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There has been quite a few found-footage movies of late and some of them rather good, Cloverfield one of my favorites. Most have fed off that post 911 paranoia of the unseen threat and suggested terror and many low budget firs time filmmaker efforts, why I was surprised to see Barry ‘Rain Man’ Levison behind the camera for this one. This is an Oscar winning director messing around with B-List money and actors. This type of films appeal also married with the rise of cellphone cameras and ever intrusive CCTV footage, the all seeing eyes that scared is all to think about threats that never really exist. I loved Cloverfield because it was essentially a media monster attacking the sitcom world of Friends Manhattan that is full of hipsters and coffee drinking white yuppies. Anyone who has been to New York will know it’s very different from that. Essentially though, found footage movies are cheap to make and that’s why we have seen more of them.
Nansi Aluka ... Jaquline
Christopher Denham ... Sam
Stephen Kunken ... Dr. Abrams
Frank Deal ... Mayor Stockman
Kether Donohue ... Donna
Kristen Connolly ... Stephanie
Will Rogers ... Alex
Kimberly Campbell ... Nurse Rebecca
Clayton-Luce ... Charles
Dave Hager ... Fisher Jerry
The film opens with the explanation of the footage we are about to see, confiscated by the U.S. government until the anonymous source leaked the footage for the entire world to see. It centers on Claridge, Maryland, a small costal resort community popular with families. It’s nearly the 4th of July and the place is busy. Then, through various camera phone footage, dashboard cam and CCTV images…. we see things are going pear shaped. Somebody has been bitten in the sea by an unknown predator and another man lies dead in the street. Others start to show up at the local hospital covered in boils and lesions. Rookie local newsreader Jaq (Nansi Aluka) is the only media on the scene, an easy gig reporting on the holiday festivities, she thought, but has to step up and cover the impending chaos and disaster unfolding in front of her eyes.
Out at sea two scientists are alarmed by the levels of toxins they are finding and recording their research. But back on land the local major (Frank Deal) is not prepared to close the beach off to waders and swimmers because of the threat. ‘Toxic events’ have happened before in other towns and resorts and got away with it and so why risk his towns tourism profits the attitude.
Through the chief surgeon (Stephen Krunken) of the Claridge hospital reporting to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta through Skype we learn the unknown contagion is spreading fast and the body count rising. The CDC say they have seen similar but not moving this fast. It appears a juxtaposition of various toxins in the Ocean may be contributing to the rabid threat, the local poultry factory tipping all the chicken poo in the nearby Chesapeake Bay adding to the pollution. It appears all those toxins from various discharges have created something nasty. Through found dashboard cam footage we learn how the guy in the street died and through CCTV we see the fete of many others, but, as yet, no sign of the military and no sign of a corden as Claridge becomes a disaster zone.
I enjoyed it to a point but wasn’t that gripped by it for very long. The mix of comedy and cheesy acting as the disaster unfolds sucks some of the intended horror out of it and with no real twists and a B-Movie enemy it becomes unlikely. Once we learn the threat it falls into standard horror routine and its eco terrorism message somewhat lost. I get that dumping crap in the ocean is bad but you can’t really do a B-Movie around that unless it’s chunkier. Two scientist with white coats is not enough. And, how come there are so many unseen people and recording devices capturing every death, even underwater? The found footage method is definitely stretched to incredulity.
The movie had a big buzz around it before it surfaced and proved popular with critics as heavyweight director Levison tackled found footage with a cute and composite angle. But the audience didn’t go for it with just 43% giving it the thumbs up on rottentomatos compared to a 77% critic’s approval rate there, ending up an advert for cell phones and Go-Pro devices. Its not quite that bad but its all been done before and this would have been better as a tongue-in-cheek horror movie without the silly environmental message, perhaps the rejigged ‘Day of the Dead’ zombie film by George A Romero a better approach.
Man Bites Dog remains the best foreign found footage for me and darkly funny on a sick topic and what that the genre should be. Trollhunter was another that got it bang on as jokes are pinged off the absurd monster situations. The Spanish film Rec remains the most terrifying in the genre and Chronicle impressed as the anti superhero movie whereas Paranormal Activity was too much a parody of The Blair Witch Project that started all this. It’s always worth seeing these films but they need growing uncontrollable threat and tension to work and this doesn’t really have that.
Rottentomatos.com –77% critic’s approval
Metacriitc.com – % critic’s approval
Leonard Maltin Film Year Book –
A small town beside Chesapeake Bay in Maryland becomes the scene for a spate of deaths caused by what seems at first to be an infectious disease. The film features many different “found footage” videos taken by residents, visitors and mainly the film taken by a young intern from a news channel, to try and “spread” the footage and show the world what happened there and how the CDC attempted to cover up many deaths that day.
Donna Thomson – Kether Donohue (Pitch Perfect; Boy Wonder; various Japanese voice-overs most notably Pokemon)
Stephanie – Kristen Connolly (A Cabin in the Woods; The Happening; TV's As the World Turns)
Dr. Jack Abrams – Stephen Kunken (Bamboozled; Taking Woodstock; Extreme Loud & Incredible Close)
Mayor John Stockman – Frank Deal (The Bourne Legacy; Deception; TV's Law & Order: SVU)
Directed by Barry Levinson (Rain Man; Bugsy; Sphere)
Written by Michael Wallach (debut)
==What Did I Think of the Film?==
Firstly I apologise as this review will be quite short as I can assure you I could rant for hours about what is wrong with the film. I said in my preview I didn't hold high hopes for it, but was willing to give it a chance due to Barry Levinson directing it; the inclusion of Sphere in his credits above is to show you that as great a director as he was in the 80s, he has gone so far downhill that his films are unrecognisable! What possessed him to have anything to do with this I have no idea!
I'll concede that the premise is actually quite sound for a simple horror film, unknown infections lead to the death strange behaviour and eventual death of the townsfolk. Fairly normal story-line, totally workable if you get a few basics right... alas that did not happen... firstly, the debuting screenwriter Michael Wallach decided to take things far too far. If you are basing a horror film on something that actually exists then at least try to avoid going to the extreme! Some directors/writers make careers out of making ludicrous story-lines into hilarious and extremely watchable comedy horrors (e.g. Jim Wynorski (Piranhaconda) or Mark Jones (Leprechaun)), but learn your trade first before attempting it with an Oscar winning director and bring it down a further notch by making it with shaky camcorder footage! I will never accept found footage as an entertaining style of film production. It's tedious and although I'm sure it has it's place, it sure as Hell isn't on a cinema screen!
Now to the strange casting; Kristen Connolly, the only name of note having appeared in a few big hits in the last couple of years is wildly underused in a home video with her partner which seems at first to be almost tangential to the main story... eventually she gets a bit more screen time but by then it is far too late! Instead we get hear the story reported by the English language voice of numerous Anime shows (Kether Donohue)! There's a reason she does voice-overs, she can't act; seriously she makes Cameron Diaz's performance in The Box seem like a theatrical masterclass! The cameraman clearly realises this and seems to get in as many close-ups of her rather nice behind as he possibly can into the barely 80 minutes running time. Oh, and when I say barely 80 minutes, that was said ironically as it took me almost two hours to get through this as I needed eight cups of coffee to make it to the end.
That's enough for now, please don't feel that should just take my word for it. Go see it, then come back and write a wee comment telling me your thoughts in the comments section! Don't say I didn't warn you though!
Go and see this film if you want to get out of the rain, I guess, but seriously stand in the rain folks... you might see somebody fall in a puddle or something. At least that will amuse you for half a second longer than the film will succeed in doing!
Don’t bother if you wish to maintain your sanity. There is a lot of shaky camera moments, some totally irrelevant side stories and some terrible acting. There's a reason this has made next to no money anywhere that it has been released. Personally I believe that Barry Levinson should be made to return his Oscar statuette to the Academy and give it to Nick Nolte was unfairly overlooked for Best Supporting Actor last year!
3/10 – This rating may only be for the idea given my degree subject and that the topic of my dissertation involved removing pollutants from the water course via Sewage Treatment Plants! If you have no interest in Environmental Health I expect that you would lose the will to live the second they mention what is actually causing the problem. It's based on something which does actually exist, but taken to the extreme; perhaps if they had used Biochar in their water treatment plant it wouldn't have happened!
That would normally earn 2 Dooyoo hearts, but this really is utter mindrot... 1 heart!
*This review first appeared under my real name on TVandFilmReview.com in February 2013