‘Found footage’ is at its best when it creates a viewing experience in which absolutely anything can happen and without warning. That’s why typically only unknowns are cast, production values are minimal, and dialogue is simple. This genre’s squarely focused on scaring cinema verité-style. It’s why horror microfiction sites like Creepypasta are so successful, or why idiots share false Facebook scaremongering posts that have been disproven by Snopes.
So I was rooting for Blumhouse Productions-offering Mockingbird after a shocker of an opening scene. Yes, I had to put the subtitles on to understand what the child was screaming into the shaky cam (he panic-screams, with horrifyingly realistic infantile shuddering, that he did what was asked of him, that he kept filming, etc.), but that didn’t matter once we see his brains splatter on the bathroom tiles behind him. It’s a kill shot; not an ancient woodland witch or a misty ghost; it’s your modern-day, could-totally-happen-in-real-life, home invasion bogeyman. And it’s caught on snuff.
The premise is that three sets of people are given a video camera and asked to film their lives for a competition they’d signed up for somewhere off-camera. It takes place in 1995, when we imagined people would be more trusting (and no cell phones or internet). Things take a sinister turn when the VHS each group receives contains orders to keep filming or else (let’s assume death).
They’re also ordered not to call the police, which doesn’t matter because at least one of the group’s phone line has apparently been cut. Add in a murdered dog, some door-banging and a heavy thunderstorm, and you’ve got the makings of some moderately ominous atmospherics. Who’s watching them? How is this happening?
It’s a shame then that, aside from a handful of genuine, the movie doesn’t amount to more than tedious a pile of ‘almosts’: an almost-movie with an almost-plot, featuring almost-dialogue spoken by almost-characters…
…But with some really striking visuals (which is impressive given that it never detracts from the found-footage feel), and some truly effective, non-jump scares (hand with a carving knife silently hovering through an open window; shadowy figure sitting still in a chair on the front lawn). And all set to some excellent choices of doom-laden classical music.
But then it’s completely undone by the utterly implausible ending that shits on everything the movie had doing a pretty decent job of building up. It’s an ending that might have made sense for a non-found-footage short film. It’s such a shitty ending that it makes me so mad for this movie that I don’t even think my shitty little write-up deserves a proper ending, so balls.