The Blair Witch Project paved the way for found footage horror back in 1999, with it’s slick ad campaign and it’s unseen level of tension brought on by unknown actors. Fast forward to 2007, Oren Peli creates his own terrifying vision. Two years later, Paramount Pictures sees the potential and starts a campaign to get people interested. It worked, and what followed became one of the most successful horror franchises of all time. With the release of Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension today (Which isn’t playing in my town, so I can’t review it), I thought we’d look back and see what made this first film so special.
Ever since the release of The Blair Witch Project, the rise of found footage horror as been a rather steep climb. Typically it’s a much cheaper film to make, but can also be quite removing from the experience because everything has to look that much more real to pull off the situations on what appears to be home video. In 2007, The Dowdle Brothers (Who did the remake of REC later, called Quarantine) brought to life a fake documentary about a serial killer in upstate New York who would film the atrocities he would commit. When the police raid the house, they find hundreds of VHS tapes, which would begin the real investigation on who was responsible for creating, The Poughkeepsie Tapes.
What Works: The found footage aspect of the film in conjunction with the documentary pieces with the fake interviews with FBI agents, and the families of those effected by the atrocious acts of this killer, are incredibly put together. The performances of the characters feel real, which makes the acts you see happen on the tapes when you watch them that much more difficult to watch. The flickering of the footage, the warped tapes, the discoloration, everything about these tapes feel legitimate which definitely aids in the terror.
The tapes themselves, I should also mention, are incredibly disturbing and if you have a nervous disposition, or are easily traumatized, you should probably avoid this flick at all costs. Even for a horror freak like me, I was always sitting with baited breath, no matter how many times I’ve seen this film, it makes me feel almost a deep pitted sickness in my stomach which is hard to pull off. That’s a positive by the way, horror films need to hit hard in order to be effective, and this one knocks that ball out of the park.
What Doesn’t Work: While I could talk about how effective this movie is for quite a while, there are some pretty large flaws that definitely effect this experience as a whole. I mention that the performances are strong, but the dialogue and script needed some help. During the interviews, FBI agents say things that would never come out of an actual agents mouth, some of the victims you see, as hard as they work, sometimes don’t lose themselves in their performances and thus, not appearing as if their lives are in danger at times.
The pacing of the film towards the middle, drives off course and slows down a bit too much, and as a viewer you hit this wall that many can’t recover from, because you’re so used to this steady pace of information, then tape, more interviews, then tape, and it’s when the interviews start getting too long, is when sometimes one may lose interest.
It’s a shame that MGM has no intentions on releasing this film at all, because it’s quite exceptional at keeping up with the mythos of the killer. The images are disturbing, the performances are pretty damn good, and the look and feel of the film is spot on. I only wish it was more tightly edited and the performances felt more genuine. If you’re interested in seeing The Poughkeepsie Tapes, you can find it usually on Youtube or if you’d like, I have a copy if you’re in Missoula. But be warned, it is a difficult viewing and I’m not responsible for any nightmares you have. 7.5 out of 10.
Interested in aliens? Enjoy speculation on the unknown? Have you found yourself asking if extraterrestrial life exists, and if so, has it interacted with us? Well, it is no galaxy far far away, but The Fourth Kind may be right up your alley. Some of you may question the categorization of this movie as “horror”, but I personally feel (at least after my first viewing of the film) that this film has the potential to shake even the most speculative to the core.
Dr. Abigail Tyler (Milla Jovovich in the dramatization, Charlotte Millard in the “real” footage ) is a psychologist that tells the story of her studies and personal experiences in Nome, Alaska during an interview with Chapman University. Mysterious disappearances and deaths (including that of Tyler’s husband) have been occurring in Nome. With the supervision of Dr. Abel Campos (Elias Koteas), a fellow psychologist from Anchorage, Tyler visits with several victims of sleep disturbances that she feels are related to the strange happenings in Nome. However, while working to unravel the mystery, Tyler is forced to cope with her own inner demons when she realizes that she may be dealing with powers beyond her understanding.
Similar to films like The Blair Witch Project (1999), The Fourth Kind uses “actual” footage and recordings to help better portray certain characters and occurrences. It also has an immersing effect on the audience and assists in convincing viewers that the events are true. I think this is extremely effective, especially because it is done in moderation (most of the film is a dramatization, the “real” footage only makes up a partial amount). I found myself actively considering the occurrences in the film much more than I would have had the entire movie been a dramatization. Also, the actors play very believable characters. Jovivich does an incredible job portraying Dr. Tyler as she transforms from a collected scientist into a madness ridden husk of her former self. In combination, the film has clear progression and the viewer isn’t ever left confused or wanting more.
What doesn’t work:
I did mention above that the inclusion of “actual” footage is a big plus for the film. That being said, there are a few sequences where multiple clips are simultaneously played next to multiple dramatizations. These scenes were a bit overwhelming as it feels like there is too much to focus on. I also mentioned that they assisted in convincing the audience. While it is effective overall during the viewing experience, the footage can be quite disturbing and intense to the point that it becomes almost ridiculous. Naturally, after the film I did a bit of research. It doesn’t take much effort to discover that the footage claimed to be actual documentation of events is in fact staged, and actors are used to portray the “real” characters. Aliases galore are also a huge red flag indicating that many of the “real” people are indeed fictitious. The result of all this is a huge detraction from the film’s initial scary factor. Suffice it to say, a large disappointment.
While this sci-fi horror surely is frightening and thought provoking, I personally feel that the misleading claims are a massive flaw. Rest assured, Jovovich and her supporting actors play excellent roles and I would recommend you watch The Fourth Kind once (any more and it really loses appeal) if you are a fan of anything related to close encounters or unexplained events. I wish I could give it a higher score, but unfortunately this film deserves the 6/10 I have given it.