Studio: R Squared Films
Director: Edward Payson
Writer: Edward Payson, Darnell J. Taylor
Producer: Edward Payson
Stars: Steven Wu, Karrie Whitfield, Maria Olsen, Becky T. Bordo, Chad Addison, Stu Berg
Interviews, video diaries, and documentary footage chronicle the crimes of teenage serial killer Collin Mason.
From the homemade tapes of the Columbine killers to the YouTube ravings of the Santa Barbara shooter, a sad reality in this modern age of easily accessible cameras and web hosts is that we know what video diaries of a teenage psychopath look like. And what we know is that they do not look like “The Cohasset Snuff Film,” a “found footage” mockumentary about fictional high school serial killer Collin Mason.
Despite provocative cover art and potentially controversial subject matter, “The Cohasset Snuff Film” is not as shamelessly exploitive as it initially appears. Dialogue is another story, but the basic structure of the script is more or less plotted sensibly. However, discussing the film’s pros and cons is largely irrelevant because a movie like this hinges on one key element above all else: its lead character. And in that regard, “The Cohasset Snuff Film” misfires a cripplingly limp dud.
Pulling a “Blair Witch Project” marketing maneuver, “The Cohasset Snuff Film” goes the full mile in masquerading as an authentic documentary based on actual events. It goes so far in fact, that its end credits do not provide the cast members’ real names, merely listing the characters next to the words “Himself” or “Herself.” This isn’t fooling anyone though, and instead gives a cynic ammunition to suspect that those involved with the project might prefer to hide their identities.
I mention this because it required an additional Google search or two to dig up the name of the person who plays Collin Mason. That actor is Stephen Wu. I usually avoid calling out anyone by name, as I’d rather not point a finger or smear anyone forging a career path, particularly while at a relatively young age. But since “The Cohasset Snuff Film” relies so heavily on its star in order to succeed, it simply has to be said: Wu is thoroughly unconvincing, and that is the politest way to phrase it.
Collin Mason is not a chill-inducing sociopath inspiring fear, let alone insight into a dangerous mind. Collin Mason is a laughable buffoon so absurdly portrayed that he might as well twirl a Snidely Whiplash mustache. So phony is his character, and so hammy is the performance, that “The Cohasset Snuff Film” starts in a bottomless pit of unbelievability from which it is impossible to escape.
Either through improv or through a screenplay that wants him to be a poor imitation of Freddy Kruger, Collin’s kills are accompanied by ridiculous one-liners like, “don’t worry about calling AAA b*tch – shoulda called 911!” and, “is that your final answer, or are you more of a weakest link?” Am I honestly expected to take the tone seriously or to be amused with scripting like this?
Some of the adult actors, on the other hand, are reasonably competent. A priest and a psychiatrist fill their roles well, with the best portrayal coming from a man playing an innocent bystander. (I’m sorry I cannot credit these gentlemen appropriately, but their own movie wants to keep who they are a secret.) The bystander evokes genuine emotion while recounting what it means to be a hero. Ironically though, it comes from him being choked up about a Vietnam-related recollection, which doesn’t have anything to do with what is happening in the movie itself.
The older, and presumably more experienced, actors improve in their individual shots when the camera lingers on their emotional responses. This suggests a problem with the direction. The longer they are allowed to develop these moments, the more they fall back on habitual skills that come from a practiced acting background. They are taking these cues from themselves as they feel out their roles. That the younger actors are so uneven suggests that director Edward Payson was unable to measure all of the performances equally and to properly tune everyone to the same frequency.
Anyone attracted to the movie because of its cover art, or turned off for the same reason, should know that it is in truth far tamer than that gruesome image of a smashed human head wants anyone to believe. Only one of Collin’s murders occurs onscreen, and it is a mostly unremarkable rope strangulation.
The film’s real content is actually fraught with several opportunities for relevant commentary, but “The Cohasset Snuff Film” doesn’t know how to make these topics meaningful. The movie opens with a true crime memorabilia collector fawning over the artistic works of Charles Manson and John Wayne Gacy. A truly thought-provoking film might have something to say about glamorizing mass murderers as pop icons. Another such moment comes when a restaurant capitalizes on the infamy of the Collin Mason crimes by specifically catering to the killer’s “fans.” Again, instead of examining strange fascinations with morbidity, these are merely empty frames for a straightforward story.
It doesn’t help that the movie is technically sloppy. Collin is supposed to be an aspiring filmmaker and is also a cameraman for his high school’s video yearbook. Yet he cannot hold a camera steady, keep things in focus, properly frame a shot, or photograph anyone’s face without the lens practically touching the person’s nose.
Collin isn’t the only one who doesn’t know what he is doing, either. “The Cohasset Snuff Film” is meant to be a realistic documentary, although for some reason, interview segment sound is picked up with the camera microphone rather than giving anyone a lavalier. This means plenty of echoes and hard-to-hear voices from a production forgetful of rudimentary filmmaking basics.
Normally, my final thoughts are reserved for a summation of my overall opinion on the film at hand, with a positive word included regarding what may have been done well, so as to not come down completely hard on a small scope production. However, “The Cohasset Snuff Film” officially erases any goodwill I might have otherwise mustered by proving itself to be another low-budget indie putting effort into shill reviews and ballot stuffing that should have been expended on making a quality motion picture instead.
On IMDB at the time of this writing, nearly 62% of all user ratings for “The Cohasset Snuff Film” score the film as a perfect ten. To put that into perspective, only 34% of all user ratings award “Citizen Kane” with the same perfect score. This means that according to those who have rated these two films on IMDB, we are meant to believe that more people in the audience for “The Cohasset Snuff Film” equate it to being the greatest movie of all time than people do the actual greatest movie of all time.
Yeah, nothing insulting about that. Considering the bad taste left in my mouth by any film that would stoop to a tactic that is useless anyhow, it is easiest to just close on a one-word reaction of how I feel about the facts included in the above paragraph: Lame.
Review Score: 40