SEPTEMBER 18, 2008
Shortly after the (deserved) success of Blair Witch Project, some dudes began more or less claiming that BWP was a ripoff of their film. Curious, I picked up a copy of their film, The Last Broadcast, sometime in 1999. However, I apparently wasn’t curious enough to actually watch it, because I never touched the damn thing until today, 9 years later, when I decided to make it my daily movie. Hey kids, this is how you end up in credit card debt! Never buy a movie unless you plan to watch it within at the MOST, 3 years after you buy it.
Anyway, I don’t think it’s much like Blair at all. It’s more like that Sci-Fi special about the Blair Witch, in that it’s more about an event than the video of that actual event. Even when the titles tell us we are about to see footage from the doomed video shoot (the only thing they have in common, really, is that some kids making a documentary are killed in the woods), we only see about 4-5 minutes of it. As such, we never really get to know a single character in the film, and thus I couldn’t care less that they all died. The film’s most interesting character is the technical video guy at the cable station that they make their show for, and that’s mainly because he looks like Christian Slater with a beard.
Also it has the single worst ending in film history. You think High Tension has a stupid twist? It's “Bruce was a ghost the whole time” worthy compared to this bullshit. We discover that the killer is actually the documentarian, who set all this completely benign stuff up (even inspiring the victims to do their doc in the first place) just to make a point about “What is reality?” or whatever the fuck sort of pretentious drivel he spits out is.
Worse, the film even shifts its entire goddamn aesthetic, as the final 10 minutes are presented as a typical narrative instead of from a character’s point of view. This is clumsily implemented (I spent 3 minutes wondering who was shooting the events I was watching) and just a cheat as well. Plus it defies logic – we learn he is the killer from his own videotape, which he sends to a video technician to fix. He then waits until she sees that he is the killer to actually kill her. Why would he do this? Even if we can buy that he needs her to reconstruct the video (which he was the one who destroyed in the first place), why not kill her once she was done fixing the footage he could actually use in his movie? Is he planning on using the footage of him killing the girl in his own film? That would make for a pretty awkward post-screening Q&A, at the very least. Of course, switching the perspective prevents the filmmakers from having to answer these questions. “Oh he’s just a nut”, the end of the film seems to be saying. Fine, then why the fuck did you have to spend 80 minutes presenting him as otherwise? Make a movie about him being a really crazy filmmaker; it’s a hell of a lot more interesting.
Or, you know, make a movie about the goddamn Jersey Devil. These guys are supposedly doing a doc about it, but they never provide even basic info about the real case. I’ve learned more about the damn thing from the back of cereal boxes than I did in this movie. It’s kind of funny, people thought Blair Witch was real because the movie had so much “factual information” about it, and this movie, based around a REAL urban legend, can’t even be bothered to tell you anything beyond its name. Why bother using a real life case if you’re not going to actually, well, USE it?
Luckily, it’s at least pretty good up until the end. The (non) actors are all believable, and like Poughkeepsie Tapes (my favorite “found footage” movie since BWP), it’s interesting to watch the investigation/trial type stuff unfold in an Unsolved Mysteries/America’s Most Wanted sort of way. Also, one of the random characters looks like the intriguingly curious offspring of Ric Ocasek and Jim Steinman:
Also, I got a lot of enjoyment out of the idea of public access guys making a movie in the woods. I had a public access show in high school, and we did a movie based on that show that was shot in the woods (a Blair parody, natch). So I felt a kinship with these folks. Like our show, one took it way too serious at times (that would be me), and also it was poorly shot. However, I don’t think our show was ever in danger of being canceled because of low ratings, like theirs is. Probably because there’s no such fucking thing as ratings for a goddamn community television studio.
The DVD is seemingly packed with extras, but it’s sort of a cheat. Three different “behind the scenes” pieces are advertised, but they are simply the two filmmakers/stars talking to camera and showing appropriate film footage. Then again, I guess that is preferable to watching documentary footage of an actor playing a documentarian who is investigating the disappearance/murder of three guys who were making a documentary. There is also a commentary track, but they mute the movie and also fall silent more often than not, so it’s annoying to listen to. Plus, they mix the sound so that one guy is on the left speaker and the other is on the right, which makes for an awkward aural experience.
However, much props to Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler for their biggest innovation, as this is the first major-ish film to be shot, edited, and even distributed through entirely digital means. Rather than ever make a 35mm print of their shot on video film (which is what is usually done), they developed a way to beam it into theaters, and thus was the first digitally projected film in a multiplex (sorry, Lucas). Too bad that in the end it wasn’t one of many films to squander so much goodwill on a completely shitty and misguided ending.
What say you?