Studio: Signature Entertainment
Director: Mitchell Altieri
Writer: The Butcher Brothers, Cory Knauf
Producer: Alejandro Salomon, Frederick Cipoletti, Cory Knauf, Phil Flores
Stars: Monty Geer, Michael Hudson, Hassan Mahmoud, Evan Crooks, Leore Hayon, Alisa Torres, Kristina Emerson, Jenna Haze, Steven Flores
Seven teenagers investigate an abandoned house on an Indian reservation reportedly haunted by the ghost of a murderous cult leader.
I swear that I went into this movie with open-minded optimism and blank slate expectations. Not only am I part of a seemingly rare breed of film fan not sick to death of “found footage,” I eagerly seek out any and all such movies employing the format. Another subgenre of particular fascination is doomsday cults, whether fictional or nonfictional. If “Raised by Wolves,” a “found footage” film featuring teens trespassing on the haunted grounds of a 1970’s sex/death cult, should directly appeal to any individual’s personal preferences in fright flick entertainment, it should be me.
A 75-minute runtime made the movie additionally attractive as a low-risk investment in what should have been a quick and easy hit of horror. So before I even pressed play, virtually every external element was operating in the film’s favor to prime me for a favorable predisposition.
Believe me when I say then, that “Raised by Wolves” does everything in its power to sour that goodwill by completing a dizzying crash-and-burn tailspin well before climbing over the first act exposition hump. And the motivations powering that nosedive make little sense either in front of the camera or behind it.
What do you find to be most obnoxious about “found footage?” Annoying high-schoolers with unlikable personalities? Traipsing through a dilapidated building? Green-tinted night vision? How about shrill shouting, blender-like camera movements, and plenty of opportunities to ask questions such as, “who exactly found this footage, edited it, and scored in a music track?” Well, “Raised by Wolves” has all of this and then some.
Seven angst-overdosed teenagers take a break from joint rolling, fist fighting, and peeving police to seek out a certain empty pool where they can skateboard. Said pool happens to be on the former site of cult leader Ernest Plainsong’s hippie commune. Believing themselves to be divine emissaries on a God-given assignment to eradicate demons in human form, Plainsong’s followers went on a murderous rampage in 1973 before turning on each other in a massacre that left Jenna Haze as the sole survivor.
That is the sum total of the plot. Some teens want to skateboard, and the site of a four-decade-old bloodbath is the best place to do it. Of course, the restless ghosts of Plainsong and his groupies still linger around the premises, setting the stage for a 21st century killing spree aimed at cutting down the new kids one at a time.
“Raised by Wolves,” which has nothing to do with wolves by the way, sets up a mildly intriguing backstory about the cult’s misguided mission to murder evil spirits disguised as humans. With Indian reservation culture flavoring the setting, the film has several unique avenues to explore, yet leaves all of them populated purely by tumbleweeds and cricket chirps.
No real reason is given as to why these ghosts exist, what they want with their teen victims, or anything beyond putting a loose premise in play to excuse some rote paranormal activity. Sex cults, doomsday prophecies, Native American heritage… none of it matters a whit once the mayhem commences and the film backslides into a standard string of senseless slaughter. None of it is scary, and all of it is boring.
It’s almost unbelievable that these are the same Butcher Brothers with the experience of a half-dozen features notching their bedpost. The technical side of the production reeks of slapdash amateurism. Blood on the walls looks like it was supplied by Sherwin-Williams. Phony video static and a lousy film scratch filter constitute the extent of digitally enhanced illusions. ADR dialogue looping is made more conspicuous by an absence of ambient noise, as though whoever designed the sound has no concept of crafting realistic audio in post-production.
“Raised by Wolves” also has Alzheimer’s when it comes to remembering its “found footage” frame. Somehow, the audience can see when someone watches rewound recordings. Batteries conveniently die at perfectly-timed climactic moments. Action sequences nonsensically utilize jump cuts for no reason other than to hide staged stunts. No teenage cameraman would ever shoot or edit a friend’s fistfight in such a choppy manner.
I was lukewarm on the Butcher Brothers’ previous cult-related film “Holy Ghost People” (review here), although I felt they demonstrated filmmaking talent that was some indeterminate time away from turning fully ripe. “Raised by Wolves” is a wide step backwards for the team’s creative evolution. This movie is a minimal effort lob at the hoop demonstrating an out-of-touch sensibility for what horror audiences want from contemporary entertainment.
Review Score: 20