Yes, it’s a found-footage flick…
So starting out last week’s review, I went on about how “Based on True Events” or “Inspired by True Events” does not make for good drive-in flick marketing. Of course, then I got to looking at the monthly circulars that Family Video puts out to show what’s coming out during the month and lo and behold, I saw a couple more flicks using those exact words.
It’s going to take a while, but the indie filmmakers will get the hint, eventually. Or not. But in an increasingly fragmented media realm where it’s tough to get eyeballs to focus on anything, you have to find a unique way to market your flick. Using a cliché that was old 30 years ago (yes – the 1990s are now officially 30 years ago) isn’t going to cut it in the streaming era. Neither are posters, sadly. But if you get a trailer people’ll share, a title that grabs folks’ attention and some decent word of mouth, you’ll get an audience. Especially among mutants.
(By the way – if you are a filmmaker or distributor and have something you want me to review, fire off an email to either firstname.lastname@example.org or throw a suggestion in the Facebook comments under a posting of my reviews on JBB’s page or hit me up on Twitter @BJ_Nagy. At some point, I’ll be getting to flicks before their wide release when it appears at the bottom shelf of the DVD section your local Wal-Mart and then I’ll be a full-fledged mutant influencer with these reviews).
Speaking of influence, the importance of Cannibal Holocaust to horror these days cannot be understated.
That 1980 Italian gorefest is the, pardon the expression, Godfather of all found-footage films. You know the drill – people go somewhere, get lost there, something bad happens to them, but wait, there was a camera rolling the whole time, so here’s what happened from a first-person perspective.
Twenty (yes, 20) years ago, everybody had forgotten about Cannibal Holocaust except for the people who made The Blair Witch Project for about $70,000. Then The Blair Witch Project made a bajillion dollars and everyone wanted to make a bajillion dollars with their own found-footage flick, a trend that continues to this day. By the way, 1980 was 40 years ago, which means the original Friday the 13th is 40 years old this year, too.
The lesson here is: You can do something that’s been done before, but you have to wait long enough for people to forget it’s been done. So if there’s a found-footage flick appearing on the shelf every three months or so, well, it’s not so unique and the gimmick wears thin. Even William Castle knew to alternate between flying skeletons in the theater, seat buzzers and fright insurance policies for unique gimmicks, and that was the 1950s.
Thankfully, this week’s movie, Greystone Park, does have some unique to it, even though it is a found-footage flick.
The first unique thing is we get Oliver Stone, best known for his directing and screenwriting, acting as himself and telling a story about “Crazy Katie” to a number of acquaintances over dinner. Three of the guests are young adults — Sean (Oliver’s son, Sean, who co-wrote, directed and stars in this one), Antonella (Antonella Lentini), and Alex (Alexander Wraith, also a co-writer) — who decide they are going to go to Greystone Park, an abandoned asylum a couple hours away, to do some urban exploring and to record the whole thing because they’ve heard some weird supernatural things have happened there (disappearances, a mysterious maniac who might be roaming the halls, shadow people – you know, Coast to Coast A.M.- type stuff). Two of their friends, John and Monique, listen with interest at the dinner and John was supposed to go, but he flakes out the day of.
So Sean, Antonella and Alex arrive at the long-closed asylum and have to walk through a graveyard to boot, where they see a grave that could possibly be that of Billy Lasher, who is said to have survived a fire or set a fire years ago after getting lobotomized in Greystone Park, and now quite possibly could be roaming around and making people who enter the asylum disappear while rattling chains and wearing a gas mask.
Then they get in the asylum, get lost, get confused, admire the scummy, graffiti-laden structure, stand in corners (another Blair Witch reference), get on each other’s nerves and increasingly p.o.ed at one another as they try to figure out what in the hell is going on.
This film does rely on a lot of editing and tricks to create suspense – false visions, camera aberrations and so on. That’s one of many limitations of going the found-footage route. Unless you set up the filmmakers in the plot as having more than one camera or show them setting up a tripod for a deadly-to-the-audience static shot, then you have to maintain the illusion that someone is off camera in every scene “holding” the camera. This automatically puts your actors at a disadvantage because in order to see that person in any scene, he or she has to turn the camera around and shoot footage of him or herself, and if something flies by and they miss it, they have to say, “Oh my God, what was that?” and keep recording instead of stopping the damn tape and figuring out what it was. It’s practical reasons such as these why we got the iconic scene up Heather Donahue’s nose in The Blair Witch Project. (I’m not criticizing that shot, by the way – they actually did it right in the context of the situation — we love ya, Heather!).
Greystone Park’s setting is outstanding, and by the found-footage flick’s very nature – the rules set up by Cannibal Holocaust — the characters have to do moronic things in order for the footage that’s seen over the course of the flick to be relevant, so we can’t quibble about the level of acting. If the characters are not obnoxious, openly antagonistic or behave irrationally, then Incident A doesn’t lead to Incident B and there’s no interesting reason for the footage to be worth finding, is there?
At its conclusion, Greystone Park also takes a shotgun blast approach as to what’s really going on in this abandoned place – is it a nexus for the supernatural? Is it an interdimensional portal? Is it a bunch of people pulling pranks on another group of people trespassing in a treacherous old building? Take your pick. The ending is obtuse, and there’s a lot to unpack, making its conclusion atypical from the everybody-dies-at-the-end/camera-goes-to-static conclusion of your run-of-the-mill found-footage flick.
- Best Post-Modern Max von Sydow Impression: When Alex says, “I’ve dealt with possessed people before and that girl’s possessed.”
- Best Quote That Could Be Used to Describe a Lot of Things in Life: When Alex tells everybody, “The higher you go, the creepier it gets.”
- Best Quote by the Voice of Reason That Obviously Gets Ignored or Else There Wouldn’t Be a Movie: As the trio initially heads toward the asylum via the graveyard next door, Antonella says, “We shouldn’t be here. We’re disturbing the dead.”
- Best Impersonation of a Raspberry Jell-O Mold Being Hit by a Corvette Going 80: The people who end up getting trapped in one of the rooms of the asylum and then are pureed into another dimension. Maybe.
Going with three stars. Half-star deduction because no breasts and another half-star off because we were teased with a gas-masked maniac who was supposed to be running around killing people in a run-down asylum and the flick didn’t deliver on that count or if it did, I didn’t see it because of the lighting (or lack thereof).
Greystone Park is available on DVD and BluRay and is streaming on XLTV via Amazon Prime.