KEEP WATCHING ***
DVD REVIEW - Directed by Sean Carter. Starring Bella Thorne, Natalie Martinez, Chandler Riggs, Ioan Gruffudd, Leigh Whannell. USA 2017 Certificate : 15 86 mins.
Out now on DVD from Sony Home Entertainment.
Why do we keep watching? Our lives are short, and the news informs us that worldwide unrest and the escalating impact of climate change will inevitably make them much shorter. We have access to more movies that we will ever have time to watch. And, yet, we will still tune into SHARKNADO 5 or ANNABELLE 2 or another HALLOWEEN remake / “reboot” even though we have trod those particular paths many times before and, if done well, the familiarity will, at best, breed mild contentment rather than true satisfaction. KEEP WATCHING is a case in point – it achieves everything it sets out to do, it is skilfully put together and does indeed generate the level of intensity and discomfort it was clearly aiming for. But it’s well-trodden ground, folks.
With the rise of the found-footage horror movie in the 21st century, it was inevitable that the cycle would take the subjective camera trope of the slasher sub-genre (derived from PEEPING TOM) to its zenith and unleash a growing cluster of entire movies from the twisted perspective of the antagonist. The last two decades have seen an influx of movies built around this notion, most commonly via the strategically placed cameras and infiltrated homes arranged by the disturbed stalkers of technophobic chillers like RATTER, ALONE WITH HER, 388 ARLETTA AVENUE and HACKED. The device extends to non-found footage movies, including the MANIAC remake, which proved disturbingly effective in forcing us to experience the loneliness and brutal compulsions of Elijah Wood’s Joe Spinnell substitute through his eyes.
KEEP WATCHING has sat on a studio shelf so long that its adolescent WALKING DEAD star Chandler Riggs has grown up and died on the show in the interim. It is the latest trip to this particular well, and it probably won’t be the only one appearing this week in your local DVD-selling emporium. While immersing us in the overplayed home-invasion-ordeal-horror narrative (soon to be at a cinema near you with THE STRANGERS sequel), it also joins a 21st century cycle of genre flicks in which the villain(s) are puppet masters of murder and mayhem captured by fixed cameras in order to entertain the masses via a web feed. This concept has been recycled frequently since it seemed relatively fresh in Marc Evans’ underrated MY LITTLE EYE, a movie so ancient it was made in the days when complimenting someone on their pleasant derriere wasn’t deemed as socially abhorrent as fisting a stranger against their will.
Sean Carter’s film offers such an astonishingly elaborate set up – complete with a complex, precision-timed series of communications and challenges – that it also turns into yet another descendant of the SAW series, even to the point of roping in Leigh Whannell as a weed-smoking drop-out Uncle character who would be named “Dead Meat” if this were a Zucker Brothers spoof. The film opens with a news broadcast announcing a family slaughter that was streamed around the world to unsuspecting fake-news-era viewers who weren’t sure how to react. The latest homestead to be selected (via social media) by the perpetrators is a broken family unit headed by ineffectual Dad Ioan Gruffudd, his much younger trophy wife (Natalie Martinez), his pretty teenage daughter (Bella Thorne) – embittered at Dad’s new relationship so soon after her mum’s death – and her pubescent brother (Riggs). Dozens of mini cameras document their torment, most hidden in everyday household items like smoke detectors, oscillating fans and light fixtures - their presence unaware until the purpose of the sadistic game becomes apparent.
As with many of its thematically similar predecessors, the assortment of cameras allows for a variety of offbeat, unnervingly voyeuristic POV shots, as well as moments (ogling Thorne as she prepares for a shower, capturing the comely Martinez from a certain angle in a low cut top) that genre-baiting critics will argue extend the casual sexism inherent in the original slasher cycle. The emphasis is on terrorisation rather than brutality, though the bloodless killings are nonetheless unpleasant, partly due to an unusual emphasis on asphyxiation and mostly because of the unforgiving, relentless tone of a film in which every avenue of potential hope is abruptly snuffed out. It relies too heavily on amped up audio jolts – like almost every other mainstream American horror film of our time – and the transformation of Thorne into a super-resilient 1990’s-style slasher movie final girl feels more like the need to fulfil a certain audience expectation than it does a believable character arc.
It differs from most of its kind by having a recognisable cast from TV and blockbuster movies and may be one of the first found-footage stalker movies to feature a drone as both instrument of terror and another means of capturing cool angles of the unfolding carnage. At this point in the game, however, its unwavering cynicism (right up to the final scene that gives the movie its title) is wearying rather than shocking. But…enough of us Keep Watching to ensure they Keep Producing so that your local branch of Asda (currently clearing shelf space for another twelve new found footage DVD releases with fancy slipcase covers) can Keep Selling.
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KEEP WATCHING ****