NOVEMBER 6, 2012
Community creator Dan Harmon recently tweeted about how the human race was only a couple of found footage movies away from officially becoming the laziest species, which is pretty good considering he probably has better things to do than educate himself on the existence of the more obscure ones, like Skew or Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes. But if he checked his mentions, he'd be aware of Amber Alert thanks to yours truly - because I figured he'd like to know that whatever movie it was that set him off a few weeks ago certainly wasn't as stupid and lazy as this one.
The sad thing is that it wouldn't be a bad idea for an anthology movie; with a better twist at the end, it could comfortably fit in with V/H/S 2 if it was only 20 minutes or so, which is about as long as even a child's ability to process logic could watch this thing. If you're uninitiated, the movie is about a pair of annoying 20somethings who are filming a video audition for a reality show when they notice that the car in front of them is the same one being described on the amber alert road signs. They call the cops, but then the guy takes an exit, and fearing that the cops wouldn't be able to find him, they stay on his tail. So far, so good, right?
Well, it doesn't stay this "good" for long (I use quotes because the movie had gotten on my nerves before they even called the cops, more on that soon), because the characters grow increasingly moronic, and the absence of police gets stupider and stupider by the second. A cop finally DOES show up around the halfway mark, but of course he pulls our heroes over instead of the kidnapper, and when he checks on their story, he comes back with "that alert has been canceled". This is never explained, and that's the last we see of the police. For the life of me I can't even begin to come up with a theory as to how this could be possible; did the parents of the kidnapped girl merely shrug it off? At one point, the guy notices them following him and pulls over to "explain" that the alert was made by his ex-wife, that the girl in the car with him is his daughter and he was late bringing her back from his assigned weekend time with her, but that is not actually true, so where did the alert go? And the car he's driving is his own as far as we know, so if they had his plate number, wouldn't they have his address as well? Wouldn't the cops have investigated his house and (spoiler if you haven't seen the trailer) found the same things our protagonists do when they break into it in the film's third act?
Christ, the movie racks up so many head-smacking idiocies I barely even noticed that it makes absolutely no sense that the movie is presented as found footage. We're told early on that the cops recovered the tape as evidence, but they apparently went through and blurred out license plates and beeped out some addresses and such, and possibly even edited it a bit, because there are jump cuts that are clearly the result of skipping over footage, not the camera man turning it off and on. The 3rd character who films everything is a complete non-entity; even though he's the main character's little brother, neither of them ever expresses concern about having what looks like a 10 year old join in pursuit of a man who kidnaps children.
He also keeps his mouth shut for long periods of time, just filming the other two as they shout at each other, which accounts for what seems like 90% of the movie. Even before they see the car the two were getting on my nerves with their "energetic" behavior (read: they're loud and talk over each other a lot), but from the second the girl realizes that a little kid is in danger, she dials her voice up to 11 and never calms down again for the rest of the movie. Things along the lines of "WE HAVE TO HELP HER!" or "KEEP FOLLOWING OR WE WILL LOSE THEM!" are shrieked over and over, with the male shouting back things like "I'M TRYING!" or "CALM DOWN, LET THE COPS HANDLE IT!" in equal measure. When the kidnapper approached them I was relieved, I was hoping he'd just shoot them both and leave the mute cameraman to take over the heroics, but alas, after this eye of the storm where they talk like human beings for a few minutes, it's right back to the shrieking as soon as they start driving again and realize that the guy was lying (they put a microphone in the car when he stopped at a gas station - don't ask - and it comes back to life as he begins threatening the girl). So in lieu of anything approaching logic or even dumb action, you get two annoying "heroes" yelling at each other for the bulk of its runtime. Awesome.
See, here's the thing I'm not sure director/writer/producer Kerry Bellessa understands about how these movies work. We in the audience will suspend our disbelief about why they keep filming, why their batteries haven't died, etc, as long as the story is interesting, the POV element is being put to creative use, and there's a decent "reward" for putting up with some of the inherent tedium the format demands. Amber Alert offers none of these things; the story is paper thin and riddled with holes, the cameraman is such a non-entity that I often forgot I was even supposed to be seeing it through someone else's perspective, and there isn't a SINGLE moment of genuine suspense in the entire thing until they break into the house, and by then I had completely given up hope that this would pull itself together. And Bellessa doesn't have the stones to commit to the "fact" that these movies are supposed to end with everyone dead - I won't spoil the specifics, but what the traditional text-based epilogue tells us feels like a huge cop-out.
Did the rest of the audience agree? Hard to tell. Of the two other people there, one walked out after about a half hour or so, and the other, after the movie's credits (cast names, a stunt coordinator, etc) began to roll, asked me if this was real. For the good of humanity I will assume he merely meant if this was a true story, and not "real" meaning the footage we just saw, but then again he was a bit of an odd one. He walked into the theater and asked who won the election (which had been called nearly 90 minutes before), and then later went to the bathroom or something and came back with "All right, Amber Alert...", so it's possible the guy was so out of it he legit thought that a snuff film would be playing at a Pasadena multiplex for 7 dollars.
If you read yesterday's review, you'd recall that I actually have an elevated fear/sympathy for kidnapping, so the fact that this failed to generate any tension is even more damning, especially when you consider that I think I am more forgiving on FF movies than most - but another couple like this might burn me on the concept forever. Indeed, the other day I had the sad realization that Devil Inside was actually one of the better found footage films I had seen this year (this being the at LEAST 15th); I didn't hate it as much as most (seriously folks, they ALL end pretty abruptly - ignore the URL and it's pretty much par for the course), but I certainly wasn't thinking that it would be on the upper side of a ranking by the end of 2012. I don't know if this was the worst; Bigfoot was pretty grueling as well, and my review of Episode 50 is pretty damning (I've since wiped all of it from memory), but if you think Devil Inside was among the worst movies ever made (it's the rare film to earn an "F" Cinemascore), you should be grateful that you don't yet know how idiotic and worthless the genre* can truly get.
What say you?
*That's part of the problem - "Found Footage" shouldn't be a genre, yet producers/distributors seem to think it is. It's like 3D - people are using it because it's the cool thing to do, but few are actually putting the thought into it that makes it worth the effort.