found footage

Wolf House

Homo homini lupus est.* Why, oh why, do filmmakers have to subject us to herky-jerky terrible found footage movies like Wolf House? Well for starters, they’re cheap as heck to produce. And storyboarding them isn’t as rigorous.

Found footage/documentary-style films are highly polarizing. After all, the notion that people’s lives are so unimaginably compelling that every single second of their existence absolutely has to be documented by some idiot…well, that’s a tough sell, even to the most battle-tested reviewer who’s sick to his eye teeth of up-nostril shots.

And that’s not to say the odd found footage film isn’t decent. It’s a bit like the occasional salmon that survives a spawning run. When it comes to Wild Eye releases in particular, Head Cases: Serial Killers in the Delaware Valley is an adroit, if flawed, piece of work and worth a watch.

Wolf House, though, is a slop bucket of genre cliches: the “put that damn camera down!;” one character doing a mock David Attenborough wilderness voice-over; the night vision view that focuses on friends and what might be lurking in the dark; and of course, a guy so worried about his pending demise that he records a message he thinks will be viewed posthumously (subjecting the poor detectives to hours of solipsistic garbage and dizzying camerawork).

The Wolf House narrative is simple. Friends go missing in Niagara County, Upstate New York. And this is their story.

The setup is “cabin in the woods.”

Everything’s going splendidly, and one of the guys, who looks like a linebacker Travis Bickle, proposes to his girlfriend who’s described as a “real looker.”

One morning he shoots a creature that’s not a bear but what could either be a Sasquatch or “the last surviving Bigfoot.” And then things go predictably haywire.

There are doubled up references to Harry and the Hendersons as well as to Steven Spielberg (jeez, if your conceit is that the guy obsessively documenting the proceedings is a budding filmmaker, at least craft a few decent camera shots!).

Also, Wolf House uses split screen, but Annie Hall this ain’t. In fact, it’s the only time where there’s respite from motion sickness. And even THEN it’s a useless conceit, as the split screen is for, get this, a TRANSCRIPT of a 911 call. “Caller, what’s your emergency?” “Another bargain basement turd of a found footage film. Send help immediately!”

*1/2 (out of 5)

*Latin for “Man is a wolf to man…”

Capture Kill Release

capture_kill_release_movieCapture Kill Release is manipulative as hell. But in the best possible way.

Every fright box is systematically checked off to produce something that rises above its found footage conceit.

From the city that brought you the Ken and Barbie Killers, Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, comes this tale of Toronto lovebirds looking to lose their “kill virginity.”

Jennifer and Farhang do this by first going about the banal business of choosing who to snuff out, striking off from their list gays (don’t want it to look like a hate crime), the young (don’t want to look like a pervert), the old (that’s just wrong), the disabled (ditto)…

There’s gruesome gallows humor aplenty as they whittle away their choices before settling on a victim, a local vagrant who is far from his first choice, and not exactly hers either. (Jennifer has her sights set on a loudmouth stockbroker-philanderer type, but lets impatience get the best of her.)

True to life, there’s a dominant partner in this sociopathic duo, and they’re both very bright, playing nicely into the (wrong) though relatable serial killer with a surfeit IQ stereotype (This is a pretty talky, whip-smart flick, and might not have worked as well with a Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer lunk-head twosome dynamic.)

It’s pretty Jennifer (a dynamite Jennifer Fraser) who’s wearing the pants, leading a reluctant Farhang (Farhang Ghajar) through hardware store purchases, trial-by-cat and prepping for the grisly business at hand by testing out whether their tub is large enough for a proper human bloodletting.

capture_kill_release

And Jennifer’s directing things in other ways as well.

Yes, this is found footage, with her behind the camera for the most part, and yes, there are some hiccups associated with that as a device. However, much like the maligned sub-genre’s better exemplars (America’s Deadliest Home Video), the self-filming doesn’t overstay its welcome and is quickly forgotten, possibly because it’s not the viewer who’s made nauseous as much as our antiheroes. Case in point: the painstakingly deliberate, smelly, and very thorough disposal of their first victim’s body.

It appears easy in Dexter and is played for laughs on The Sopranos (see, the Cold Cuts episode), but disposing of a body is a tough grind and is shown here in vivid and very bloody detail.

But where Capture Kill Release really shines is in the mind, through psychological choices. Jennifer’s adorable mother is brought in early on for contrapuntal irony, and there’s a certain sweetness to their rapport. The same can be said of savage Jennifer’s encounter with the poor homeless victim, the all-around mensch, Gary.

For further audience investment, there’s some relentless pet-abuse too, and some related factoids that’ll give you shivers if you live in a high-rise.

Proof that there’s lots you can do with a little, Capture Kill Release was understandably well-received at Toronto’s Blood in the Snow Festival.

***1/2 (out of 5)