FEBRUARY 26, 2013
During the many scenes in Hollow that reminded me of 56 other found footage movies, I started trying to think if there had ever been one where the characters were clinically insane, and how that might make for an interesting take on this overrun "genre". See, the guy with the camera (most of the time) here is going a little nuts, but it might be because of the same supernatural "force" that they've been half-assedly investigating which has caused a bunch of suicides in the area - I'd like to see one that was straight up just a crazy guy doing his thing, because a. it'd be exciting/unnerving to be "in his head" for the whole movie and b. it would explain why he kept filming - he's crazy!
Here they don't waste much time explaining it - an early scene in the dark where someone has a panic attack is filmed in its entirety because the camera's light only works if it's recording (and they don't have flashlights, I guess). So that pretty much justifies any night-set scene for the rest of the movie, though there's still a lot of well lit stuff I couldn't for the life of me figure out why anyone was filming. They weren't making a documentary - the "back-story" that they find out about was just something they stumbled on while already filming bland activities and full conversations. At least if they were purposely setting out to make a movie on this phenomenon, I could forgive all the junk at the top that has no reason to be filmed (like Blair Witch when Heather is filming their marshmallows), but it took at least 20 minutes before anything on-screen resembled a moment someone would have thought to film - which is again why I started wondering about an unstable person taking control.
Anyway, it's not too bad compared to many of the others of late. The human element was far more interesting than usual - camera guy Jimmy has invited along a new girlfriend (Lynne) that he doesn't really care about because he hopes she will drive a wedge between the other couple, Emma and Scott. Seems Jimmy has harbored feelings for Emma for a long time (it's hinted that they fooled around a bit once) and still thinks he has a shot, so it's basically a found footage scary movie version of being in the friend zone for so long that you start killing everyone involved. But they also all do some drugs, so everyone gets to act a bit crazy, and their tangled romantic problems are better than the usual improvised bullshit that passes for dialogue in these things - it's rare I get a good handle on any of them and even get an idea that they've had a real life before the camera began rolling. Indeed, the movie unfortunately begins with the police investigation about their deaths, which I usually dislike because it spoils the suspense, but here it just sort of bummed me out because I actually got the sense of a real person's life ending.
It's also got some legitimately creepy bits, mostly focused on Jimmy's increasingly unhinged behavior and how that affects his camerawork. There are a number of quick bursts of random closeups and the like, as if he was just recording things at random, and also a running "theme" of insects that I never quite understood but enjoyed all the same - army ants are freaky, man. The climax is also a pretty good nail-biter; the two girls are trapped in the car with a slowly dying camera, limiting the amount of time they can turn it on (and thus see - again, the only way to keep the light on) and having no idea where their attacker was. Also, they're pissed at each other because of the "love quadrangle" thing, adding more tension to the sequence. Of course, the "camera is dying" thing is kind of rubbish, since we know it can't die until the movie is over, but it's close enough to working that I'll give it a pass. I was mostly just happy that it's a single camera one for a change, since so many lately ruin a ton of the tension by giving half the cast their own camera.
But that also got me thinking (I thought a lot during this one!) - would this have worked better as a straight narrative? It's basically a small stakes slasher, and I would have gotten into it a lot sooner if I wasn't constantly asking why they were filming. Maybe an approach like Lovely Molly would have been wise, where the camera sequences were used for a certain aspect of the story and never needed to be justified. My boss Devin wrote about this a while ago, that the aesthetic doesn't need to be applied to the entire runtime (even the police investigation at the top, where they are presumably finding the damn tape, is shot in the style), but yet Molly remains one of the very few that take that approach in any meaningful way (ironic, considering the film considered to be one of the first, Cannibal Holocaust, is indeed "half and half"). You'd think with 11,000 of these things being released every week that we'd be seeing more experimentation, but alas, if anything they're all becoming more insular. When I first made the "mockumentary" tag, I was seeing zombie films (Diary of the Dead), killer kids (Home Movie), monster movies (Cloverfield), and even traditional docs like Poughkeepsie Tapes, but lately it's all variations on the "we go somewhere and bad things start happening", and those bad things usually ghosts or something supernatural. And when they DO go outside the norm, like the underrated The Bay, the movie gets dumped (or it seems to start that way, like Grave Encounters 2, only to give up and go back to a bunch of people running around with cameras). I don't get it.
So in short, a front half with a lot of the stuff that you've seen a zillion times paves the way for a more interesting, occasionally tense and dark back half. Not a classic of the genre, but a notch or two above many of the ones I've seen recently. And thus, this week's now obligatory found footage movie has given me enough optimism for the next one! Thanks, Hollow!
What say you?