The Mirror (2014) eBay Meets Paranormal Activity (Review)

The Mirror screen shot

The Mirror is essentially eBay meets “Paranormal Activity” in an English flat (apartment).  A found footage film that features a haunted mirror bought on Ebay. Three friends team up to film the thing for a million dollar contest.  Things obviously begin to go wrong but at such as slow uninteresting pace that the viewer struggles to maintain interest.

Written and directed by Edward Boase the film starts with the friends excited at the prospect of winning the grand prize and dealing with a haunted object.  The mirror is delivered that they hang it on the wall.

Matt (Joshua Dickinson)  is the first of the friends to be affected but the mirror and his state of mind and behavior changes over time. Jemma (Jemma Dallender) is initially angry at her boyfriends awkward attitude. This changes to concern over time though.  Steve (Nate Fallows) is the cameraman who really wants something to happen so they can win the big prize. 

It begins with Matt sleepwalking and standing in front of the mirror for so long he wets himself. He then continues to sleepwalk through the flat while wearing a GoPro camera strapped to his chest.  Matt refuses to show the footage to either Steve or Jemma.

The Mirror does eventually   speed up but by that time the audience really have lost interest.  (Although the attempted attack on the path is effectively done.) The main problem is that apart from the emphasis on kitchen knives the movie really is Paranormal Activity but in a flat with one bedroom and a box room.

The use of “unknowns” in the key roles was a good move. Sadly events throughout most of the film are far too low-key. Then the  three protagonists spend far too much time bickering and it is distracting and annoying.

In many ways the film can be considered a triumph.  Filmed on a shoestring budget of £20,000 The Mirror was influenced by the true story of two flatmates who salvaged a haunted mirror from a rubbish skip. The men were tormented by bumps in the night and physical attacks, in the forms of scratches.

The story inspired Edward Boase but unfortunately, presumably due to the low budget, opted for the found footage format.

(It should be mentioned that on IMDb someone mentions the use of pepper spray or “OC” spray as a deterrent in one scene. These type of defense sprays are illegal in the United Kingdom.   The spray  used was would most likely have been deodorant or body spray.)

The Mirror does end on a “high” note but uses subtitles far too similar to Paranormal Activity and loses its edge as a result.  The effects, for such a low budget feature, are pretty impressive.  Sadly the slow pace and the meandering storyline take away from the effectiveness of the ending.

This is Ed Boase’s second feature length film and in terms of putting the whole thing together proves that this is a director to keep an eye on.  Hopefully his next inspired film will be a bit faster on the uptake.

This low/no budget horror film is a 3 star film. It earns a higher rating due to the performances and the fact that it does pick up at the end. Streaming on Netflix at the moment, fans of found footage may have a look.

 

Area 51 (2015) Six Years Too Late

Freon suited and booted in Area 51 Directed and co-written by Oren Peli (Christopher Denham was the other writer on the film) and starring a cast of unknowns, Area 51 began production in 2009 and took until 2015 to be released in a limited run that netted Peli and the studios an abysmal $7K.  

For what ever reason this “found footage” film from Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli lived in purgatory until this year. Sadly, the film could have worked much better with a release date nearer the time of PA. By this point and time “found footage” films have worn out their welcome.

Ignoring the blatant product placement at the start of the film, where the camera moves in for a close up of the Sony personal cams to be worn by the group’s members. (And ignoring that fact that these particular models have most likely been replaced by smaller better versions six years later.) The story of a group of UFO enthusiasts who outsmart Area 51 security to find some amazing, and deadly, secrets underground entertains, but just barely.

Perhaps the biggest let down of the film is the decision to keep any real action from making an appearance till the back end of the feature. Using two-thirds of the film as buildup just does not work and the action, when it does make an appearance is not enough to make this a great experience.

The storyline is interesting enough and the scenes where the group talk to UFO experts and then break into an Area 51 employee’s house are good. The breaking and entering set piece keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat, but sadly, there are not enough of these tense moments.

When the small group finally get to their objective, there are some interesting things waiting for them. Unfortunately, even the decision to not show the alien who chases the young people through the labyrinth does not really up the fear ante.

The news is not all bad. Peli manages to make this film feel like a documentary. The interviews at the beginning, the real-life “experts” and the “interviews” the young men do with the “locals” at the Little A’Le’Inn all go toward making this feel like a fly-on-the-wall feature. This works well, but is not enough to compensate for the worn out sub-genre of found footage horror.

With Peli’s brain-child, and mega-hit, Paranormal Activity spawning a slew of sequels that will, apparently, be re-created and added to till the end of time, the scares have been overdone in those films. Even the director’s “homage” to the first film via Jelena Nik (as Jelena) standing stock still in an trance is more annoying than amusing or clever.

The actors all do well in their appointed roles; Reid Warner, Darren Bragg, and Ben Rovner all convince us as the young men who get caught up in their obsession. Timing, as they say, is everything however and as mentioned previously had this film been released back in 2009 it might have found an audience.

The scares and the manner of delivery feels six years old. Outdated, outmoded, perhaps this one was doomed to VoD and the DVD bargain basement bin from the start. Area 51 suffers from its delayed release and is now nothing more than a curiosity and a pale reflection of other films that did it better (think V/H/S).

Area 51 is a 2.5 out of 5 stars and is on US Netflix at the moment. Worth a look but most assuredly not worth two. Horror fans may get a little more out of the viewing but this could well signal the death of found footage horror films…

Please let it be so.

Grave Encounters 2 Better the Second Time Around

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I watched the previous Vicious Bros film, Grave Encounters (2011) which was also written and directed by the two men. I enjoyed the film, apart from a few annoying moments and when I reviewed it, I was pretty fair in my assessment. It was a good film, but nothing to write home about. It was a great first effort.

Since I hadn’t turned cartwheels after seeing the first one, I somewhat hesitantly decided to watch Grave Encounters 2. It follows the first film in the “found footage” genre that is being done to death, but, the film was helmed by  John Poliquin and not the Vicious Bros. They wrote the second film was well, but decided to leave their involvement  to writing it and doing a humorous cameo.

This is director Poliquin’s first feature length directorial effort and he does a good job. The  overall pacing of the film is good, with the odd interlude of meandering action that causes it to lag in places. The main protagonists are an eclectic bunch of students, one of which wants to be the Sam Raimi. (In fact their film that they are making at the beginning of the movie really made me think of Raimi’s Evil Dead.)

The cast was full of “unknowns” or at least they were unknown to me, with the exception of the lead actor from the first film and the “smarmy” producer who was also in the first film.

The sophistication of the scares were better in this sequel and I can honestly hold my hand over my heart and say that it was a lot better than the first one. For a start, the screaming ninny in the first film, that I wanted to kill, was obviously absent in the sequel and none of the students felt the need to screech non-stop at the scary things that were happening.

My only real complaint was going to be about the horrible acting from the students in the little “film within a film” until I saw a real student film to review where the actors were so bad, that the “bad acting” in Grave Encounters actually looked quite good in comparison.

Grave Encounters 2 was a delightful find and it proved that the Vicious Brothers are better the second time around with a different director. Enjoyable fun and the script gives another dig at scary movies and the found footage genre.  A definite 3.5 out of 5 stars with a somewhat confusing plot that doesn’t really spoil the overall film.

An improvement on the first one.

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V/H/S (2012) Fantastic Found Tape Fear

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I had thought that I was pretty much burnt out on “found footage” films. But my excitement levels rose after this film got into its second vignette  out of the six “mini” films on offer here.

Although the film really falls into the anthology genre, a few horror films do this really well but the ones who can really pull if off are all Asian film makers, who have yet to make an anthology film that could be classed as a stinker.

This anthology of “found” footage horror films had been written and directed by some of the most impressive new names in horror today:  Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, and the directing quartet known as Radio Silence.

The film opened January 2012 at the  2012 Sundance Film Festival  and was then  released on demand on August 31, 2012. V/H/S then had a limited  theatrical premiere in the United States on October 5, 2012, in the UK on January 18, 2013, and in Argentina on February 7, 2013.

I will not go into any of the films except for the one that ties all the segments together. A group of young men are hired to steal a video tape from a house. They accept the job and find that the house is full of video tapes, video players and a dead man. As the film moves forward, the action keeps cutting back to the room with the dead (?) man and all those tape players.

Tapes are put into a player and watched, by both one of the young men and us. The dead body on the chair behind the film’s video watching character appears and disappears. It is a brilliant way to segue the different films together in a cohesive manner.

Each of the six films are entertaining. Each one has a separate theme and they all feature a type of almost “guerrilla” film making. The other thing that the films all have in common, is that they don’t don’t suffer from what I like the call, “The Cloverfield Effect.”

In the 2008 film, Cloverfield, when the character in the film who was “filming” the events put the camera down, even in a stressful or scary situation, the camera was always right side up and always in focus. The found films in the anthology don’t do that. Cameras seemingly wind up where they, “wind up,” if you get my meaning. It doesn’t feel like a “movie” so much as actual found footage.

The news that a sequel is due out this year, actually has me quite excited. As I said above, I thought I was burnt out on this particular genre, but apparently,  a well made “found footage” film can still get me excited.

This is a real 5 out of 5 stars as all the stories were original and in most cases, I couldn’t see the twist coming. Of course I might be too obtuse, but as a rule, I can usually see the twist a mile away. Great little film here that won’t disappoint you.

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