Found Footage Aliens and Depraved Killers in ‘Split Screen’ [New Blood Reviews]

Remember when split screen was a thing? It was how we played games together on consoles back in the Dark Ages. You see, before online multiplayer became the social norm, we used to game with friends in the SAME room. I know, disgusting, right? Having someone invade the privacy of my inner sanctum of refuge (aka my room) and socializing face-to-face, just to play a match or two of Turok 2: Seeds of Evil? Terrible times, no question. Now, the solitude of my lair can remain undisturbed, all thanks to a WiFi connection and yearly corporate subscription, allowing me to get my ass kicked by strangers around the globe. Split screen isn’t completely dead, though, just reserved for games like Mario Kart, which I also suck at.

Anyway, this review has nothing to do with any of that. Not even a little bit. Why did I bother mentioning any of it, then? To keep in spirit with today’s topic of film discussion—this introduction has nothing to do with the movie, and Split Screen has nothing to do with split-screen gaming. So what the hell is it about?

Split Screen

(Directed by Dillon Brown, Joshua Brucker; Starring Dillon Brown, Thomas Burke, Hunter Nino; 2023)

“Presented as a double feature, Split Screen follows a computer hacker releasing two films pulled from the darkest corners of the Internet: The Illinois Valley Murder Tapes and Greys: The Nevada Alien Incident.”

Well, aren’t those some familiar faces? Dillon Brown and Joshua Brucker are no strangers around here, given that I’ve reviewed numerous films from their production company, Horror Dadz Productions. The Flock, Tahoe Joe, Mothman, Ghost. As I said before, they’re showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon, with Tahoe Joe 2 in the works and The Woodmen releasing soon. However, while working on those productions, they made this little feature: two tales of terror consisting of extraterrestrial invasion and humankind’s dark nature. Basically, one’s about aliens, the other’s about a serial killer.

Now, before I continue, it’s important to understand a few things about this flick. First, this isn’t part of the major film lineup Horror Dadz is currently working on. Rather, it’s a side project made as a little treat to their fans, something extra for us to enjoy between features. Second, the film’s budget reached an estimated $1,000, which in movie speak means “no budget”. I’m not asking you to excuse any faults due to these details, just to understand where it’s coming from.

Greys: The Nevada Alien Incident

First up, we have Brown’s contribution to the duology—Greys: The Nevada Alien Incident. Through subtle wordplay, the title hints that this one is probably about the aliens.

Brown once again stars as himself, revealing that Greys is a semi-sequel to Tahoe Joe, which was released last year. This time, Bigelow Footer is sitting out, letting some pesky aliens take over tormenting Brown to the brink of death once again. Joining him are several other regulars from Brown’s other flicks, including Amanda Morgan (Ghost) and Michael Rock (The Flock), solidifying his troupe of go-to actors. Also, Ron Chievere (The Who Incident) appears as an alien-obsessed professor!

When it comes to the plot, it’s the usual deal. A guy films an alien attack, investigates alien existence, and gets stalked by the government. Follow steps four through six on page 24 of the manual. There’s not much venturing off the beaten path, which is fine. Those routes are well-traveled for a reason. Still, it does mean the story’s a bit predictable, so even having passing knowledge of the sub-genre will probably allow you to pinpoint where it’s headed after the first few scenes.

Okay, so it’s not exactly original. What is nowadays, right? We’re not coming here expecting something we haven’t seen before. It’s the execution that matters. Did Brown use his part of the budget effectively to make an entertaining short? Well, if you ask me, I’d say yes! Which isn’t surprising for those who’ve been keeping up with his work.

Everything sticks together more or less cohesively. The found footage cinematography, the acting, and the narrative all mix together well enough, with nothing particularly standing out more than the others, except the visual effects. If you recall, Brown’s liberal use of VFX was my major gripe about his film, Ghost. There was WAY too much, with an implementation that was way more distracting than engaging. Brown may have heard me, however, and made sure to use them to A LOT better effect this time around! He succeeds in his goal of adding to scenes rather than muddling them. Though to be fair, he told me Ghost was more of a test run as far as the VFX was concerned. It’s nice seeing that practice start to pay off!

Grays doesn’t overstay its welcome and features some neat aliens (courtesy of Immortal Masks), making the first half of Split Screen a solid watch when paired with tempered expectations and an appreciation for lower-budget indie horror.

Now, how about the other half?

The Illinois Valley Murder Tapes

Brucker’s short—The Illinois Valley Murder Tapes—opts to take its horror from reality as opposed to the domain of the supernatural. Well, “reality” depending on one’s belief about the dark web’s snuff film culture and whether or not it exists. You can satisfy your curiosity on that subject yourself. Stumble upon the horrors of the internet with no guidance and no warning like we did back in the day!

An investigative duo tries to solve the mystery of why people have been disappearing around an Illinois valley, hence the title. Rumor has it that a serial killer is making his rounds on his perceived turf, which is substantiated when the sleuths start receiving tapes of a masked man murdering unsuspecting victims. One thing leads to another, and the duo ends up closer to the action than they probably would’ve liked. Play deadly games, win deadly prizes, I suppose.

I reviewed Brucker’s first feature, Mothman, not too long ago, and admittedly, I was a bit harsh on it. There were some bits I didn’t gel with, but the passion and talent were there, so I was excited to see what else Brucker could conjure up. I’m happy to say I was more with it this time around… Though I didn’t love it.

The premise of found serial killer tapes isn’t uncommon. Just off the top of my head, we have The Poughkeepsie Tapes, August Underground, The Last Horror Movie, Man Bites Dog, just to name a few. It’s an interesting narrative that allows a lot of creativity in presentation. One can have a completely atmospheric character study about the psychology of the killer, offering a look at the man behind the slaughter like Man Bites Dog. Or it could just be an excuse to film depraved shit like August Underground. Both of which I can appreciate! The Illinois Valley Tapes falls more in line with the latter, but never quite reaches the same extremes.

The kills aren’t too crazy, with most being cutaways or old reliables like strangulations and bludgeoning. Granted, given the level of realism the short is trying to portray, people are more likely to get choked out than carved up with a chainsaw. But unfortunately, that’s not as visually appealing. I’m sure the lackluster bloodshed is due to the previously stated budgetary restraints, so I’m willing to forgive it for the most part.

I do appreciate the apparent use of actual VHS recordings for the killer’s tapes instead of resorting to a filter or something similar. Just something about that sweet 480p that enhances the snuff experience, more so than film or digital… Maybe I watch too many of these flicks. Honestly, I feel the film would’ve been stronger if these scenes were the only focus, omitting the overarching narrative entirely. 

It’s the weaker of the two shorts, and I personally think the viewing order should’ve been reversed so it wouldn’t have to follow the more engaging film. I’m not trying to tear it apart, I promise, there’s a lot of merit to be had here! That’s proven with the murder tapes, which are well-shot in the sense that they’re intentionally not at all. These aren’t cinema; they’re snapshots into the world of a depraved lunatic who knows more about snuffing out life than setting up a camera angle. There’s some potentially chilling stuff there, especially the scene with the tent. That’s still in my head days later, which means it did something right.

Overall, this is a fun side project done by two talented directors ahead of their next full-length features, which should be debuting sooner rather than later. It’s not perfect, but it wasn’t setting out to be. There’s something of value in each short, and if given more attention, I think both could well-serve their own 90-minute runtimes. Maybe down the line, eh?

Split Screen will hit Prime Video later this month and will drop on the Chilling App on Christmas Eve. Also, it’ll be dropped on the Kings of Horror YouTube channel this coming January.

Giallo Julian’s Twitter – Facebook – Letterboxd



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