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Reviewed by: Ammon Gilbert

Directed by: Michael A. Nickles

Christian Slater
Ambyr Childers
Toby Hemingway
Johnny Pacar

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What's it about
A high school kid doing a report on a real crime event from his town's past unknowingly unleashes an evil spirit through the world of video cameras. Said evil spirit begins to take out the kid's friends one by one, until its larger evil agenda is fully revealed.
Is it good movie?
One of the biggest subjects in horror over the last 30 years is technology horror—people are afraid of the unknown and for some, the ever-escalating rise of technology is too fast, and presents too many unknown possibilities that it’s straight-up terrifying for them. So filmmakers have exploited this fact for film after film using technology as the focus of all its terror. Video cameras have been a big subject of this sub-genre, kick-starting with David Cronenberg’s VIDEODROME, and it hasn’t stopped since. PLAYBACK is the latest entry in the “technology is evil” film series, but it handles it with some originality, making it feel fresh rather than played out and tired.

The technology here, of course, is video cameras and video tape, a technology that’s been around for decades, but one that continues to be interlaced into our daily lives, thus still making it a big issue for some people. Playing off the old superstition that, when taking a picture of someone, the camera is stealing a bit of their soul in the process, PLAYBACK doesn’t villainies video, but rather has evil use the technology for its own evil purposes—by sucking ones soul out through the TV by use of cameras, while simultaneously posses them with evil spirits. Sounds complicated, right? Yes well, it is and it isn’t—and that’s the thing about PLAYBACK: the concept seems very high-level and complicated, but when playing it out, it’s actually quite straight-forward. It’s just hard to easily describe/explain it to someone.

Beyond the concept though, is your typical post-SCREAM group of high school kids making their very own “found footage” movie, and while they don’t talk about other found footage flicks with knowledge (no PARANORMAL ACTIVITY name dropping here), the kids are pretty self-aware and know their shit about movies (the main dude even works at a video store). For the most part, the main group of kids are likable enough, even if they look more like college students than high school students, but again… this is a horror flick with high school kids, so of course they’re going to look hella older than they’re supposed to.

Christian Slater is all up in the box art and marketing for this movie, but really he’s such a minor character that he only just deserves an “and” credit and nothing more. He plays a cop who’s also a pedophile of sorts, which means he’s a dirt bag on more than one level, and yet… the film sort of tries to make him likable for some reason, which was odd. He gets off on peeping at naked high school girls, but he’s a cop, so his moral compass should be above that… but it’s not. Weird. That said, Slater gives a pretty solid performance here, so no complaints on that end.

And that’s the biggest take home message about PLAYBACK: it delivers what it sets out to do, but doesn’t go above and beyond. It’s very much so an average little horror/thriller, and while it lags a bit in the middle, once it revs up it goes strong through the end. The concept is cool and using the video tape as a device to transport evil from one person to another uses the technology in a way that’s similar to that of VIDEODROME in a way, but not (and thankfully, it’s not a complete rip-off of shite like THE RING, either). At the same time, the scares are just so-so, and the story itself is just OK. There is, however, a ton of blood when there needs to be, delivering some solid blood splatter with each death, which I totally wasn’t expecting.

And there’s even some found footage sequences that actually worked quite well in the confides of the fact that it’s still an actual real movie (i.e., not a found footage movie). I didn’t always care for the splicing of video tape static, which gets loud and obnoxious at the end, but the film’s opening found footage sequence had some rather terrifying moments, and for that I give it props.

Video / Audio
Video: The film's 1.85:1 widescreen looked pretty damn sharp--even the video tape stuff looked really solid. Not quite like a big budget Hollywood flick, but like some time went into polishing it to look that way.

Audio: The sound is mixed in 5.1 Dolby Digital, and it delivers what you'd expect--no more, no less.

The Extras
Behind the Scenes: As suggested, this little featurette showcases a bunch of behind the scenes footage of the filming of the PLAYBACK, spliced with the final cut versions of the finished movie. In a way, it's like being on a set visit of sorts, so in that aspect, it's kind of cool. But nothing special or all that spectacular.

Photo Gallery: Once again, captain obvious on the extra features here, this one features 71 images (behind the scenes and otherwise) from the making of PLAYBACK as well as official publicity stills.

HDNET: A Look at Playback: A good old fashioned run-of-the-mill making-of featurette, with interviews with the director and a bunch of clips from the film--almost like an extended trailer with the director's narrative.

Trailers: You get the trailer for PLAYBACK, as well as a bunch of other flicks coming from Magnolia Home Entertainment.

Last Call
PLAYBACK is a pretty solid horror/thriller that delivers the goods without going above and beyond what it sets out to do. It’s not a great movie, it’s not a bad movie, it’s just mostly there and it held my attention for the entire 98 minutes. I really dug the use of technology as a device for all the shit that goes down, and for once it felt like an original idea and concept, and not just a rip-off of whatever’s hot right now.
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