Horror films, by definition, often tread the darker side of fantasy or science fiction. We’ve seen the terrors of folkloric superstition with vampires, witches, and werewolves, the “tampering in God’s domain” scientific abominations of Frankenstein, the pseudo-mystic, unstoppable evil of Halloween and Friday the 13th, the horrors of extraterrestrial monsters in Alien and The Thing; even the childhood myths of the Boogeyman have been explored. The metaphysical and theoretical are the most frequently dipped-in wells in our chosen genre, and with good reason; such fantastic imaginings are often more palatable than looking at the real-life horrors that surround us every day.
Still, many successful horror flicks like Psycho, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, The Strangers, The Bay, and even the original Scream are more grounded in reality, giving us a glimpse at some fears that could actually happen.
Dom Rotheroe’s largely-overlooked film from back in 2007, Exhibit A, is a great example of these more grounded flicks, crafting a deeply-disturbing tale of one family’s descent into madness and horror from what begins as the best of intentions…of course, we all know about good intentions, don’t we?
Everything seems pretty normal in the King family; dad Andy has bought his daughter Judith a new video camera, and she’s using it like any teen with an affinity for photography would; recording the day-to-day meanderings of her family, and as a secret video diary. Judith seems to have a pretty happy life; mom and dad get along, her older brother seems a good guy (he’s a bit of an ass at times, but what older brother isn’t?), and the family is on the upward slope.
Dad’s up for a promotion, and the family is planning to move to a larger home near the coast. Of course, some of her pubescent changes cause her to have a little reluctance about this move, but even through her tribulations that we’re privy to, she still seems to be on board with the rest of her seemingly happy family. Her frequent recordings, however, show hints of something that’s not quite right, especially with Dad; she catches him smoking (which he just doesn’t do) and spending a lot of time in the shed with odd papers. She also catches quite a few instances of his temper getting the better of him, although he’s usually quite the jolly prankster. Further, she begins to document stresses between mom and dad…stresses that spill over more and more frequently to her and her brother…and before long, to friends and other family. Judith is desperate to get through to her father and figure out what is wrong, and to save the lifestyle she knew…but secrets kept too long and cover-ups too great begin to unravel the ties that bind this family together…
First off, I’ll tell those of you that are reading this to decide whether or not to watch it that yes, this is obviously a found-footage movie. I’ll follow that up by saying that it was actually made before the style became overworked and polluted, and I’ll top that by saying that this is POV filming done right. Most of the footage was quite realistically shot by the actors, but without the shaky, poorly-framed shots that have become the expected norm in the style; instead, Rotheroe directed them in such a way as the footage looks for all the world like typical home-movies…the kind of thing you and I are used to seeing in our own recordings.
It’s this thematic choice that makes the film convincing; although something as mundane as a birthday surprise or a backyard barbecue may be what’s being captured for posterity at one point or another, it’s the little sounds and quick glimpses of things you see out of the corner of your eye that lend the notion that all things are not what they seem. Adding to this clever filming technique are some truly remarkable performances; the primary roles of Judith and Andy, played by Brittany Ashworth and Bradley Cole, respectively, are extremely convincing. Ashworth’s portrayal of teen angst and insecurity shows a range that is astounding to me for someone of that age, and she delivers her performance without it ever seeming forced or unnatural. Cole’s performance is equally convincing as the happy joker of a father; he channels a great love for the family and never seems out-of-sync with the role…but it’s his little nuances, his slight facial tics and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it expression changes that really sell the character. You can literally see him unraveling a little at a time, his deceptions (as I said earlier, all done with the best of intentions) accumulating until their weight begins to fracture his very sanity…the portrayal is extremely convincing, and downright chilling to behold as we enter the third act. Angela Forrest as mom Sheila and Oliver Lee as elder brother Joe are strong supporting elements, and just as believable in their shorter times on the screen.
Although it’s something of a slow starter (from a fairly short, 85 minute film), one has to expect a film of this nature to have a bit of somewhat dull exposition (I mean, we’ve all sat through home movies, right?), but this flick keeps it to a minimum, with plenty of little clues peppered in to keep the audience invested all the way up to the climax; and I have to say, Fellow Fans, I found the last reel of this little indie to be one of the most nerve-jangling and just goddamn disturbing that I’ve seen.
Though there’s no effects to speak of (you see a little red stuff, but that’s about it), the crafting of the illusion and your investment in the characters makes the last fifteen minutes or so almost unbearable to sit through…I don’t want to give too much away (since the film opens with the now-familiar “POLICE EVIDENCE” slide, it’s a foregone conclusion that things go off the rails at some point), but I personally could feel my guts churning just a bit as the film drew to a close, and that’s not a common occurrence for me.
Here’s where I’d normally say that if you hate found-footage, give this one a pass; however, in this case, I’d recommend you dust off your preconceptions and give this one a shot. Those that do enjoy the style, by all means, dig in; there’s plenty to enjoy. You won’t find a gory, hack-and-slash or jump-scare filled ride in this one, but for a pretty realistic and harrowing look at how a happy family can devolve into madness and despair, this one delivers.
Two cents to you folks.
JUST CLICK HERE
Latest posts by Andrew Thompson (see all)
- IN MEMORIAM — GEORGE ROMERO 1940 – 2017 - July 17, 2017
- Anticipated PITCHFORK Hits DVD / Blu-ray This Month - May 3, 2017
- Filmmakers Unleash Terrifying OWLMAN On Unsuspecting Urban Explorers - May 2, 2017