Studio: Vimeo VMD
Director: Justin Cole
Writer: Justin Cole
Producer: Tiffany Baxter
Four friends turn on each other in panic when a young socialite dies of a drug overdose while in their company.
Remember when the 1985 movie “Clue” released with three different endings? An even better idea would be to release a film with several different scenes altogether without letting the public know that multiple versions existed. Imagine the water cooler confusion come Monday morning if someone said, “I can’t believe the lawyer was killed at the end,” only to be met with the response, “what are you talking about? The lawyer took off to Vegas with the showgirl!” Then a third person adds, “showgirl? There wasn’t any showgirl! Are you sure you saw the same movie?”
The point of that rambling anecdote is that movies do not have that kind of real-world effect to live on in the public consciousness once the runtime expires. There are occasions when movies truly are events, but most times, they are disposable entertainment and are treated as such. Which is why people arrive late to the theater and check phones or refill popcorn instead of keeping their eyes on the screen. The cinema is rarely a genuine experience demanding a full investment of attention.
This is the reason why director Justin Cole should be admired for what he set out to accomplish with “The Upper Footage.” The behind-the-scenes story is long, and covered in depth at more than one elsewhere. The short version is that Cole sought to duplicate the success of “The Blair Witch” marketing campaign with an explosion of media hype as performance art. That hype successively convinced several outlets to tout the film as authentic footage of a New York socialite dying on camera. Who was behind the pixilated face? What was the Hollywood connection? No wonder “Entertainment Tonight” competed with online gossip columns to break the potentially big story in case it turned out to be real.
With mainstream coverage and rumors involving names like Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus, Quentin Tarantino, and Andie MacDowell’s daughter Rainey Qualley, “The Upper Footage” built an awareness few independent films could even dream of achieving. It also put the film in a large hole without a shovel as it now had to deliver a movie that could meet high anticipation and demanding expectations.
“The Upper Footage” is more a victim of its own premise rather than the critical pressures of viral marketing success. The plot involves a circle of four New York City socialites whose biggest problem in life is deciding which club to hit first on a Friday night. Single girl “Jackie Spearo” is roped into the festivities one evening and too many bumps of coke lead to her corpse lying next to a toilet. Now, faux pseudo-celebrities Blake Pennington, Devon Petrovsky, Will Erixon, and Taylor Greene are forced to rack their drug-addled brains for a way to escape their own culpability in Jackie’s demise.
The problem for “The Upper Footage” is that it has no chance to thrill as suspense or to engage as a character study because its characters are thoroughly obnoxious by design. If this is what a typical socialite lifestyle is like, Paris Hilton and her friends can keep it. Empty, arrogant, and insufferable, only a like-minded personality would have any desire to spend one second sipping martinis in the back of a limo with this lot. This is how the story intends to depict them, but it hurts the film’s goals for having an emotional impact on the audience.
Devon and Blake lead the list of unlikable personas by finding a way to insult every ethnic group imaginable including Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, in addition to homosexuals and the mentally handicapped. Clearly, they have no regard for anyone except themselves. So when they end up with a dead body in their laps, it is impossible to feel sympathy, foreboding, or anything other than, “this is what you get.”
As should be expected, having an overdose turn the night on a dime leads to flared tempers, heated arguments, and physical confrontations while the friends panic over what to do next. If the film cannot work as a suspense thriller, then it could fall back on being an examination of human behavior. In different circumstances, the trauma of an event this sudden would bring out true colors and show people to be who they really are in the face of such tragedy. Except these four friends are already depicted from minute one to be shallow and charmless. There is no alternative for them to develop into as the tone progresses on a singular note of despicable people behaving despicably.
Not helping matters is that the film is visually uninteresting. The New York City skyline should be pretty and the locations should be glamorous. Instead, scenes are muddily dark and out of focus. There is realism to how the camera is not centered on the action and has an amateur handheld look, but it is unbalanced with entertainment value with so much time spent staring literally at blackness or some nondescript image.
“The Upper Footage” scores an A+ for the fourth wall fiction and real-life friction surrounding the film’s production. And “The Upper Footage” is to be commended for trying something bold with the plot and with the format. At the very least, the movie is “found footage” that has neither a haunted asylum as its setting nor the word “Paranormal” in its title. The content may not have had a prayer of equaling the hype anyway. Regardless, the movie itself ends up being 90 minutes spent in such uncomfortable company that the audience wants to be out of the situation faster than the characters do.
Review Score: 60