Director: Steven DeGennaro
Writer: Steven DeGennaro
Producer: Steven DeGennaro, Charles Mulford, Kim Henkel
Stars: Carter Roy, Alena von Stroheim, Chris O’Brien, Tom Saporito, Scott Allen Perry, Jessica Perrin, Scott Weinberg
The cast and crew of the first 3D “found footage” film encounters unexpected horror while shooting in a haunted cabin.
How can a horror film hope to make a splash without drowning in the “found footage” flood already eroding the market? By being the first “found footage” film to shoot in 3D, that’s how.
Making even less sense is shooting an accompanying “Making Of” documentary in 3D too, but the “Spectre of Death” crew knows better than to challenge producer/co-writer/co-star Derek when a batty idea bulb goes off above his head. The film’s director Andrew, sound guy Carl, and behind-the-scenes brother Mark simply surrender with shrugged shoulders as Derek explains it is a simple rewrite for his character to go from amateur documentarian to “3D enthusiast.” Voila. Narrative logic problem solved.
Derek has bigger things to worry about anyway. That bigger thing is his estranged wife Amy. Amy hasn’t been in the personal picture since their marriage took a turn, but because she co-wrote the script, Derek fears legal worries if he doesn’t make good on his promise to double up Amy as his leading lady.
With perky P.A. Lily completing their crew, everyone is off to Gonzales, Texas where “Spectre of Death” has procured a remote cabin for their phoney first-person film of a woodland weekend and a malevolent presence. What Derek neglected to mention is that this cabin is rumored to be cursed by an actual true crime story. And when a shadowy specter begins plaguing their set for real, cast and crew find themselves at the forefront of a different “found footage” film altogether.
From the description above, “Found Footage 3D” might sound like it has the potential to be cartoonishly off kilter in balancing its kook with its kills. It does have that potential, but immense credit goes to the film’s complete cast and director Steven DeGennaro for keeping comedy tuned with subtlety so it doesn’t detract from the drama.
Each shell is a loose archetype, e.g. attractive young ingénue, somewhat slovenly sound guy, or nervously nebbish introvert, yet the actors and actresses fit into their roles with precisely the right pinch of personality. Carter Roy stands out as particularly fantastic with the way he keeps jackass Derek more endearingly entertaining than callously caustic. It’s impressive to see how everyone resists temptations to hit obvious one-notes, instead creating genuine characters that could easily have been simple stereotypes.
The surrounding story they are plugged into could use a swig of that spirit. Where “Found Footage 3D” runs into roadblocks, particularly with that last number and letter, is that it isn’t terribly exciting.
“Found Footage 3D” focuses firmly on deepening each relationship conflict between its core characters. That’s absolutely essential for developing drama, which DeGennaro does well, except such setups don’t service three-dimensional scenes. There are extended sequences of seated conversations, interview interludes, and other interactions without the last half of that word, and it doesn’t take too many of them to turn the tempo to an ambling rhythm when it needs to start running.
Midway into the movie, I forgot I was watching in 3D. Not because it became a naturally seamless part of the presentation, but because there ceased to be anything of import occurring within that third layer. Outside of obligatory first act goofs like water spray, items, and hands making accordion moves toward the lens, “Found Footage 3D” neglects that last part of its title as the movie rolls forward, which wouldn’t be too big of a deal if it wasn’t the whole hook.
Also, I can only speculate as to the cause since I don’t know the technical intricacies behind digitally shooting 3D. Yet whether the projector bulb was too dim or the 3D required additional on set light the production didn’t have, much of the movie is really, really dark. That’s expected to a degree for scenes set in nighttime woods, yet even daytime vehicle interiors have issues with being unable to see something as simple as a face.
(EDIT: The film’s social media account tweeted thanks to the theater’s tech team for a “flawless” screening, adding that “the movie has never looked or sounded better!” So apparently, cinematography holds this particular bag.)
As promised by the premise, a meta aspect exists where the movie criticizes the current state of “found footage” and its associated clichés. A big chunk of that lamentation isn’t incorporated into either plot, however. A lot of it is simply “did you ever notice?” dialogue reflecting the same sentiments shared by everyone fatigued on the first-person format. Satire isn’t simply identifying tropes through a character’s open rant. “Found Footage 3D” makes moves to turn certain ideas on their ear, though it misses opportunities to be as clever as it can.
“Found Footage 3D” is among the better “found footage” films, although it is not among the best. Charming characters carry momentum for miles and a shockingly graphic climax reinvigorates energy for the film’s final breaths. The route taken to get there just isn’t quite creepy enough and could use some more bite behind its bark.
Review Score: 65