Saturday, November 5, 2016

Review: Found Footage 3D (2016)

Found Footage 3D (2016)

Not rated

Score: 4 out of 5

Found Footage 3D, which I just caught the Florida premiere of at the Cinema Paradiso/Savor Cinema in Fort Lauderdale, can best be described as the Scream of found footage films. While that film was aiming its barbs at '80s slasher flicks, which by 1996 had become the go-to whipping boy for modern horror cliches, this is a 108-minute pisstake on the found footage style that, in the last ten years, emerged as the next big thing before eventually flaming out. It's visible not just in how it mercilessly lampoons all of the conventions of found footage films, but in how, underneath the jokes and wisecracks, it is also a standout example of that genre in its own right, and more importantly, in how it goes about that: by focusing squarely on the characters involved. Long story short, this is a damn good meta horror-comedy that pulls through in both sides of that equation, and even if it is pretty predictable and doesn't get as incisive as, say, The Cabin in the Woods, it's still a very fun watch even -- hell, especially -- if you've gotten sick of found footage movies over the years.

The film starts off with the obvious question posed by its title: just who the hell would shoot a found footage movie in 3D? After all, it's not like camcorders or cell phones shoot in 3D, you need a specialized camera for that. Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension tried to answer that, and the leaps it had to make demonstrated precisely why you don't see the two styles combined that often. This film, though, has a better answer: it's about the production of a 3D found footage movie, titled Spectre of Death 3D, made by a group of independent filmmakers who are explicitly looking for a gimmick to differentiate their generic found footage ghost movie from the hundreds of other ones out there. Not only that, but they're also shooting a behind-the-scenes "making of" documentary, which is also in 3D. We spend most of the first half of the film getting to know our cast of characters: our cameraman Mark, the director Andrew, the sound guy Carl, the production assistant Lily, and finally, the writers and stars of the film, Derek and Amy, whose relationship has been crumbling for the past year and who arrive at the set struggling to keep that tension from seeping into their performances as a happily married couple.

Much of the first hour or so of the film is less a horror movie and more a mockumentary about an off-the-rails film production, one that was in trouble even before it became clear that the cabin they were filming in was haunted. This is why the later parts of the film work so well: it takes its time to develop and flesh out the entire cast. Derek tries to take over the production, leading to clashes with the director Andrew, who's wondering what the hell he got himself into, and Amy, who by this point cannot stand her co-star and now ex-lover. Carl, who believes in ghosts, is the first one to sound the alarm when he realizes that the house in which they're shooting the movie is haunted for real. Mark and Lily, meanwhile, are just trying to avoid getting caught in the crossfire between the clashing egos around them. It was a compelling movie even before the hauntings arrived in force, thanks to both solid acting all around (save for the finale, when it felt like Amy was overacting just a bit), and very good writing, making me invested in the characters such that I was genuinely concerned for them once bad things started happening. What also helped it tremendously was its great sense of humor. The film has no problem ripping into the conventions of found footage, and it does just that from start to finish. Every complaint you've ever had about these sorts of movies gets answered and joked about. Why are the characters filming in the first place? Why don't they just put the cameras down and run for it once shit gets real? Why are the endings to these movies always so anticlimatic? (It's because of the first rule of found footage: everybody dies at the end, hence why the footage is "found".) Who thought it was a good idea to take two styles of filmmaking known for causing motion sickness in some viewers and combine the two? This film is packed with all sorts of jokes like that about these and other cliches, like when they cast a pair of older local men to play bit parts as the guys who tell the protagonists to steer clear of that haunted property they're headed to -- only for those two guys to find out where they're shooting the film, and proceed to give that advice to the filmmakers for real.

Having well-rounded characters to root for allowed the scares to pay off a lot better than in many comparable films. While you'll probably see most of the beats coming -- in fact, the film is counting on it -- it still delivers in this department, thanks to both effective jump scares, solid tension, some effective fake outs, and special effects that are used sparingly but remarkably well. It takes a long time for the scares to really get going beyond a few hints that something is up, but once it does, we get some great setups that all deliver exactly what they promise. It gets surprisingly bloody, and the special effects for the inky black monstrosity haunting the cabin looked incredible for a low-budget indie film. (Certainly better than the blob Toby in The Ghost Dimension.) The film knows when to tone down its goofball attitude, especially once everything hits the fan during the finale (apart from a great final line that calls back to an earlier remark about found footage cliches), and when to provide some levity, ultimately producing a film that's whipping back and forth between making you laugh and making you scream all while remaining coherent in tone and pacing. Watching this in 3D, of course, is a must (it's right there in the title), not just for some great visual moments, but also for some funny gags and meta jokes about 3D movies in general, most notably a bit where they're shooting a scene where Derek's character hides a GoPro camera to catch the ghost in action -- and they realize that the GoPro only shoots in 2D, forcing them to improvise a solution. (Duct tape!)

The Bottom Line:

A wonderfully (not-so-)affectionate parody of the found footage genre that's a must for fans of horror-comedies, whether you can't get enough of found footage or wish it would just die already. Can't wait to see this get picked up and get an official release.

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