Studio: Dimension Films
Director: Lars Klevberg
Writer: Blair Butler
Producer: Roy Lee, Chris Bender, Michael Mahoney
Stars: Kathryn Prescott, Grace Zabriskie, Tyler Young, Samantha Logan, Javier Botet, Katie Stevens, Madelaine Petsch, Priscilla Quintana, Davi Santos, Keenan Tracey, Mitch Pileggi
Several high school friends struggle to save their lives when they are targeted for death by a supernaturally cursed camera.
Dimension Films has a bad habit of snapping up horror movies only to leave them languishing on a neglected shelf somewhere in unreleased limbo. Just ask Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, who are still waiting for the North American debut of their 2011 film “Livide” (review here).
Norwegian director Lars Klevberg’s “Polaroid” began serving its sentence in distribution prison in 2015. That’s when Dimension optioned the rights to Klevberg’s award-winning short of the same name with an eye toward turning it into a feature.
One year later, Dimension announced an August 2017 release date and principal photography commenced. In April 2017, “Polaroid” revealed a promotional poster. When the first trailer dropped in June however, the projected opening date had skipped a few months to December.
No one was shocked when Dimension changed the release target yet again. They were surprised that the company actually moved it up for once. By October 2017, Dimension claimed audiences now had only one month to wait, as “Polaroid” would finally hit theaters over Thanksgiving weekend.
The very next day, Hollywood headlines were dominated by news of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Given Dimension’s association with The Weinstein Company, their slate suddenly became riddled with question marks and shrugged shoulders. “Polaroid” became another casualty of the fallout, retargeted for a vague 2018 release assuming the company could recover.
Dimension didn’t recover. With bankruptcy assets subsequently being scavenged, Netflix entered the wheeling and dealing game with a proposal to acquire “Polaroid.” As though cursed by its own camera, “Polaroid” still couldn’t catch a break. One of the film’s financiers filed a motion to block the sale in October 2018 over a matter regarding who really owned the rights. Back into the darkroom went “Polaroid.”
Netflix dropped out of the deal by the time the calendar turned to 2019. Someone else obtained international distribution rights though, and “Polaroid” finally appeared on Amazon, in Germany anyway. Although other regions technically still had an indefinite wait, viewers with a VPN or imported disc could at last see the movie two years after originally planned.
One of the lesser side effects of a situation like this is that these titles assume the burden of unfair expectations. In addition to distribution woes clouding conversations, these films take on faintly mythic status as movies that must have something extraordinary going on given all the hullaballoo.
But as is almost always the case with Dimension’s produced-then-shelved horror titles, these movies are mostly plain and simple PG-13 affairs never aspiring to be anything other than average. That’s certainly the case with “Polaroid,” an unambitious fright flick that’s formulaic from start to finish, yet still evens out as a strictly serviceable supernatural chiller.
The setup starts with high school student Bird Fitcher. She’s an aspiring photographer of course, which becomes convenient for a story centered on a cursed camera. Bird gets some cursory backstory regarding a neck scar she is ashamed of, a father who died five years ago, and an overworked mother struggling for more time with her daughter. “Polaroid” misses the parallel it strains to make here with a dead character introduced later. End credits instead prove the irrelevance of all of this by giving Bird’s mother the “who cares?” name ‘Bird’s Mother.’
Bird’s interchangeable classmates are more crucial to what happens next. Her crush Connor could use an upgrade in the charisma department, coming off as having a beige personality behind an inoffensively handsome face. Teen thrillers usually round out their rosters with the sexpot, jock, nerd, and smart aleck stereotypes. Bird just gets Avery, Devin, Mina, and Kasey, who aren’t any more describable than that.
“Polaroid” puts at least one person too many in Bird’s orbit. The extent of BFF Kasey’s development involves two throwaway lines inferring trouble at home because Kasey is gay. After that, Blair Butler’s straight arrow script struggles with where to put her while everyone else advances the plot. Kasey gets separated from the group when a nurse asks her to hang behind for a checkup, when she goes off alone to do research, and is paused yet again by a simple “wait here.”
Problems pop up when Bird comes into possession of an old Polaroid camera. After snapping a few pics of her friends, Bird spots a shadowy shape moving from one photo to the next. She doesn’t think much of it until her friends start dying according to whose picture hosts the entity. Taking cues from any number of J-horror influences, Bird and her friends find themselves targeted by a curse. The only way to break it is to solve the mystery of the murderous ghost captured inside the camera.
In between its tame death scenes, which are simply redundantly drawn out moments where a character creeps toward a dark corner for a scare, “Polaroid” connects common dots to fill up its runtime. A pointless prologue starts the film with a bang, even though its inclusion doesn’t have any consequence. Exposition dumps come courtesy of a library research montage and arrival of an old woman who fills in leftover blanks before act three can take off. Whatever “Polaroid” does, there’s a 99.9% chance you’ve seen it done before.
“Polaroid” also includes an intriguing twist that somewhat salvages a predictable plot before the conclusion becomes too cliché. Although everything above makes “Polaroid” sound rote, which it is, what we’re really talking about here is a purposefully pedestrian thriller intentionally engineered for mainstream mediocrity. Basically, “Polaroid” is the kind of milquetoast movie that would fare better if it were held against the lower standards of Syfy filler.
But you know what? That’s “fine,” which doubles as a suitable adjective for describing “Polaroid.” It’s no better or worse than any other horror movie made out of attractive actors, routine scripting, and standard spooks a la “The Bye Bye Man” (review here) or “Ouija” (review here). It may play like a TV movie of the week, but “Polaroid” at least possesses the visual polish of a palatably theatrical production.
Review Score: 50