Studio: Momentum Pictures
Director: Mathieu Ratthe
Writer: Mathieu Ratthe
Producer: Mathieu Ratthe
Stars: Mathieu Ratthe, Kimberly Laferriere, Victor Andres Trelles-Turgeon, Juliette Gosselin, Alexandre Nachi, Laurence Dauphinais
Three couples have their woodland cabin getaway interrupted by a mysterious being after a strange meteorite lands nearby.
“The Gracefield Incident” plays like a “found footage” mixtape featuring cuts from “The Blair Witch Project” (review here), “Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County,” and Adam Wingard’s “Phase I Clinical Trials” segment of “V/H/S/2” (review here). “The Blair Witch Project” portion comes from the film’s core setup of six people caught in remote woods with no immediate means of escape. “Alien Abduction” inspires the twist that our heroes are up against an extraterrestrial threat instead of a paranormal one. And the “V/H/S/2” connection involves a curious conceit where the main man records using a camera implanted in an artificial eyeball.
“The Gracefield Incident” opens on married couple Matt and Jess Donovan getting suddenly sideswiped while driving. Matt loses an eye in the accident. Ten months later, Matt constructs a micro-camera for his ocular implant and is soon sending a video feed to a laptop recording everything he sees.
The movie mentions that Matt is a video game editor. I’m not sure what such a job entails exactly. I’m even less sure why someone in that field would need to regularly record his everyday life through a camera installed in his head.
Regardless, this literal first-person frame gives “The Gracefield Incident” a slightly distinctive hook as “found footage.” But the fact that Matt can film through his face adds no narrative value whatsoever.
At the outset, I presumed Matt’s unique tech would play an important part in the plot. Perhaps his signal would be hijacked and manipulated in some nefarious way. Maybe the entity going after everyone would be magnetized to Matt’s biomechanical makeup. Otherwise, why include it at all?
Not only does Matt’s in-eye camera have no bearing on the story, but the uniqueness of his personal perspective essentially becomes inconsequential. A big bite of the footage comes from additional cameras and cellphones recording the action. Matt’s is merely one of several such devices in play, with the main difference being that he has his hands free while filming.
This isn’t the only element eliciting a “wha huh,” though it is the one standing out most. Lesser details that don’t seem fully thought through in purpose include the reason for putting these six people together in the first place.
Matt and Jess are headed to a remote cabin in Gracefield, Quebec with Matt’s best bud Joe and Joe’s gal Liz to celebrate Joe’s 30th birthday. Also along for the trip is Jess’ teenage brother Trey and Trey’s young girlfriend Julie.
People routinely go on skiing or outdoor excursions where cabin occupancy is maxed by as many friends as possible to keep individual costs low. Here however, we are only talking about six people, and Matt’s boss is allowing Matt to use his cabin as a friendly favor. So why would Joe want his best friend’s wife’s little brother around for an intimate birthday party?
On their first night in the cabin, something streaks by in a ball of fire overhead. Matt and Joe’s subsequent search of the surrounding forest uncovers a meteorite, as well as an otherworldly being with unknown, but possibly deadly intentions. Cue several sequences of people chased by shadowy shapes, dragged into darkness, pulled into the air, or panting while running through dimly lit trees.
It isn’t this familiarity from its shaky cam shots or green-tinted night vision that bogs down the thrills. “The Gracefield Incident” is an unfortunate victim of damned if you do, damned if you don’t criticism where it might have been destined to lose either way.
One of many common complaints for “found footage” involves sloppy improv, where lazy filmmakers task an inexperienced cast with making up the movie as they go along, resulting in forced staging that is either unbelievable, boring, or unbelievably boring. “The Gracefield Incident” has a precisely plotted screenplay. Yet it goes in the other direction of being over-prepared to the point where character conversations and camera movements are so rehearsed, they don’t read as real.
Whether it actually is or actually isn’t, the entire movie sounds as though every line of dialogue was recorded in a sound studio. Ambient noise is absent. Words are pristinely audible and oddly inflected. This obvious ADR is hugely distracting, as though the movie was dubbed into English by voices that don’t belong to the faces onscreen. This may even be the case, as there are a fair number of names credited for post-production looping, including a dialogue coach.
More than the minor nits picked about Matt’s eyeball camera or why this sixsome is on holiday together, getting past the film’s suspicious audio is an obstacle to immersion. I can buy into the idea of ocular recording technology. I can even believe the extraterrestrial intrusion angle. Where disbelief is harder to suspend is in accepting these ongoing interactions as sounding authentic when they definitely do not.
Disappointment comes from recognizing the great effort put into the film and regrettably being unable to give it a thumbs up. Filmmaker Mathieu Ratthe is a one-man gang of writer, director, actor, FX artist, and more. A lot is attempted here for very little money, with “The Gracefield Incident” commendably achieving better low-budget CGI and a higher overall concept than many of its “found footage” peers dare even dream of.
But I can’t come up with a good guess regarding to whom I might recommend this movie. Undiscerning alien abduction thriller fans perhaps? When you weigh how unilaterally tired many audiences are of jiggling handheld movies filled with “lost in the woods” fodder, it may not matter that “The Gracefield Incident” is slightly different. Much of it still has a flat flavor, and that is something few viewers are anxious to taste.
Review Score: 40