Found Footage 3D

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 10/16/16 01:42:19

"Pokes at horror conventions well enough to get some good blood and guts."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2016 BOSTON TERRORTHON: Half the joke with "Found Footage 3D" is that if one half of the title doesn't represent what you think is wrong with horror movies today, the other probably does, and combining them should make a film that pleases nobody. Of course, doing so indicates a self-aware spoof, which is kind of another thing horror doesn't need more of, and while this may all seem to indicate that pulling it all together is a bad, inherently doomed idea, it's also opportunity for a clever filmmaker to pull what works from all of this together into a fun project.

It presents itself as the behind-the-scenes material shot during the making of Spectre of Death, conceived as a found-footage horror movie written by and starring Derek (Carter Roy) and Amy (Alena von Stroheim) as a couple whose marriage was already on the brink of collapse before they went on vacation in a creepy old cabin that the locals tell them to avoid... And whose marriage collapsed in between raising the crowdfunding money and going to shoot in a creepy old cabin that the locals tell them to avoid. But the show must go on, so to the woods they go, along with Andrew (Tom Saporito), the director upon whom Derek sprang the 3D cameras at the last minute; Carl the sound guy (Scott Allen Perry); Lily (Jessica Perrin), the cute production assistant without any experience Derek found at a party; and Mark (Chris O'Brien), Derek's brother who is shooting a making-of thing and is quite happy to see Amy again.

Though the description is full of red flags that this movie may be too much about itself and similar movies that don't necessarily bear that much examination, one of the first things that grabs the audience is how quickly it sketches out characters who are worth the audience's interest. They're a simple group, to be sure, but they're quickly established as more than just their jobs and obvious functions in the story. Some of it is playing against type, making Andrew kind of ineffectual as the director when that guy would normally be trying to dominate every scene. Sometimes it's how, even though Mark is holding the camera, you can tell that both he and Amy perk up a bit when she sees him. And if Lily is the cute young thing that Derek is trying to rub in Amy's face, that's never the first thing she is to the audience. It's an unusually well-balanced ensemble without a weak link in the cast.

It's a good enough group that I'd likely enjoy a movie about them trying to make Spectre of Death without a body count (although I don't know if I'd be convinced to watch without the promise), and there are times when it seems like that's what's going to happen, because filmmaker Steven DeGennaro can be pretty stingy about parceling out the scary moments. They're effective, even when they might not necessarily be: Even after tipping off whether or not the supernatural will be involved fairly, hints that the movie will go the other way later on can be fairly unsettling, and when it comes time for things to get gross, there is not much in the way of holding back. Beyond the gore, the effects work is pretty good, maybe in part because what budget they've got for it can be used sparingly.

Early on, one character dismisses another's idea that someone could be a "3D enthusiast" like there haven't been such folks since at least Harold Lloyd, and I suspect that group might be impressed with how well DeGennaro and director of photographer Drew Daniels uses what look like high-end consumer cameras, sometimes entertainingly jury-rigging something to get unlikely 3D effects. They exaggerate depth to an extreme level, and often position the camera so that a 3D monitor or mirror is in the shot, creating an impossible illusion that undermines the supposed realism of the format. They'll often make sure people are walking in front of the camera, or shoot at odd angles. It's a neat case of people who know what they're after doing impressive things while making it look like something people who are basically amateurs would do. They do something similarly clever with the sound quality that may not get noticed at first, but works very well when the audience spots it.

It's the sort of thing that can be a little too inside baseball at times, with a few gags that I suspect stop things dead unless one not only likes horror movies but is a fairly dedicated fan (one of which, a visit from critic Scott Weinberg, is kind of painful in set-up but fun in execution, and I'm not just saying that because, full disclosure, Scott wrote a lot of reviews for this site and was one of the folks that encouraged me early on). Those dedicated fans should definitely get a kick out of this movie for how it pokes at what horror movies are like today, although even those who aren't quite so obsessive should have a good time with the fine cast of characters and entertainingly bloody finale.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.