Written, Edited & Directed By: Ti West
Cinematography By : Eric Robbins
Cast: AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Kate Lyn Sheil, Gene Jones, Kentucker Audley, Donna Biscoe
A fashion photographer is traveling to meet his sister at Eden Parish. Once there, his friends begin to film interviews with the Eden Parish inhabitants, all of whom speak of the commune in glowing terms. However, they soon discover that there is a sinister edge to the commune that belies the seemingly peaceful setting.
The film is based on the infamous Jonestown massacre. Only here names have been changed and situations tweaked. So that they include VICE magazine as a tie in and representative of the type I guerrilla journalism going on and an entrance into this world and situation. Which at least is one of the better uses and reasons to use he found footage approach. Even if sometimes it abandons that use with no explination.
Now the film is easy to dismiss if you want to be close minded and just want to write it off and it’s makers as ripping off a pop culture moment and just a bunch of hipsters reinterpreting history to exploit for entertainment. The film does have it’s tricks, but aside from some scenes Of questionable acting at times I found the film occasionally powerful and affecting.
Some will find fault as he follows the massacre and it’s facts pretty faithfully. So some might feel Mr. West really didn’t create a narrative more follows a well known story and adds a few things only.
I can’t write the film off forbidding a historical story as a basis. Then retelling the tale. Using it as a jumping off point for it’s own story and dramatizing it. Plenty of good films in the genre of horror have been made doing the same THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, THE LOST and DEAD BEAT. As well as plenty of dramas and thrillers like ZODIAC. So why is horror attacked when they do it is it because it’s a genre so attached to fantasy and science fiction. That when it uses something close to reality It is seen as uncreative and exploiting a tragedy?
Just like any film I watch horror for as much entertainment as You do. To be taken on a journey as a story. Not only is told but unfolds in front of you. Some I don’t like or disagree with. others I can follow or enjoy.
This film is more of a somber, bleak tale that has no light in it at all.
The film feels like those supposed faux documentaries of cannibal movies, like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST or those that were made only to show extreme realistic violence. Here it is presented as the ever popular found footage genre film. Though it abandons the conceit a few times to show scenes that are caught more like a regular film. As obviously no one is filming like most of the film. It kind of takes you out of the element. Though the film hopes you are so enraptured with what is going on it hopes you don’t notice.
The found footage element Is used more as a way for the audience to be a participant and witness to the situations, violence and carnage. Like we are there almost.
The film feels like we are in an extended segment of the film V/H/S (which Ti West directed a segment of as some of the actors appeared In
What hurts the film are various questions you ask yourself than it comes to characters behavior and decisions and actions. That really make no sense given the information we have been feed.
It more seems like characters act with no thought or lack of thinking at all. Not out of instinct just all rash decision making when there really isn’t a time Limit.
Ti West continues to make exceptional movies that march to their own beat. This film is only predictable as you know how it ends and what is coming, but truly by the halfway point of the film. The tension is amped up ad as the film travels along. It gets more and more from for the audience.
Ti West is at least making inspired, original and interesting films that don’t feel like carbon copies of the same old thing. He is taking chances. Even though sometimes it feels like the work of a brat, who knows his skills and tries to show off a bit. Though knows when to reel it in ad go with the right emotion and rhythm for the scene.
By the end it is presented to us and there feels like there is an emptiness. Where you just wonder. Why? Unfortunately it’s a question that can’t really be answered nor is there any attempt here to do so. I can’t see this as being anyone’s favorite or top many lists, but it does leave a mark.
Some might unfairly pick on the film for having producer Eli Roth be attached. Now I can admit he has some shortcomings, but don’t we all? I respect the fact that he stands by the films he helps make and puts his power behind some really good and inspired projects. So I don’t really have any problems with him.
For me the film gets to be particularly disturbing, knowing it’s a horror, but the violence felt more touching as we watch the people kids in particular being lead to their doom and their fatal endings. Some adults actually volunteering their offspring themselves and siblings to an end.
Now if I wanted to go looking for a conspiracy and look into avenues that aren’t presented but can be interpreted. Most of the victims are minorities. Who unfortunately believed in this false prophet who happens to be Caucasian who can be seen as the idealist whose promises are empty and built on others beliefs as weaknesses. Who when challenged or on the cusp of being asked to share or prove what he promised has no answers hen he is challenged. Now while I am not trying to make the minorities out to be sacred cows and negate all the other lives lost. I am just pointing it out in the conspiracy vision that can happen while watching the film.
It is what keeps this film from truly being great as it seems when it is on it’s way something comes along to trip it up.
It delves into some characters that really out a face and personality on the victims later. Which of course makes it all the more heart wrenching and effective later. Making you feel a connection to the characters and the film.
The film is noteworthy as It filled it’s own rhythm.