FEBRUARY 17, 2012
My buddy AJ is possibly the only person I know who is more of a smartass than I am, so I am pretty sure he was joking when he said he didn't realize that "Found Footage" films (a genre which he despises) were supposed to be as believable as possible (i.e. no famous actors, and if the story involves them running around it should be shot with a compact, consumer quality camera). To me, they only work if I'm not being distracted by "Hollywood" style elements, and thus for a while, Skew is one of the most successful attempts at this sort of thing in quite some time.
For starters it's full frame, which automatically sets it ahead of most. Usually they just say that the character is a wedding videographer or something to justify why they have this expensive, high def camera that shoots perfect 1.78:1 images, but our hero in Skew is just a college aged kid, and thus he's using something from Best Buy, producing images that look just like the ones I got when I'd record a vacation with my girlfriend or a road trip to eat a giant hamburger. And it's also "edited" like the raw video I'd end up with; random shots out of the car window, quick bits that are the result of the camera being turned on accidentally and shut back off instantly, half-conversations, etc.
It's not until later in the film where writer/director Sevé Schelenz betrays this reality and frequently begins showing us rewound footage. Until then, it had a very personalized aspect to it, putting you in the eyes of one character (Simon, the camera's owner whose face we never see) and rarely allowing the others to use it. A bit deep, but one could surmise that the intent was to put you in Simon's shoes, something that is very unique for this genre, which often has multiple camera operators, or a tripod filming part of the action (Paranormal Activity being the most famous example of the latter). There's also usually a fiction that tells you at the top of the film that the movie was assembled from several tapes to give an account of what happened. Here, it might as well be unfolding in real time for a while; recording these events as they happened, but then Schelenz shifts the approach and begins rewinding key moments and such, putting us in the role of an outside party who is watching the tape at some later date (which makes me wonder why he didn't fast forward over the more boring bits).
Another thing in the movie's favor was the lack of recognizable actors (according to the IMDb trivia, Schelenz tried getting Bruce Greenwood for a role - this baffles me). Maybe it's because Chronicle (undoubtedly the worst attempt at this sort of approach in history - not a bad movie though) was still fresh in my mind, but I bought these three as a real group of friends, not a few actors that were tossed together. And again, I wasn't being distracted by the sudden appearance of an actor I knew from elsewhere or anything else that screamed "fake" to me. Considering the rather silly idea of rewinding (and the bit about Greenwood), I can't help but wonder if this was intentional or if the things that worked about Schelenz's film were happy accidents. Maybe he wanted famous actors in this age group for the leads and couldn't get them. Maybe he wanted to use a high def camera and couldn't afford it. Either way, on a technical level, it "works" in a way that very few of these films have managed; one could put this on a VHS tape and tell a friend it was real, and they might be fooled for a while.
As for why the film ends so abruptly and without really explaining much, I have no theory (spoilers ahead!). The hook of the movie is that everyone (and everyTHING! RIP Mr. Roadside Deer) Simon points his camera at ends up dying a short time later, and his attempts at warning his two companions are unsuccessful because they are just sick of his constant filming and general weird attitude. It's also pretty obvious in the first ten minutes that he is crushing on the female of the group (Eva, the other guy's girlfriend, who seems to return the feelings for one brief moment), so there's extra tension from that. Like the Final Destination films with regards to why the main characters are given premonitions, Skew doesn't bother to explain how Simon got this "power", and the explanation for why he is able to film the other two (because he cares about them) is weak. One of the three also disappears without explanation, which is just obnoxious because by then the movie's almost over. In Blair Witch, Josh's disappearance was basically the 3rd act motivator, but here the character is called out for a couple times, then the others are distracted by an argument, and the person is never mentioned again (the film's poster also has a "they were never seen again" disclaimer, which doesn't make sense as one of them is still very much alive at the end).
And then Schelenz really blows the "reality" of the film, rewinding all the way to the beginning of the story and then a few minutes beyond that, showing us an incident that occurred between Simon and his girlfriend before the other two showed up. Not only is it annoying from the "found footage" perspective (and even kind of a cheat), but by then we've already figured out what happened between the two of them before the movie began (they had a fight/broke up due to Simon's feelings for Eva), so it's anticlimactic as well. Then we finally see his face for the first time (without the camera in front of it, which is either important or a major goof, as we are told early on that the camera doesn't have a flip out view-screen), and the movie ends. One COULD theorize that (spoiler?) the entire "supernatural curse" thing was his imagination and that he was killing everyone himself (off camera), though that seems to be stretching it, and besides for every incident he COULD have caused himself, there's one that couldn't (a bus crash, for example). Either way, I either missed something major or simply don't understand the point of building an ending around this scene - it doesn't tell us anything new, just clarifies what anyone with half a brain could have figured out by now.
Unless, it IS supposed to suggest that there never was a camera, which would render huge chunks of the movie impossible. There are at least four scenes where one of the others grabs the camera (usually when Simon is sleeping), which would be a bit hard to explain if it wasn't there to begin with. They also pretty much never stop telling him to shut the camera off, and even if you want to theorize that they were just humoring their mentally disturbed friend, it doesn't explain how/why other characters can see it (a cop tells him "This isn't for your home movies, kid!" when he films a murder scene). And if he was just pretending to film sometimes and other times not, there needs to be more of an explanation at the end for how it "worked". There is a bit at the end that proves he is indeed delusional (a scene starts with him leaving a message to his girlfriend, but when the tape is rewound we can see he picks up the phone without ever dialing anything), but I can't buy the "no camera" theory based on what is presented in the film, even if it is a pretty crazy/admirable idea.
Still, it mostly works, and is more satisfying than many in the genre. As I am sort of a junkie for these movies, I admired how Schelenz was able to get around the usual "why are they still filming" problem without the movie getting too slow, and again, it's easier to buy into this movie's attempt at reality than at least 90% of the found footage films out there. If the 2005 date we see in the movie is reflective of the time of the film's production, I'm even more impressed because that would mean it was shot before pretty much any title you can think of save Blair Witch, though I can't for the life of me understand why it would have taken 6+ years to see release (NOTE - I have since been told that the film was self-financed and thus it took this long to complete the FX and such). Even if you hate these movies you might find something to enjoy here; there's very little shaki-cam, the character is motivated to keep shooting, and the acting is above average. The overly ambiguous ending is its only major flaw, but it can lead to spirited discussion, so even that's not the end of the world.
What say you?