Directed by Paul McGhie
With the massive worldwide success of The Blair Witch Project in 1999, the horror industry began to take major note of the found footage sub-genre, both as a viable medium through which major profits could be made and as a vehicle for telling horror stories in a genuinely novel way. As we sit here 17 years later, the latter of those functions holds less true for many horror fans who have over and again voiced opinions that the sub-genre has grown lazy and hackneyed, due in large part to the overabundance of less-than-quality films it has produced in almost two decades.
That’s not to say that genuinely effective or just outright fun found footage films are no longer being made; for every few Paranormal Entity-level entries, there is a refreshing alternative in the form of The Bay or Banshee Chapter.
So, where does this put Webcast, the feature-length found footage debut from London-based director Paul McGhie? Luckily, on the right side of that spectrum.
Set in UK suburbia, Webcast follows students Chloe (Redford) and her best friend, Ed (Tremain), as they are making a documentary about Chloe’s family–or, more specifically, the unsolved mystery of her Aunt Amelia’s disappearance many years before in the same neighborhood. When they are witness to a frantic and frightened girl appearing to escape from Chloe’s next-door neighbor’s house, only to be quickly dragged back inside again, things take a chilling turn. Even though Chloe and Ed are told that the girl is actually a recovering drug addict, the two filmmakers are convinced that there is something more to the story. As Chloe and Ed begin to surveil their neighbors, digging deeper for the truth behind Amelia’s disappearance and the girl next door, they ultimately find themselves uncovering a darker secret than they could have ever imagined–all of which culminates on a live webcast that will change everything for the both of them.
I came across Webcast by chance in a sea of Twitter posts from horror filmmakers working tirelessly to get their films seen. As an avid found footage horror fan who has sat through the worst of the worst and the best of the best alike, I am always excited to check out a new entry in the sub-genre, particularly when the story itself strikes me as believable–a quality that tends to really elevate films like this. I was particularly drawn to Webcast‘s premise due to its chilling parallels to a very recent conspiracy theory of sorts about a YouTuber named Marina Joyce; after coming across very strangely in a few videos, concerned viewers began to suspect that Joyce was actually being held against her will and attempting to signal for help. One avid viewer even went so far as to purportedly hunt down Joyce’s address and host a live webcast via Periscope in which they were attempting to find out the truth about her current state.
While the chilling theories about Joyce were ultimately debunked (you can read all about how that convoluted, but fascinating story played out here), the truth remains that there are indeed people out there who are willing to use amateur sleuthing skills to solve mysteries and potentially put themselves in danger, while simultaneously broadcasting their endeavors in realtime for the world to see. Like 2010’s Catfish, McGhie’s film (written before the Joyce story played out, mind you) channels this general idea to feature length, albeit in a much more traditional sense for the horror genre. The independently funded Webcast proves to be an engaging and often spooky effort, though at times suffering from pacing issues and the inherent drawbacks of its filming style.
Though Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project are going to be obvious comparisons for many, McGhie’s film more specifically reminded me of something along the lines of Lake Mungo in its rather subdued approach that focuses on first building relationships before slowly increasing the tension. From the get-go, McGhie succeeds in conveying the dynamics of Chloe and Ed’s friendship, which feels very authentic thanks to convincing chemistry between charismatic stars Redford and Tremain, who seem right at home with each other here. Even in the film’s more unevenly paced sections, the developments in Chloe and Ed’s will-they-or-won’t-they relationship remained as intriguing for me as the mystery itself. I found myself rooting for these characters far more than I tend to in these types of films because I ultimately believed them to be likable people who also genuinely liked each other.
That’s not to say that the underlying mystery is not engaging all on its own; McGhie channels a markedly paced sense of mystery as we are introduced to Amelia’s story via Chloe’s interviews with her old friends, neighbors, and family members, learning more about her and the theories surrounding the truth of her disappearance. The slow build accompanying the examination of the unsolved case is significantly ramped up once Chloe and Ed encounter the frantic girl next door and the tale shifts to bring them deeper into their own mystery.
Though McGhie succeeds in setting up effective groundwork for Chloe and Ed’s amateur sleuthing and suspicion of the neighbors, the story does stall some once they begin surveillance. While competently executed, McGhie’s approach to the familiar Rear Window-style device does not necessarily bring much new to the table; it is complete with familiar moments of characters snooping around in places they don’t belong, fruitless reports to the authorities, and expected close calls. Though these elements of the film may not put off casual viewers, the found footage medium itself may prove more problematic in that regard. In a few of the more fast-paced sequences, viewers are subjected to a number of dizzying camera movements and auto-focusing shots that at times seem to sacrifice clarity, though admittedly that is what most come to expect when viewing a film of this nature.
Despite these trouble areas in the middle of the story, there is a peculiar energy to Webcast‘s frenetic finale that serves in bringing the film home in a way that is truly disquieting. The manner in which the last couple of scenes unfold narratively lends a rather zany air to the movie that I was not at all expecting; as the final moments leave viewers with some very striking questions, the film is ultimately just the right kind of off-putting as well. The story does not feel incomplete by the time the credits roll, however, but rather open to a number of fascinating interpretations, which I can always appreciate.
Though Webcast treads well-worn territory at times, it ultimately engages by morphing into an effectively spooky nod to classic films like The Wicker Man through the found footage lens. Despite some technical and pacing issues, the film is ultimately upheld by its lead characters’ genuine on-screen chemistry and a chilling and spirited take on a familiar angle. It does not reinvent the wheel, but Webcast is a very solid effort that proves there is still a wealth of untapped, independent filmmaking talent that deserves support in the genre, as well as lending credence to the idea that there are also still engaging horror stories to be told through the found footage medium.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 152 – Cloverfield Paradox & The Ritual
Last week Netflix shocked the world by not only releasing a new trailer for Cloverfield Paradox during the Superbowl, but announcing the film would be available to stream right after the game. In a move no one saw coming, Netflix shook the film industry to it’s very core. A few days later, Netflix quietly released horror festival darling: The Ritual.
Hold on to your Higgs Boson, because this week we’ve got a double header for ya, and we’re not talking about that “world’s largest gummy worm” in your mom’s nightstand. Why was one film marketed during the biggest sporting event of the year, and why was one quietly snuck in like a pinky in your pooper? Tune in a find out!
Meet me at the waterfront after the social for the Who Goes There Podcast episode 152!
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The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger
Written and directed by Derek Nguyen
Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.
Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.
Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.
Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.
Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.
The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.
Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.
The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.
Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.
Scorched Earth Review – Gina Carano Making Motherf**kers Pay In The Apocalypse
Starring Gina Carano, John Hannah, Ryan Robbins
Written by Bobby Mort and Kevin Leeson
Directed by Peter Howitt
Let me preface this review by stating right off the bat that I’m a huge Gina Carano fan, and will pretty much accept her in any role that she’s put in (are you going to tell her no), regardless of the structure and plausibility behind it, and while that might make me a tad-bit biased in my opinions, just accept it as that and nothing more. Now that I’ve professed my cinematic devotion to the woman, let’s dive headlong into her latest film, Scorched Earth.
Directed by Peter Howitt, the backdrop is an apocalyptic world brought on by the imminent disaster known as global warming, and the air has become toxic to intake, generally leaving inhabitants yacking up blood and other viscous liquids after a prolonged exposure, unless you’re one of the privileged that possesses a filter lined with powdered silver. Filters of water and the precious metal are in high demand, and only true offenders in this world still drive automobiles, effectively speeding up the destruction of what’s left of the planet. Carano plays Atticus Gage, a seriously stoic and tough-as-nails bounty hunter who is responsible for taking these “criminals” down, and her travels lead her to a compound jam-packed with bounties that will have her collecting riches until the end of time…but aren’t we at the end of time already? Anyway, Gage’s main opponent here is a man by the name of Thomas Jackson (Robbins) – acting as the leader of sorts to these futuristic baddies, the situation of Gage just stepping in and taking him out becomes a bit complicated when…oh, I’m not going to pork this one up for you all – you’ve got to invest the time into it just as I did, and trust me when I tell you that the film is pretty entertaining to peep.
While Carano’s acting still needs some refining, let there be no ever-loving mistake that this woman knows how to beat the shit out of people, and for all intents and purposes this will be the thing that carries her through many a picture. There are much larger roles in the future for Gina, and she’ll more than likely take over as a very big player in the industry – hey, I’m a gambling man, and I’ve done pretty well with my powers of prognostication. With that being said, the thing that does hold this picture back is the plot itself- it’s a bit stale and not overly showy, and when I look for a villain to oppose the hero, I’m wanting someone with at least a shred of a magnetic iota, and I just couldn’t latch onto anything with Robbins’ performance – his character desperately needed an injection of “bad-assness” and it hurt in that particular instance.
In the end of it all, I’d recommend Scorched Earth to fans of directionless, slam-bang wasteland pics with a touch of unrestrained violence…plus, Gina Carano is in it, so you can’t go wrong. If you’re not a fan of any of the above, feel free to skate on along to another piece of barren territory.
Looking to get your butt kicked in the apocalypse with extreme prejudice? Drive on up, and allow me to introduce you to someone who’ll be more than happy to oblige.
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