Studio: Screen Gems
Director: Sean Carter
Writer: Joseph Dembner
Producer: Alex Heineman, Andrew Rona, Nicolas Chartier, Craig J. Flores
Stars: Bella Thorne, Natalie Martinez, Chandler Riggs, Leigh Whannell, Ioan Gruffudd, James Connor, Maya Eshet, Matthew Willig, Jared Abrahamson
Masked intruders trap and torment a family in their home while broadcasting the entire ordeal through dozens of hidden cameras.
The movie doesn’t have the same handheld shakiness or excessive night vision commonly seen in haunted asylum or cursed woods investigations, but home invasion thriller “Keep Watching” essentially uses a “found footage” frame. Although it may not look like a typical “found footage” film, never fear. The fetid flick still recycles plenty of boring beats to be a derivatively disposable horror movie all the same.
Authorities are baffled. Masked murderers have been infiltrating suburban homes, planting numerous hidden cameras, and live-streaming the torture of innocent families to entertain online audiences who don’t know what they are watching is real.
The killers’ latest target is the family of teenager Jamie Miller. Before tonight, Jamie’s biggest problems involved an unplanned pregnancy, a disliked new stepmom, and ongoing trauma stemming from the death of her mother. Now, Jamie and her family must contend with true terror when unknown intruders turn their home into a prison before it becomes a slaughterhouse.
Slight cinematic flair supersedes believability in this simple and simply absurd setup. Countless cameras are placed in preposterous positions such as behind a microwave’s button panel, beneath a sink drain, on a rotating spice rack, inside an LED alarm clock display, or on a ceiling fan blade. These aren’t places killers would consider for maximum voyeurism. These are places a director and cinematographer choose to make visually interesting camera angles.
One exterior camera perfectly positions three trashcans in the foreground for when Chandler Riggs takes out the garbage. Another attaches itself to a flipping foosball figure for a 10-second game between Riggs and Leigh Whannell. What kind of serial murderers preplan for this possibility?
A majority of discomfort induced comes from vague inappropriateness as opposed to actual horror. I’m sure some viewers may enjoy the tease of watching Bella Thorne undress for a bath through a spycam. Keep in mind Thorne was turning 16 when “Keep Watching” began filming as “Home Invasion” way back in 2013. Suddenly such a scene only seems provocative if you’re a Subway pitchman.
Almost as uncomfortable: the film’s odd obsession with Natalie Martinez playing a woman lusted after by both her brother-in-law and preteen stepson. As her husband’s brother, Leigh Whannell remarks, “you’re too hot for this guy!” in reference to his sibling. As her stepson, Chandler Riggs snaps a picture of Martinez bending over and captions it “my stepmom’s hot!” on social media. “Keep Watching” feels skeezy, not scary.
Then again, feeling anything at all may be preferable to the nothing felt while watching the rest of the movie. So much of the first act features irrelevant fluff. Dad owes some sort of debt to a mystery man. Dad’s brother was just kicked out by his wife (how timely that he arrives on the same night multiple murders are planned for broadcast). Jamie doesn’t know how to tell her boyfriend about her pregnancy. None of these details ever matter. They are merely noise meant to pad exposition before the home invasion finally happens.
When it does happen, action initially limits itself to the usual unknown intruder shenanigans. Items like a phone charger mysteriously go missing, causing Jamie to blame her brother. Other antics inspire similar discord among family members.
The underlying concept isn’t awful, even though home invasion scenarios are almost as overused in horror as “found footage.” However, the conceit never fulfills its job of creating an immersive illusion like it is supposed to. “Keep Watching” feels staged from the start.
Situational character exchanges are functionally useless. After witnessing a masked intruder suffocating one of their own with a plastic bag, three family members race upstairs to barricade themselves in a bedroom. With only a few seconds having elapsed, and the sound of approaching footsteps coming from the staircase, one of them whispers, “is it okay?” Other dumb dialogue gems include evergreen staples such as “who are you,” “why are you doing this,” and “leave us alone!”
“Keep Watching” provides further proof that with the exceptions of Maury/Bustillo joints, which are in unusual circumstances of their own, nearly nothing good ever comes when a finished film sits for four years before a wide release. After “Amityville: The Awakening” (review here) and now this, Bella Thorne needs just one more long-delayed dud to dethrone Mischa Barton as the queen of forgettable thrillers dumped to home video.
“Keep Watching” has a premise, but no real plot. The difference between the two is that the latter includes a story, and “Keep Watching” does not. The movie’s scant substance makes me retroactively appreciate Adam Mason’s “Hangman” (review here), a “found footage” film featuring a similar concept, as the more effective effort. Though if one really wants “found footage” frights from a home-invading serial killer, seek out “The Poughkeepsie Tapes” instead (review here).
Review Score: 25