Written and directed by Christian Stavrakis and Mark Ricche
Found footage. I know a bunch of you clicked “next” after reading just those two words…
I’m a frequent defender of the genre, as we’ve gotten some extremely good films from it in recent years such as The Taking of Deborah Logan and As Above, So Below. And yes, Mortal Remains is found footage, in the form of a faux documentary about a lost horror film and its demented and likely murderous director; however, the sins of Mortal Remains aren’t due to the genre. Sure, we spend a little too much time following people around in the dark with nightvision on. Yes, we have one or two too many phone conversations where we can only hear and see one side. Those common found footage issues don’t really harm Mortal Remains.
What does is a mess of a script. The film feels like it had a great idea, but the filmmakers couldn’t figure out where to go with it.
While avoiding spoilers, I can tell you this much: A man named Karl Atticus made horror movies in the Baltimore area in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Only one was released, to reports of violence at screenings and strange circumstances surrounding filming. His final movie, which of course was called Mortal Remains, was only shown once. Following violence at that screening, the only print was destroyed.
Our film starts with two documentarians who are working on a documentary about the The Blair Witch Project with high school buddy and Blair Witch director Eduardo Sanchez. Sanchez comes across a tip about Atticus and a lead on the existence of a print of Mortal Remains, and they change focus and begin making the documentary we’re watching. This takes them on a journey across rural Pennsylvania tracking down friends and crew of Atticus, trying to determine the truth behind the fate of both Atticus (a body was found, but never 100% identified) and his final film.
That’s a solid concept. The retro footage from the era and snippets of the two films produced by Atticus look convincing. The concept of an urban legend turning out to be true is always fun. The problem here is that the format of a false documentary paints the filmmakers into a corner. There are only so many places you can go, and when they reach a final pinch point where the narrative runs out of room, they make a terrible decision that absolutely ruins the film.
I’m not going to spoil the ending, but I’ll try to nip around the edges to say that their final resolution involves people looking for something that they absolutely should have known. In fact, the people searching for it would be the only people who would know where it is. The gruesome finale makes zero sense, as the villains would already know the answer they seek, so their actions make zero sense.
It’s a shame because while Mortal Remains has issues beyond this, the faux documentary format makes the climax, well, everything. What did they find? What’s the final answer? Even Blair Witch suffered no small amount of criticism for a similar issue, but that ending was simply unfinished and unclear. This is very clear, very finished, and just makes absolutely no sense.
Mortal Remains is not a bad movie, but the ending ruined it for me. There are some nice scares, some “did you see that in the background?!?” moments, and as I said, the premise is great. But that ending, man. I don’t know where they could have gone because as I also said, they really painted themselves into a corner, but that just wasn’t a good choice.