A few days ago I reviewed the film “Hunting Venus” and noted that with less than 200 votes on IMDB, it had been the most obscure film that I had probably written about….skip forward a few days and I’m now reviewing one with just 114 votes, although to be fair this one has only been out for a few days.
Even though I don’t play computer games that often these days, when I was younger I used to play them on a regular basis and there were very few games that terrified me. One game that did that sticks in my mind was Forbidden Siren, a game that made me lose 2 pounds in one night from sweating alone, but other than that was a largely uncommon thing for me to find a computer game generally terrifying. I suppose it’s one of the things about watching horror films since I was a child, I’ve become desensitised to being scared. Then I played Slenderman.
Slenderman was created several years ago on an interview forum and this spawned one of the scariest games ever created. It was genuinely terrifying and fear inducing games that I had ever seen. I was equally as frightened and fascinated by the subject and I was excited when I saw this film appear on the site where I usually go to view films, although I seriously hoped it was better than the other Slenderman film, which I can’t bring myself to review because it’s that terrible. Now, I write this part of the review before I start reviewing, so I could easily have egg on my face and this could be equally as terrible, but we’ll see. Either way, I would recommend playing the Slenderman games. To play the original (and best), go here (after you’ve read my review of course) – http://slendergame.com/download.php
Whilst filming for a documentary, Milo (Marquette) finds a box full of old VHS style types and his boss, Sara (Breckenridge) encourages him to watch them to discover if there is anything worth reporting on. Milo agrees and starts watching the tapes and it is of a family being terrorised by a man with no face, with the claims that the man can’t be seen without the aid of a camera. The family in the tapes eventually break down mentally and it unknown what happened to them.
Soon thereafter Milo starts having strange experiences, such as the lights suddenly going out in his home, his dog becoming fixated on seemingly nothing and his cameras not functioning properly. He gets the feeling that he is being stalked by the man in the videos and this is confirmed when one day he sees a man hiding in his yard. Milo approaches the man and within a split second the man jumps from the trees to in the middle of the yard, a distance of around 20 metres. Terrified, Milo runs to Sarah and her boyfriend Charlie (McDorman) for help. They refuse.
When Milo returns home, he finds that Charlie is waiting for him and has been watching some of Milo’s footage. It turns out that Milo has been stalking Sara since the two met at a party several months earlier and the fight is only stopped when Milo convinces Charlie to look through the camera. As he pans around the room, he spots the man with no face standing in the doorway to the closet and he suddenly bursts at them. Charlie and Sara also find themselves being stalked now and their only hope is to find the family from the original film and ask what happened.
Better than the other Slenderman film?
Yes, most definitely. You know, I hope the man that came up with the original Slenderman idea actually copyrighted it. There has been a lot of media about the fictional character and he could have made a lot of money out of it. Anyway, I digress. Yes, it is far better, and more engaging that the other Slenderman film, without actually being that good itself.
Let’s start with the obvious and that this is a blatant rip off of two other films, the first of which is The Ring. It effectively steals The Ring’s plot of anyone who watches the video will end up getting stalked by this being, although there is seemingly nothing that you can do to stop this one and it will pursue you for far longer than seven days. I’m not going to lie, I hated The Ring and found it to be one of the worst mainstream horrors of the last twenty years, so this automatically put me off when I saw it was sort of ripping that off.
The other film it rips off, although to a lesser extent, is the VHS franchise. One of the characters sits down and watches VHS tapes and after that some strange things start happening. That is a major plot point of Always Watching and the entire plot of VHS. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against using ideas from numerous source materials to make your film, but don’t make it as blatant as this with your unoriginality. Bring something fresh to the table and don’t give people that they have already seen as it will ultimately leave people uninterested.
That is one of my key concerns with Always Watching, it didn’t keep my attention at all. The first twenty to twenty-five minutes are just filled with nothing at all and it’s only when Milo starts watching the tapes that it starts getting interesting. Even then I was still checking Facebook on a regular basis and didn’t really miss anything. This is never a good thing in your film. Your audience should never be able to browse their phone for a minute or two at a time and know that they haven’t missed anything.
It’s not just that I knew that I hadn’t missed anything that disappointed me, it was that I figured out exactly how the film was going to end after the very first scene. I went through the film hoping it wouldn’t be the case but ultimately it did turn out that what I had predicted actually happened. This was exceptionally disappointing and has ultimately lead me to write a relatively negative review.
If I can predict the ending of a film then it ruins it a bit for me. For example, I went to watch “The Avengers : Age of Ultron” at my local cinema yesterday and (spoiler alert), I knew that the Avengers were going to win before I even went in. Marvel, despite producing heavily enjoyable films, are terrible at building the antagonists (other than Loki) and not once in their films do you ever believe that they will actually win, and again it turned out to be the case.
At no stage in any film should I be able to predict exactly how the film ends and as I say, independent and low budget films are normally good for that, but not this time.
Now onto the camera work. Normally I heavily criticise the camera work when it’s a found footage style film, but you know what, I can’t this time. The camera work is actually done really well, with the exception of when the characters are being chased. The cameras are held in a relatively still manner and it doesn’t feel like the cameraman has Parkinson’s disease, which makes a nice change. I was genuinely surprise that they actually used a variety of techniques to have a relatively steady image, and I can only applaud them for them.
The way the film is put together though isn’t the best, with jump cuts in particular proving a big distraction. Normally when a film uses jump cuts it is done in a very smooth way, but no, not Always Watching, they decided to go with the “fuck it” approach to editing a film together. There is a scene early on at a party when it jumps so often that you struggle to adapt to what you’re seeing before it jumps again, with the sound becoming somewhat distorted by all of this.
It’s not just the way it’s put together either, it’s that there are scenes which are blatantly filler. When Milo’s lights turn out, he just wanders aimlessly around his home for some time before finally going off to turn the fuses back on. I mean, firstly who doesn’t know where the fuse box in his house is, and secondly, why are you just wandering between your kitchen and dining room at a pace that wouldn’t even be classed as a leisurely stroll. He walks into a room and just stands there for numerous seconds on end before moving off again, and this is well before he thinks that he is being stalked. It is blatant filler at it’s worst.
In many ways I think the film also uses too much Slenderman and after a while it loses it’s impact. There are too many scenes in all in a row where Slenderman is contained within it somewhere and it stops becoming interesting or scary when you’re actually expecting him to appear right there and then.
In terms of the cast, they’ve done a reasonable job with such a relatively small cast and all three main characters are well acted for the most part, and the interactions after they discover that Milo has been stalking Sara for sometime is actually done really well. When Sara confronts Milo about it, she has the perfect mix of being pissed off, inquizative and hurt by what has happened, and this bounces off of the vulnerability of Milo. Despite this, Sara and Charlie never really develop and it’s hard to really care about them as characters because you barely see them until half way through.
As a horror movie it really fails to be scary, and whilst I applaud it for trying to replicate the games in many ways, including Slenderman’s movement style, it’s not done in a way that makes me feel particularly scarred and that’s what horror films are for. You can successfully predict every time that he is about to appear and this takes the terror out of it somewhat.
Despite all of the negatives though, I will give Always Watching one thing and that is that I didn’t clock watch once. Not once did I look at how long was left in the film and that is the first time I have done that in quite a while. The pacing is excellent and this keeps you interested enough to keep watching (well, when you’re not checking your phone anyway). It made a nice change.
It’s rare that I find an indie film where I am not constantly checking the time and where I feel like it’s a chore to review it. It is certainly the first time in a while that I have been able to say that, however, the film just isn’t that interesting or engaging. I was able to regularly check my Facebook throughout and never felt like I missed anything.
Whilst it tries to replicate the experience of the games, the predictability of the film in both it’s ending and it’s attempted scares in general makes it lose something.
If you’re a fan of the games then I think you will relatively enjoy this, but otherwise I probably wouldn’t recommend it.