PLOT: A small crew of filmmakers head to a remote countryside in Texas to make a 3D found footage horror movie. Little do they know the cabin they're shooting in is haunted - or has the apparition in their own movie bled into reality?
REVIEW: Before I start in earnest, full disclosure: I did not see this movie in 3D. I know, seems as though that would negate at least part of the novelty of FOUND FOOTAGE 3D, which aims to tease - and honor - the trappings of both found footage and 3D horror movies, but the truth is, the film is only just now barging out of the gates at a handful of horror film festivals, ones that I'm not able to attend, but I was not about to allow that to dissuade me from seeing it early. The good news is, I liked it (for the most part), more than enough to want to check it out in the theater with those damn glasses on when the time comes, just to give it its full due.
At this point, horror has gotten so "meta" that there's nowhere to go but where FOUND FOOTAGE 3D goes, which is meta upon meta. (A character even remarks, "Nice, that's very meta.") If that sounds annoying, thankfully it is not. The film, in the early going, is cute with its exploitation of cliches and horror movie tropes without going too far overboard. That said, once the real horror of the story kicks in, this angle doesn't exactly matter anymore. FOUND FOOTAGE 3D ultimately reveals itself to be all too faithful to the genre it's initially satirizing; it's not too meta to avoid the found footage characteristics we've gotten so used to. It's like SCREAM or BEHIND THE MASK in that sense; it's a send-up of a subgenre while also quite responsibly checking off all the required boxes. Only problem with that, for me, is that I like slasher movies a lot more than I like found footage movies, but if you've got room in your heart for at least one more paranormal POV flick, this one should suffice.
Why would anyone make, or want to see, a found footage movie in 3D? That's the question posed to pompous actor-writer-producer Derek (Carter Roy), whose bright idea it is to travel, along with a small band of very patient friends, to an isolated location and knock out a quick and dirty thriller called SPECTRE OF DEATH, which is basically THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT meets PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. Derek is the kind of guy who only thinks in big picture terms, content not to worry about little things like sensible plotting or character motivation; all he knows is that 3D movies make more money than 2D ones, so their cheap found footage movie might as well utilize the format. The director of SPECTRE OF DEATH, Andrew (Tom Saporito), asks the obvious questions: Why would a couple vacationing in the woods have 3D cameras? Who has ever heard of 3D security cameras? And, the most common issue for a found footage movie, Why haven't they dropped the camera yet? Derek - and FOUND FOOTAGE 3D - never really comes up with a satisfactory answer for this, but the true reason is clear: Don't matter, it's a movie.
SPECTRE OF DEATH is about a husband and wife trying to salvage their relationship by staying in a dilapidated cabin. As it happens, Derek's ex Amy (Alena von Stroheim) is his co-star in the film, and perhaps the entire purpose of making the movie is to salvage their relationship, which is equal parts bitter and antagonistic. Along for the ride is a cute PA (Jessica Perrin), as well as Derek's brother Mark (Chris O'Brien) who is documenting everything for the behind-the-scenes blog, and an ornery sound man (Scott Allen Perry) who is the first to notice their "haunted cabin" is actually probably haunted. Cue the usual shrieks in the forest, the cabinets that spring open on their own, the ghostly phantasms lurking in the shadows, the eventual possession and, of course, the subsequent massacre.
The film is at its best in the first act, when it's prodding the genre knowingly. The best sequence is an ode to the tried and true "old timers tell the kids not to go to that cabin" scenario, while Andrew the director brings up plenty of solid nagging points that will have most horror aficionados nodding in agreement. After a while, FOUND FOOTAGE 3D settles down into an unhurried pace, dragging a bit as we await the really good stuff. To its credit, the film's characters keep us invested because they're engaging and likable - save for Derek, who while the film's most grating character is also its most entertaining. Everyone is good, but Carter Roy gives the film's best performance, laying on ample charisma and making Derek's condescending attitude all the more infuriating.
Despite leaning on the meta aspect, writer-director Steven DeGennaro leans just as heavily on the subgenre's contrived practices: Characters not doing things they obviously should, blink-and-you-miss-it ghost manifestations, jump scares, tiresome bickering amongst the characters, the camera flailing wildly. Whether it means to or not, FOUND FOOTAGE 3D does indeed possess plenty of the found footage genre's most overfamiliar hallmarks. The fact that it's thoroughly self-aware can't alter the fact it's still a found footage movie, one that won't necessarily win over horror fans who've grown quite sick of the trend. Tellingly, the ghostly villain at the center of all the horror is yet another black plume of smoke; not a very compelling form. Again, this may be the film's way of acknowledging its predecessors (Paranormal Activity's murky baddie in particular), but that doesn't make it any more satisfying. If FOUND FOOTAGE is disappointing at all, it's in the way it neglects to add something unique to its haunted house tale beyond the self-referential stuff. (Although a prolonged split-screen sequence in the third act adds a fairly clever, De Palma-esque angle to the inevitable running and screaming bits.)
So, as far as these things go, FOUND FOOTAGE 3D is sufficiently entertaining, and tailor-made for horror movie buffs. There's no real reinventing found footage at this point, I think we can all agree on that, but DeGennaro and company have admirably delivered a satisfactory new title to the mix.