, but with the added background information and the footage from behind the scenes. This fills in a lot of the blanks, but not all of them, which doesn’t bother me but is a complaint people have about this film. Why can’t the crew just pack up and leave once it’s clear there’s something terrible going on there? We know there’s a reason why, because we catch the end of a conversation between Tony and Mac where Tony keeps saying it over and over: “We can’t leave…we can’t leave.” But we’re never told what the reason is. It seems to me that it’s a money issue, and that Alex probably put all their money into this new location, but that’s conjecture and never confirmed. Another question people have is, just what exactly did happen in that basement? The film devolves into incredibly shaky tour-goer footage at this point, and it’s hard to see much beyond hooded figures, skeletal faces, and chaos. For me, that’s enough, but for a lot of people it’s a bit unsatisfactory.

The hooded figure you might have missed if you blinked

I have a few questions about this team of haunt makers, too. They make some sketchy decisions that are necessary for the sake of scares, but that peg them as irresponsible nonetheless. The first is when Tony “finds” an actor to dress up as a scary clown and stay stationed in the basement with their female actress as protection, since the crew can never get a camera to work down there (hint, hint). When Paul asks Tony where he found the guy, Tony says he found him at a gas station; Paul asks if he worked there, and Tony looks bemused. “I have no idea,” he responds with a grin, which they really should not have recorded if they’re trying to promote their haunt with this footage. To know that they just grabbed a dude out of a gas station parking lot and hired him as security would be enough to keep me away, just saying. And sure enough – at the first sign of trouble in the basement on opening night, the gas station clown just bails. He up and runs out of the house, leaving the actress chained to a pipe over her head, which is another detail that is necessary but stupid. There’s no reason to really chain a girl to a pipe in a haunted house; she could have easily just held her hands up there and been fine. But then we wouldn’t have had a way to strand her in the basement so the hooded figures could do – something to her, we’re not sure what.

Melissa meets a fate worse than Paul

Now, remember how I said up at the top of this post that all the crew members were killed in this incident, and then I said that Sarah was the sole survivor who shows up at Diane’s interview with a bunch of tapes? Well, that wasn’t a mistake. But I’ll leave the rest for you to discover when you watch the film.

Room 2C

The success of Hell House LLC spawned two sequels and a director’s cut of the original. While the director’s cut has a few interesting scenes included that were left out of the first one, it doesn’t add much to the story to have them included, and I can see why they were left out as they tend to slow down the pace a bit. The sequels are another story – I personally do not like them, but a lot of people do, so you’ll have to find one of those people for a recap of them. There were two sequels made, making Hell House LLC a trilogy, but my guess is that a trilogy was never intended and got tacked on due to the popularity of the first film. They add a lot of details about the hotel’s history, the creepy previous owner who hung himself in the dining room in the 80’s, a weird cult he led, and other disappearances that have happened since the event. The third one in particular goes waaaaay out there to create some sort of arc, and for me it just does not work. The first film was fine on its own, and it doesn’t benefit at all from the sequels – again, in my opinion. As a horror film, I think part 2 is actually better if you haven’t seen the original; it’s nowhere near as good as the original, but is a fun found-footage film in its own right if you don’t compare it to part 1. The third one draws much more on the lore of the place and the backstory with the original Hell House crew, and it’s a spotty, silly bore with a ridiculous ending. So while I will occasionally give part 2 a view, I never watch part 3 at all because, ugh. The original film is a standout of the found-footage genre; one of the best out there, and the sequels do not live up to that standard.

Found Footage Fave: The Paranormal Farm Series, Part 3 “Halloween”

Reason for filming: Carl and Taz, who are – you guessed it – still alive, head back to the farm to convince Darren and Lucy to sign a contract they still need to get on file so they can use the behind the scenes footage they shot during Part 2

What’s the horror: ghosts, psycho killers

Does the dog die? As with the others in the trilogy, no animals are in danger here

Gore factor: None

Re-watch scale: Heavy rotation. While ultimately Part 2 is my favorite of the three, they’re all great.

So, here we go – Carl and Taz are back, and Part 3 starts as did Parts 1 and 2, except that this time they’re heading out to the farm at night instead of in the afternoon, which starts things off on a more somber note. We get a few hints at how it is that, in spite of appearing to meet their end at the hands of Darren’s death-gathering (remember, it is NOT a cult) at the end of Part 2, they have both managed to live on and film another sequel, but the full story won’t come out for a bit, so I’ll wait to share that information.

As it is, the two arrive at the farm just in time to hear Lucy screaming from the now-familiar farmhouse, and as Taz and Carl rush inside they find them both being attacked by their own mannequins. Carl manages to free them while Taz films the entire ordeal. And no, we still don’t know exactly why it is that all these dummies surround the house, and guess what, we never will. Moving on.

Darren tells them the mannequins have been acting up quite a bit lately, and he has no idea why. While this conversation is taking place, we can hear Lucy hacking and gasping in another room dramatically, and one of my biggest joys in watching the final installment of this series is watching how much Lucy French really digs into her role, hamming it up at every opportunity. Gone is the freaky, tipsy, sullen Lucy of the first film. In her place is a woman who is tense and upset at all the supernatural activity that’s still occurring on her farm, and who is also starting to get more than a little miffed at Taz and Carl for failing to help rid of the place of evil spirits.

Get it together, Taz!

It’s a new twist thrown into the mix in Part 3 – we got a taste of Lucy and Darren’s irritation at the guys in Part 2, when Lucy snaps at Carl for how she came across in the first film and Darren keeps bristling at Carl every time he calls his group of clown mask-wearing fire-chanters a cult. And both of them reveal a deeper sense of frustration this time out, which has led more than one reviewer to wonder how much of that is for the movie and how much of it is real – are the owners of the farm simply sick and tired of making these movies, or is that all for show? It’s one of the delights of this series that the audience never knows – but my guess, based mostly on Lucy’s commitment to her character, is that it’s mostly for show. She really seems to be having a good time here, even when she’s supposed to be traumatized.

Darren, however, is testier than Lucy is overall, which is why at the end of Part 2 he asked his “gathering” of beast-casters to scare the shit out of Carl and Taz. That’s right – it turns out that the entire cult attack of Part 2 was just a ruse Darren pulled together to get even with Carl for continuing to conjure Sarah’s spirit after he explicitly told him to stop. Obviously it got out of hand – Darren never intended for the guys to get chased with machetes, and he certainly didn’t intend for Carl to stab Taz with a rake; he just wanted to get Carl back for disrespecting his requests that they stop the spirit-conjuring. And thanks to some backstory from Taz, we learn that right after Carl ran off another of Darren’s buddies removed his clown mask and pulled Taz out of the swimming pool before getting him help. As Taz describes this, he side-eyes Carl, who tells him “I really can’t apologize for it anymore,” indicating that there’s been more than one conversation about this since it happened.

Darren being testy

While it’s clear that Taz has forgiven Carl, it’s also clear that this time out everyone is tense. Carl, focused on his film as usual, jumps right into a conversation about getting those contracts signed as they all sit down to dinner, and both Lucy and Darren avoid the subject by reminding Carl that there are still bad things happening at the house, and in spite of all the time he’s spent there he hasn’t helped them solve any of their problems. Carl backs off the contract talk, and in spite of all the tension between them they manage to have a nice meal. There’s definitely a kinship between them all by now, but along with that is more honesty about how everyone truly feels, and it plays out almost like a family drama throughout the film.

And there is a family drama here, although it takes a while to get to that. For now, Lucy and Darren don’t want to sign the contracts without a guarantee that Carl can help rid their farmhouse of spirits, and even though Carl thinks he’s proven his gifts to them already, the couple wants more assurance. Lucy takes off one of her rings, slaps it down on the table, and demands that Carl make it move with his mind. To say this is a weird request is an understatement; we’ve never seen any signs of telekinesis from Carl, so where this idea comes from is a mystery. Carl is similarly confused, and starts to explain in great detail to Lucy what his gifts are – as an empath, he gets in touch with spirits through emotions and feelings on another plane and doesn’t have any real skill in the telekinesis department – but as he’s doing this, lo and behold the ring scoots across the table towards him on its own. Everyone gasps, and Darren and Lucy immediately sign their contracts, convinced now that Carl is legit. Carl and Taz, however, have no idea how that just happened. Taz wants Carl to start moving other items with his mind right away, but Carl resists. It has to have been a fluke, he reasons, since he’s never done such a thing before. We’ll get back to that later.

Carl and Taz set out in the dark to check out other areas of the farm to see what energies they can pick up on. My favorite part of this scene is when, after encountering more orbs in one of the barns (or attics or something, I can never tell) Carl says that they should contact a paranormal investigator about them. “You are one,” Taz reminds him. Hee hee. We get some good scares as Taz and Carl investigate a stuffy loft – an overhead light keeps swinging harder and harder at the other end of the room, and at one point some sort of figure rushes quickly past, scaring the crap out of everyone. Carl swears he sees a shadowy figure leaping over a fence, too, but by the time they get down there, whatever it is has gone. Still, we’re off to a good start.

Cut to later that night, and Carl, Taz and Lucy are taking it easy in the spa. It’s a great moment; watching Carl and Lucy relax in the bubbly water makes us all feel right at home, and reminds us how much we’ve come to love just hanging out at the farm with Lucy and Darren and familiarizing ourselves with their strange, quirky ways. Then a light goes on, and a shadow is seen; everyone’s fairly calm by now, as nothing bad has happened during their little pool party, so Carl isn’t particularly concerned as he pulls back the tarp’s flap, but he steps outside and immediately starts screaming. Taz and his camera go rushing outside to find Carl standing there in his Speedo, covered in blood. Taz looks around for what might have done this, but there’s no one else there. It turns out not to be Carl’s blood that’s all over him, thank goodness, and with no leads to go on everyone shakes it off and turns in for the night.

The rest of the night is uneventful, and it’s clear the next morning that Carl and Taz are feeling more at home on the farm now, as seen by the way Carl hides around a corner in order to jump-scare Taz as he comes out of the bathroom, and how Carl casually grabs a random kitchen knife and wanders around muttering “Yah! Yah! Come get me!” But the jocularity ends when Carl and Darren walk into the kitchen, where they’d both been just a few minutes prior, and everything has been upended. All the cabinets and drawers are open, and stuff is thrown about everywhere. There’s even a putrid rat on the kitchen counter, and Darren’s had enough. He lays into Carl for spending all his time filming and screwing around instead of using his psychic gifts to help them out, and stomps off. Carl gets the message that he and Taz have become just a bit too comfortable at Darren and Lucy’s, and they need to buckle down and get to work clearing the farm of whatever’s doing all the haunting and blood-smearing.

Oh, and there’s a random new guy hanging around.

Carl and Taz head out to try and interview some random people around town. Instead, they find something black and furry scampering around in some brush – at first it looks like a dog, but when it turns around and starts charging towards the guys I actually yelped a little; it really looks big and hulking, whatever it is. The camera snaps off as they run away, and pops back on as they wander through through an empty house, exiting through a back door into a lovely garden. There’s a woman sitting on a bench outside, and Taz and Carl approach her to warn her about “the beast” they just saw bounding about in the brush. Like the other locals they’ve encountered, this woman seems unfazed by the news, and it takes Carl and Taz way too long to figure out that she’s blind. It turns out that she’s a psychic, as well, just like Carl, and she picks up on his gifts right away as he leads back into her house.

Well, she’s not quite like Carl. She hasn’t used her gifts in years, and she hints at some past trauma that might be why that is, but doesn’t name it specifically. She does name what she senses is Carl’s gift, though – moving things with his mind. Soon enough, another visitor wanders into her house – it’s Robert, Sarah’s father from the second installment, and it turns out he’s this woman’s ex-husband and Sarah’s mother (In the cast list, she is known only as “the spiritualist,” so I don’t have a name for her – incidentally, “The Spiritualist” is the title of another Carl Medland movie, and in that movie Caroline Burns Cooke plays a character named – you guessed it – “the spiritualist”). It’s clear she can’t stand Robert, and for me this is the only part of the movie that drags. The woman who plays the spiritualist is a great actress, but she’s so scattered and melodramatic that it’s almost uncomfortable, and it seems her hatred for Robert is made clear in the first one or two minutes he’s there and the rest of that time is just overload. To be honest I usually just fast forward past this section, which lasts about fifteen minutes.

“The Spiritualist” – Caroline Burns Cooke

Finally Carl gets them both to agree to hold a séance that night, and sure enough the ghost of Sarah shows up. Once again, the spiritualist is so fragmented – she rarely completes a sentence – that it’s hard for me to follow, but the closed captioning helps: she can feel Sarah, but there’s something evil in the way that prevents her from being able to communicate with her daughter clearly. There’s a nice little jump scare when some costumed kids show up banging on the door for trick or treating, as it’s Halloween, and after everyone calms down Carl tells the camera “I’ll go get them a banana,” which cracks me up.

Here’s Robert! Actor Robert Gray

The next day, based on what the spiritualist tells Carl about his ability to move things with his mind, he tries one more time to consciously unscrew a nut from a bolt that Taz gave him earlier – and yes, there are many screw jokes thrown in for good measure. He settles down and concentrates. And sure enough, the nut winds off on its own. He also makes a coin move across the table. It’s a cool effect, and after he’s done Carl’s fingers start smoking. “Taz, it’s not good to smoke!” he quips, wondering aloud if he’s about to internally combust. He does not. But the point is – Carl can move things with his mind. This will be useful later.

LOL Darren’s expression

The next morning, the team sets up a trap to capture the beast, using a big hole dug into the ground by covering it with a tarp and placing some of Lucy’s animal baits on top of it. It’s not super-clear what the plan is here, but before we can figure it out Carl and Taz go back into the house and discover a woman in Jessica’s bedroom, where Carl is staying. It turns out to be Jessica herself, and she’s popped into town to surprise her mother with a visit.

Nothing major, just a shot of Lucy’s animal bait hanging from a tree branch

Jessica says a few strange things during this encounter, the strangest of which is her claim that her mother has been sounding tired lately, and stressed, and that they need to be careful not to overtax her. Yes, Lucy, who we’ve seen mowing and chopping and horse riding and dog feeding and stable cleaning and cooking and basically never sitting down for more than five minutes over the course of two and half whole movies is easily worn out, it seems, and I don’t believe that for a minute. She appears to be one of the healthiest people on the planet, and she regularly wears both Carl and Taz out with her energy, even though she’s clearly 20 or 30 years their senior. Jessica also asks the two repeatedly how much longer they will be filming, pushing them to say they’ll be done by the end of the day, but Carl stands his ground and says they need more time.

Carl and Taz head outside to speak with Robert, who is lingering over Tia, Sarah’s favorite horse. Then Jessica appears again, as if she’s following them around, so it’s surprising when she pulls Robert aside for a private “catching up,” as she calls it. The two walk off to the barn, and Taz and Carl return to the bedroom, where Carl takes the crystal ball the spiritualist gave him and starts staring into it, unintentionally causing a large package to fall to the ground from the top of Jessica’s closet. It’s a package she was stuffing up there right when Carl and Taz walked into the room earlier. Carl looks at it for a moment, then rushes back outside to the barn with Taz confused but in tow.

And here we go. Medland’s ready to knock down the various pins he’s set up over the course of the movie, and he and Taz get right to it. They overhear a conversation between Jessica and Robert that confirms they had an affair years ago, and Jessica is not happy that Robert’s moved on. Yikes. Jessica sees the two hiding behind some hay bales, grabs a knife to chase Carl and Taz off, but Carl is undeterred, and he marches right back into the barn where Jessica and Robert have gone and confronts her. She was saying something about Sarah when he walked in, and he wants to know what it was. Then the spiritualist walks in, for some reason, and Jessica flips out, asking Robert if he’s betrayed her by getting back together with Sarah’s mother, holding the knife to Robert’s throat. Carl decides it’s time to let his telekinesis powers fly, and he starts screaming at the top of his lungs, which causes the entire barn to shake and barrels and hay bales to fly around. Everyone surrounds Jessica, including Robert, and she finally admits to killing Sarah herself because she was threatening to out her affair with Robert.

Much drama ensues. Robert screams at Jessica. The spiritualist screams at Robert. Jessica screams at everyone. Then the best part of the entire series happens, in my opinion – Lucy comes in and really lets rip, and it’s right out of a soap opera. “Yeeeeew bitch,” she drawls. “How daaaaaaare you! You call yourself my DAUGHTER?! After all I’ve done for you?!” It’s delicious. I love Lucy. Lucy French, that is. Jessica blames Lucy for the whole thing, telling her that her father (who isn’t Darren, by the way) was abusing her, and Lucy ignored it, which is why she killed him, too. Dang. Jessica’s gotten away with a lot of murder. But not anymore, because Taz proudly proclaims he’s gotten the whole confession recorded, and with that, he and Carl pack their bags to get the hell out of that madhouse. But before they leave, Taz asks Carl how he knew what was up with Jessica, and Carl pulls a black furry costume out of the package that flew off the top of the closet earlier. Jessica was the beast who covered Carl with blood the night of the spa.

Jessica, played by Nicole Faraday

From the way they rush away, and how relieved they are to be out on the road and away from all that drama, it seems clear there will not be a Paranormal Farm 4. And anyway, Carl gets a call from Hollywood while they’re on the road, and it appears they’re on their way to California to film a documentary of a haunted house. Welcome to America, Carl and Taz!

Each installment of this series has more structure than the last, and Part 3 definitely is the least spontaneous of the bunch. While this makes “Halloween” more plot-heavy and intentional, which leads to some lags here and there, it’s necessary if Medland is going to give his trilogy a satisfying conclusion. Though the addition of even more characters here means some of the unity and cohesiveness the core cast has established gets diluted, it actually makes the dramatic conclusion easier to accept. We’re not left wanting another installment, because the whole thing’s gotten way too messy this time out, and everyone is good and tired of each other by the end of it. In fact, we don’t even see Carl and Taz tell Darren and Lucy goodbye, and Darren in particular barely registers in the final moments. If that makes you feel sad and nostalgic for the simpler times of Parts 1 or 2, well, you can always go back and start the whole thing over. It’s what I always do. 🙂

Found Footage Fave: The Paranormal Farm Trilogy, Part 2: Closer to the Truth (SPOILERS!!)

Reason for filming: Carl, who is still very much alive, is returning to the farm to film some behind the scenes footage for the DVD release of Paranormal Farm, Part 1

What’s the horror: ghosts, cults

Does the dog die? As in the previous film, there’s animals everywhere, but they’re all safe. Two dogs do get into a fight, but nothing comes of it.

Gore factor: None

Re-watch scale: Heavy rotation. I love this series!

The blurbs don’t lie

SPOILERS BELOW! Don’t scroll if you don’t want to know.

At the heart of the sequel to 2017’s surprise zero-budget super-indie hit is a clever premise. We start part 2 just as we did in part 1, with Carl filming as he drives to the farm and explains what he’s about to do. The movie he made with Darren and Lucy has had some success since being uploaded online, and Carl’s got a distributor now who wants him to film some extras to include in its upcoming DVD release. And within moments of the movie’s opening, Medland has essentially upended the entire premise of his original film.

*Side note: As much as I love to add as many screenshots and photographs as possible to my posts, the side-effect of having done this since at least 2011 means I have once again used up all my storage space. However the cost of maintaining all of this as well as expanding my storage to be able to continue uploading files is no longer cost-effective, so I am reduced to using links to photos from this point forward. That’s not a problem with my own photos as I can link to them on my Flickr Pro page, which has unlimited storage, but when it comes to screenshots of films I am at the mercy of what I can find to link to publicly, and for these movies that’s not very much. So there aren’t as many screenshots of these films as I would like to have. Sorry.

Of course, we all knew PF1 was fake, no matter how convincing its found-footage feel; we just didn’t expect the sequel to totally acknowledge that at all, much less in the first ten seconds. The foundation of any found-footage film is that it’s just that – footage that was taken by others who experienced something horrible and then found by others who are now sharing it. So closely do found-footage enthusiasts attach themselves to this idea that many will eschew any movie filmed in this style that tries anything that takes it out of that realm – adding music, for example, or having multi-camera perspectives, or overly effective lighting. Paranormal Farm 2 doesn’t break any of those rules; it’s still filmed entirely on a cell phone, and incorporates no musical cues or other tweaks some FF films attempt to pull off (for the record, such flourishes don’t bother me). But in a few sentences, Medland has managed to blow the entire conceit of his first film out of the water.

And so, having knocked down some the previous movie’s mysteries, Medland sets up some new ones to explore, while quickly and handily taking care of the whole why-isn’t-he-really-dead business in a pretty satisfying manner. Bringing a character who is clearly dead by the end of a movie back to life in order to film a sequel always requires a willing suspension of belief on the part of the audience, who usually accepts whatever explanation is provided in order to enjoy returning to the world of the original. But in blowing up the premise of his original movie, Medland actually creates a sequel with a surprising amount of depth most sequels fail to deliver. Instead of a movie that’s a rehash of the first, with perhaps a bit more money thrown at it and a new cast, Medland goes in the opposite direction, revisiting the same characters but revealing the real people behind the false personas of the first film, while also continuing the spooky mood and taking the supernatural elements in a new direction. It’s brilliant.

Not completely out of the water, though, as it turns out – we soon learn that there is something supernatural occurring on Darren and Lucy’s farm, and there is a cult hanging around (although Darren will bristle at the word every time Carl uses it), and there was a young woman who disappeared in the area about five years ago; it just wasn’t the farmers’ daughter Jessica, who is very much real and also very much alive. And the rumor around town is that the young woman who died was mauled by a mysterious creature the locals call “The Beast.”

The characters best served by this perspective are Darren and Lucy. In fact, it’s hard for me to remember how off-putting and unlikeable these two were upon first viewing, because it doesn’t take long at all for “Closer to the Truth” to reveal the downright loveable oddballs behind that façade. Lucy French benefits the most from this FAQ-style of character development; it’s rude to point it out, of course, but the damage to Lucy’s face is unavoidable. In the first movie, it adds to her creepiness, but it would be a shame to allow that perception to continue any further (although there’s another film from 2013 that was filmed at this same location by Taz called “Crossland;” it also incorporates Lucy into its story and makes creepy use of her disfigurement, so I can only assume Lucy doesn’t mind). Medland gets to work right away giving Lucy space to tell her story, which is that she was in a horrific car accident that smashed a whole side of her face, and it’s now full of titanium and skin grafts and an eye socket that didn’t get set right which makes it hard for her to see. She shows Carl some photos of her face in different stages of recovery with cheerful resilience: “You’re smiling in all of them,” Medland observes, to which Lucy replies, “Well, because I’m alive.” Cut to a scene of Lucy rolling around on the floor barking with her dogs, and the redemption is complete.

Darren gets his chance too, when it is revealed that he used to be a stuntman with some world records under his belt. As I started to write this paragraph about Darren I decided to Google him and see if he was really ever a stuntman, and yep, he was, although the scrapbook pictures he shows Carl had me pretty convinced this was true already. He also apparently really did have a nervous breakdown after retiring, and wrote a book about the power of positive thinking and perception that is no longer in print. When, in the movie, Darren talks to Carl about this experience, it’s a truly sympathetic moment. One minute he was this locally famous guy jumping over things on a motorcycle, and the next he was just another unemployed one. “I felt worthless, basically,” he tells Carl, and there’s something shocking about the stark honesty of this admission that’s quite endearing. In “Closer to the Truth,” Darren and Lucy are no longer the antagonists of the story; they’re more aligned with Carl in trying to discover the truth about the supposedly real haunting that is still taking place on their farm.

Yep, that’s really Darren

Although, not entirely. Lucy is pissed at Carl for how she was portrayed in the first film, and she has to get that off her chest eventually. “You humiliated me,” she lectures him, in another super-meta moment. And Darren gets pretty testy with Carl several times, especially when Medland refers to the gathering of friends he has who meet out in the woods around a campfire on occasion to “send the beast back through the gate” as a cult. It’s not a cult, Darren insists, just some friends who don masks and chant around a fire every once in a while, to which Carl logically responds, “I don’t see the difference between that and a cult.” Indeed.

Medland also adds some new characters into the mix here, which is a wise choice to keep the sequel moving. The producer, Mumtaz Yildirimlar, who goes by Taz, meets up with Carl at the farm to help him film DVD extras. The pair have great chemistry, and Taz is a proper foil for Carl who helps flesh out his character; Taz’s good-natured silliness often clashes with Carl’s perfectionism, and reveals Medland as the more rigid and controlling of the two (although he’s still charming and funny throughout). And Taz is even more spooked by the supernatural than Carl is, if that’s possible, and Carl regularly has to push him to stay in the mix. For example, when Carl gets the idea to hold a séance to try and contact the spirit of the dead girl, Sarah, Taz wants to sit that out because he is terrified of such things. This prompts quite the lecture from Carl, who insists that Taz is there with a job to do, and therefore, he needs to show up for everything. “He promised me he wasn’t going to do this,” Taz says into the camera, but ultimately, he shows up.

Carl and Taz (from Medland’s Facebook page)

No one is, in fact, very thrilled with Carl’s séance idea, but Carl has encountered another new character while out riding Lucy’s horse, Tia – Sarah’s father, Robert French, and he’s convinced the man has something to do with Sarah’s disappearance. Carl’s interview with Robert is sufficiently creepy – he’s clearly still haunted by Sarah’s death, he’s hurt that there’s gossip in the town that he had something to do with it, and he keeps caressing the photo he holds of Sarah as a child in a manner that Carl finds “darkly disturbed.” And even though Lucy insists Robert is a stand-up guy, a “gentleman’s gentleman,” as she puts it, Darren has a different perception, telling Carl that Robert was not the best of fathers and making it clear he doesn’t like the guy. All of this piques Carl’s curiosity to the point of insisting on the séance that no one else wants, and while it is successful in contacting Sarah, it also pisses everyone off, and soon Carl is on his own.

Robert French

But before we get to that, though, as it sets up the final act, let’s address the question – is the sequel actually scary? We have some motifs from the previous film that show up again – those creepy mannequins are still around, doing creepy mannequin things. The plasma ball lights up without provocation, and lights still flicker off and on. And all the animals on the farm start acting oddly as soon as Carl shows up, including Lucy’s adorable dogs, who take to scrapping with each other so much that they end up in muzzles. Oh, and a rooster attacks Carl while he’s on Robert’s property, which leads to some amusing dialogue: “I got attacked by a huge cock,” Carl tells Taz, “I think I need stitches,” then pulls up his pants leg to reveal the smallest rooster-wound ever known as Taz explodes in laughter. So, while the hauntings here are often tempered with humor, “Closer to the Truth” still manages to spook.

Lucy’s dogs, after their fight (they’re both fine, I promise)

The majority of scares are reserved for the final act, though, as much of “Closer to the Truth” is about humanizing Lucy and Darren, and discovering what Taz and Carl can about the mysterious “beast” lurking around in the woods near their farm – some more investigation reveals that it’s most likely a large panther, which, while not exactly a supernatural monster, is still a big threat to any animals or humans who might cross its path. As Lucy keeps insisting, this is how it is in the country – there are predators about, and sometimes those who attempt to coexist alongside them end up being prey, as is believed to be the case with Sarah, and you either accept that or move away if you can’t handle it. Another fact of country life that Carl and Taz learn the hard way is that you really, really shouldn’t trespass on other people’s land: while out in the forest investigating “the beast,” they come across two farmers who don’t take kindly to seeing strangers on the property with a camera, and there’s a tense albeit hilarious car chase that ensues between the filmmakers and some deliverance-style hunters who ride up alongside of them and point guns at them through their open windows while Taz screeches in what can only be described as “like a girl.”

NOT the panther from the film, but still…scary

When Carl, in his usual melodramatic fashion, relays this experience to Lucy, it’s quite fun to watch her and Darren blow it off as just another fact of country life; if she’d had a gun and seen two strangers stalking about on her property she’d have pointed it at them, too, she tells them – and after checking out “Crossland” I recognize this as a callback to that movie, as it’s the entire point of that film. Also filmed on Lucy’s farm, she plays a far more malevolent character who basically murders anyone she catches trespassing, and also rants at one point about how anyone who ventures “off the footpath” deserves what they get – which is the exact line she uses on Carl and Darren, albeit with much less venom.

Not the ACTUAL hunters with guns in a Jeep who chase Carl and Taz, but close enough

Some more Googling actually located the farm where both “Crossland” and the “Paranormal Farm” movies were filmed – it’s a real farm, owned by Lucy, and it rents out space to campers and RVers in the area. It actually gets great reviews, and Lucy is often mentioned as a perfectly delightful and accommodating host, so while there’s truth to Lucy’s ownership of the farm, her malevolence is all an act, just so you know. Indeed, my fondness for Lucy led to me actively rooting for her while watching “Crossland” (which was written, produced, and directed by Taz) even though she’s clearly the antagonist in that film. But I digress.

Ashmere Farm

Darren stops the séance before the spirit can fully spell out the name SARAH, and Carl leaves his phone charging in the room so he can spy on Darren and Lucy’s conversation. Lucy, – who appears to have been hitting the box wine again, god bless her – keeps insisting that there’s no reason to investigate Sarah’s death as it’s all over and done with and everyone has moved on. Darren hints to her that there’s more to it than that, but it was long ago and he doesn’t want to relive what for him was a dark time. Lucy, perhaps due to the wine, doesn’t appear to catch what Darren is hinting at – that he knows something more about Sarah’s disappearance – and eventually Darren drops the conversation and they both wander out of the room.

When Carl goes up to Jessica’s bedroom, where Taz is waiting, to relay what he’s heard, the plasma ball from Part 1 lights up again on its own. Soon Carl is communicating with the spirit again, which at this point he’s convinced is Sarah, and he feels guided back into the barn (at least I think it’s the barn; there are many buildings on the farm and it’s hard to tell what’s what) where he discovers a real Ouija board. Carl is convinced this means Sarah really wants to communicate with him, so in spite of Taz’s reservations they head back to Jessica’s room to use it. While doing so, the lights go out on their own, and Carl hears a voice whisper to him “don’t go through the gate.” Taz freaks out and leaves the room, and soon after that Darren comes into the room and freaks out that Carl is still holding seances after being explicitly told to knock it off, and he kicks both Taz and Carl out of the house.

I’m really hard-up for images here, sorry

But not right away – he is kind enough to at least let them stay the night and pack up their things in the morning. But what at first appears to be a last act of generosity takes a sinister turn, when Carl is awakened from sleep by – you guessed it – someone in a creepy clown costume filming him with Medland’s own camera. Carl flips out and charges out of the room and down the stairs, with creepy clown and camera close behind. We are guided down the stairs via the camera’s perspective, and as we turn a corner we see Carl sitting at the head of the kitchen table, held at knife point by another dude in a clown mask who is also, inexplicably, wearing a superhero costume. He’s surrounded by other clown-mask wearing creatures. “Tseab, tseab, tseab,” they all chant, which Darren has already explained is “beast” spelled backward. Soon the truth comes out – the cult killed Sarah (why? who knows), and if Carl doesn’t leave immediately he’ll be killed too. Carl convinces them to give him back his camera and tries to get more of a confession out of the men, but they leap up from the table instead and charge him, which forces Carl to take off.

Another chase scene ensues, during which we can hear at least one of the cult members (I mean gathering members, sorry Darren) telling Carl to “go back through the gate,” and that’s the last reference that will ever be made to said gate so figure that out for yourself, I guess. No matter – because soon Carl manages to run to a neighbor’s house and bang on the doors, but it appears no one’s home. Then Carl hears some commotion and hides in a dark space on the side of the house, grabbing a rake to defend himself. He hears something approaching, and steps out from the shadows to stab whoever, or whatever, it is, and we soon see that he’s accidentally shoved the rake into the gut of Taz, who falls into a swimming pool. A creepy clown is right behind him. Both the creepy clown and Carl take off, leaving poor Taz behind impaled on a rake, and it always cracks me up to hear Carl yell “I’ll be back, Taz!” as he runs off, leaving Taz to fend for himself. So long Taz. We barely knew you.

Carl has to run back into the house to grab his keys, which he does with much panic and mucho shenanigans from the mannequins, who keeps popping up in doorways ever closer to Carl at every scare. He ends up having to run right past one of them to escape (which totally reminds me of a scary clown mannequin scene in Hell House, LLC, albeit probably unintentional), but escape he does – only to end up getting squelched by some weird costume-wearing dude standing out in the middle of the road after Carl (still Taz-less) hops into his car and starts driving away. For reasons unknown to me, Carl gets out of the car with a flashlight to get a closer look at this weird character, who suddenly sprouts wings that fold around Carl as the camera goes dark. The closed-captioning simply interprets the final audio moment as “squelch.” The end.

You get the idea.

So there it is. The end to both Carl and Taz, and the end of the mysteries of the Paranormal Farm. Or is it? Stay tuned for part 3.

Found Footage Fave: The Paranormal Farm Trilogy, Part 1 (SPOILERS!!)

Reason for filming: Carl, a wanna-be paranormal investigator, arrives at a Devonshire farm to try and help its owners figure out what can explain the supernatural occurrences on their property

What’s the horror: poltergeists, ghosts, cults

Does the dog die? Lots of animals in this one, but the only ones that die are already dead and being used for bait for other animals (squirrels, rabbits). They barely even look like animals anymore, and are not related to the story in any way. But they are there.

Gore factor: None

Re-watch scale: Heavy rotation. I love to watch these films!


The Paranormal Farm trilogy starts with this entry, released in 2017. It’s not clear if the writer, director, and star (Carl Medland) intended to construct a trilogy around the concept, but my guess is that he didn’t, and continued on with the story in parts 2 and 3 due to the reception of this first one.

Carl, the investigator

Shot entirely on Carl’s cellphone, Paranormal Farm starts with the protagonist explaining to his audience what the film is going to be about. It seems Carl recently filmed some mysterious orbs in a French chateau, and as a result of uploading this video to YouTube he was contacted by Darren and Lucy, a couple who own a large farm in Devonshire. Darren and Lucy have had strange occurrences on the farm, and they’ve asked Carl to investigate.

Darren and Lucy, the farmers

Now, I’ve read an interview or two with Carl about the making of this first film, so I want to share what I know here since I think it plays directly into the enjoyable aspects of this movie. Obviously it had no budget, and the decision to film it on a cellphone was to create an “immersive” experience, according to Medland (he uses his real name in the movie). There was no script, and Medland claims the producer (who goes by Taz and is introduced in later films) was the one setting up the scares – it seems to me this would be impossible to pull off unless the owners of the farm were given more details, even if Carl didn’t know them – but the interview I read doesn’t get into that. I will say that the film feels very reactionary, much more than most found footage films, in the sense that it genuinely seems to be reacting to the farm setting and the oddness of the two characters, as if the script is being constructed as the director familiarizes himself with the setting, and begins incorporating elements of the farm into the experience. I credit this at least partly to the fact that Carl Medland was already a filmmaker and screenwriter before this endeavor, and it is far from his first time making a movie. He definitely brings to this a skill that transcends the format’s limitations.

Mannequins, clown masks, and a plasma ball are all put to good use here

Some of these farm-quirks are downright inexplicable, like the presence of MANY mannequins placed around the property, fully dressed in farming attire. Why are they there? It’s never explained, and since Carl never asks the couple about them, it remains a mystery, both to him and to us. This is one choice Medland repeatedly makes throughout the film that works well to keep us rooted in Carl’s experience: there are a lot of weird things going on here that he documents, but never asks for clarification about, and while that does come across as a bit strange, the more immediate effect is to make us feel as nervous and edgy as Carl does as he wanders about trying to solve the mystery of the supernatural goings-on. Sure, it would have made sense to ask Darren and Lucy what the deal was with the mannequins, but it works so much better if we (and Carl), don’t know. Likewise, Carl often experiences pretty scary things on his own that he fails to clarify with the couple (such as the figure in the clown mask that follows him around at one point), opting instead just to tell them that some force around the farm feels malevolent.

Hiding under the covers, as one does when the spirits are about

To Medland’s credit, that lack of questioning never comes off as merely a way to service the plot. In fact, this movie throws a lot of weirdness at you that goes by too quickly to make sense of, and in this manner Carl’s failures to ask for details or report them as they occur seems normal. The scares here feel really organic, and it all goes back to the idea that Medland (or Taz) is fully utilizing elements of the farm that already existed to create scares and reasoning for those scares as he goes, which should feel sloppy but doesn’t. Credit for this organic feel must also be given to the other two characters in the movie, Lucy and Darren.


Medland says Lucy and Darren went into this project with no idea of what they were supposed to do beyond a very thin framework, and that he peppered them with questions on the spot that they had to make up answers to. While that seems hard to believe at times, I can say that their behavior in relation to Carl’s questioning is certainly odd, especially in the beginning when they have no idea what Medland and Taz are going to throw at them. But they are clearly game for the whole thing, and knowing they were totally making up information in response to what they were being fed goes a long way to explain how odd they come across in the first film. Their answers are often vague and non-committal, and at times they both squirm and shuffle oddly in their responses. (It may be a bit of a downer to know going in how this was filmed, but hey, I warned you.) Given how the movie ends, this weirdness really works and manages to come together quite nicely – although there’s no way they weren’t coached on what to do in those last ten minutes. At least I certainly hope that’s the case (and future installments will confirm that it is).

I doubt they are really clown mask wearing, Beast worshipping cult members, but they sure do act like it at times

And just what exactly is going on down on the farm? Well, there’s strange sounds and knocks in the walls. Stuff gets knocked off of shelves or moved around. There’s a huge gong that sometimes bongs for no reason. And there’s strange lights that they both see in the distance sometimes at night – right around the spot where they think their daughter Jessica disappeared five years prior. The couple show Carl around the farm, both inside and out, then take their box of wine out to a camper parked on their property and leave him alone to do his thing for the rest of the night.

Soon Carl is experiencing paranormal events of his own. The lights flicker every time he whispers Jessica’s name. Just as Lucy described, the gong rings out on its own. And a strange dude in a clown mask is wandering the premises, along with the creepy mannequins who suddenly don masks themselves – one has even grown a Freddy Krueger claw. At one point, Carl gets the bright idea to use a plasma ball he finds in Jessica’s room to try and communicate with her (another example of Medland using what he finds in the moment to move the story) and channels her just long enough to get a weird clue that is never totally explained. Plasma balls, dummies, clowns, weird sounds – it all culminates in the moment when Carl visits Lucy and Darren in the camper (where Lucy has clearly taken advantage of the majority, if not all, of the boxed wine) and tells them he does feel Jessica in the house, and that she is at peace, but there is also something evil lurking about, which leads Darren to inexplicably get upset and run off.

And that’s when the movie ties things all together. As Carl searches for Darren, the clown-masked mannequins start to move and lay chase. After much running about and away, Carl stumbles upon a campfire out in the woods, surrounded by more clown maskers chanting “tseab, tseab, tseab!” Um, okay? Of course, he steps on a twig that alerts the cult to his appearance, and more chasing ensues in the form what appears to be an ever-increasing population of clown-mask-clad characters, culminating in Carl hiding out alone in the barn, only to be discovered by a maniacal clown with a chainsaw who hacks off his arm (we don’t see it). Carl’s phone is still recording, of course, and so the audience sees the maniac remove his mask to reveal that he’s actually Darren.

Cut to some security footage the next day, showing the now-dead Carl being strapped to a ladder as bait for a mysterious “beast” who lives in the forest. Then cut to a scene of the family singing happy birthday to someone who is clearly their son, while Lucy scoops out heaping helpings of lasagna onto paper plates. “This tastes different this time,” someone says, to which Lucy quips something to the effect that there’s a secret ingredient in it, which we’re led to assume is Carl. The end.

The way this seemingly muddled mess of a movie manages to tie it all together quite nicely at the end really sold it to me, as well as the personality of Medland himself, who is funny and charming throughout. He wants to be a paranormal investigator, but he’s so scared of every single supernatural thing that happens that it appears he’s chosen the wrong profession, even though he really can channel spirits such as Jessica’s. Likewise, we can attribute the weirdness of Lucy and Darren to their evil-cult plans, which appears to also explain the mannequins and clown masks and other bizarre goings-on – Medland manages to fit it all in to this cult he reveals in the final moments. Even though the necessity of clown masks and mannequins is still unclear, it’s satisfying enough in its own right, and leaves Medland with some terrific meta-material that he will mine in the next film – which I’ll discuss next time.

Found Footage Fave: Confined (2021)

Reason for filming: People are communicating with each other via computer (the movie doesn’t use any particular technology) during the pandemic

What’s the horror: An evil presence that may or may not be associated with COVID

Does the dog die? No animals in this one

Gore factor: None

Re-watch scale: I really enjoyed watching this one, and have watched it several times since my first viewing.

Where to Watch: Tubi currently has this for free on their site

Confined (2021) - IMDb

I’m pretty sure this was made with almost no budget, as it is simply several people communicating via computer during confinement due to a pandemic. That’s one of several things I think this movie does cleverly; it doesn’t date itself by using any particular technology when communicating with each other, and it never names the pandemic as COVID. This gives it a little bit of a broader scope, and makes it applicable to any time period.

The concept is pretty simple. A woman and her boyfriend are separated due to his job when he tests positive for whatever the plague is that has everyone in lockdown mode (we can assume it’s COVID, but again, since the movie doesn’t say, I don’t want to make assumptions) and is forced to stay out of town until he is cleared to go home. The two are communicating via computer when the man, whose name is Austin (and who I have to mention looks WAY too old for his girlfriend, not to be ageist but it’s pretty jarring) hears a knock at his door. He goes to answer the door, but no one is there. The next day, while Lisa, the girlfriend, is doing that THING that found footage movies simply MUST throw into the mix where the dude asks the girl to make some sort of naughty video for them (ugh), she hears a knock at her door. She goes to answer, and yep – no one’s there. It’s late at night, and she’s a little freaked out, but she gets back into the tub (no, we don’t see anything) to make her video, and there’s a loud knock again, but this time it’s at her bathroom door. But once again – no one’s there.

And Nobody Was There." | Clip from CONFINED (2021) - YouTube
Sumayyah Ameerah as Lisa
It's 4 in the morning, what's going on?" | Clip from CONFINED (2021) -  YouTube
Kipp Tribble as Austin (told ya)

And that’s pretty much how it goes – although they’re miles and miles apart, both of them are hearing knocks at the door, that escalate into knocks inside the walls of the house, then they also hear scratching, and doors start to open on their own. Rooms they just left get trashed, and stuff is moving from where they put it down to some other random place. Meanwhile, they both start feeling sicker and sicker, as if this weird, supernatural haunting is somehow connected to the virus.

There’s also some pretty good drama between Lisa and Austin, and I like the way they did this. Usually in found footage films I find the obligatory “people must fight with each other” trope to be completely overdone, but the way this film goes about it makes more sense than it usually does; instead of the usual fighting over what to do about the ghostly happenings (one person wants to leave, one wants to stay, blah blah blah) they actually fight about what the happenings are. Austin thinks it is an ex-boyfriend of Lisa’s playing tricks on them, while Lisa knows that isn’t the case; Austin thinks Lisa’s complete rejection of the idea that it’s her ex means she still has feelings for him, and he pushes and pushes her in every conversation – to the point that I found myself wanting to strangle Austin as much as Lisa does. It’s super annoying, but really effective, and a much more engaging way for tension to build than usually occurs in found footage movies, because it’s something you could really see a couple getting into conflict over, and instead of being fighting for the sake of fighting, it actually adds some depth to their relationship.

There’s also a friend named Avery who’s involved on the periphery, a police detective who gets drawn in at one point, and the moderator of an online group dedicated to people who are having the same supernatural occurrences as Austin and Lisa and who is trying desperately to find out what’s going on before more people die. The dude does make a connection that I won’t get into here, in case you don’t want to be spoiled – but it’s an effective explanation that works within the confines of the story. There are also occasional YouTube videos of other people experiencing the same thing scattered into the mix.

Confined (2021) - IMDb
Kenny Yates plays Jared, an online researcher trying to solve the mystery
Confined (2021) - ALL HORROR

I do think the acting is very effective in this movie. I was particularly impressed with Lisa, who is played by actress Sumayyah Ameerah; she just has a few other credits and there’s not much about her online, but she really has to carry this film, and she does a great job. She’s very likeable, and her increasing panic as the illness and the hauntings escalate is more than one-note. She gets a bit of backstory as well, and her therapist makes a few appearances to help flesh out some of her issues that are definitely getting triggered by her isolation and panic as well as her conflicts with Austin. Kipp Tribble, who plays Austin, is also quite good here. He has kind of a shitty role to play in being such an ass to Lisa about her ex, but he commits to it enough that you want to punch him, but you don’t want him to die or anything.

One thing that makes this movie stick with me even upon repeated viewings is that it works well within the confines of the (completely absent?) budget and the found-footage constraints. It doesn’t try to do or show too much, and as a result, it comes across as pretty realistic. We’ve all seen the videos that claim to show actual hauntings, and they’re never anything more than a shadow or a random sound or something falling over; while that’s never convincing when looking for ABSOLUTE PROOF of the supernatural, there’s a reason such videos still get so much play – it’s easy to convince yourself that pencil that rolled off the table could have been a poltergeist, and it’s similarly easy in this movie to believe that loud knocking on a door in the middle of the night just might be the boogeyman out to get you. This movie does not underestimate the power of those creepy ‘house sounds’ we all experience when we’re home alone and awake late at night, and it doesn’t try to fill in any visual blanks about what might be causing them. In short, this movie does just what it needs to do to creep you out, and nothing more, and that’s a good thing in my opinion.

I also like how the movie ties this current pandemic to similar plagues throughout history, reminding us all that humanity has been here before, many times. COVID, the Black Plague, you name it – there’s always something lurking out there that’s waiting to wipe us all out. And when your luck runs out, it might just start knocking on your door.