Found footage as a subgenre gets a lot of hate…and rightfully so. I adore it, and there are a lot of classics that fall under this umbrella. But for every Lake Mungo and Rec there are 800 Lost Vlog of Ruby Real.
I get it. It’s a style of filmmaking that can be done on a budget, so that makes it appeal to a lot of young filmmakers for that very reason (our pal Kane Parsons got a feature-length version of his short greenlit this week). But while seemingly easy and accessible on the surface, making a good and convincing found-footage story is really hard!
In this not-quite-feature-length feature, a group of vloggers get together to make a video. At the heart of it is Ruby Real. She’s working to prove different myths as just that. The one that has recently taken her interest is “The Tree Game”. According to the myth, if someone walks around this tree, they end up in a different dimension.
Great set-up. Got me sold. But the trio arrive at the tree pretty quickly and with only a mild “we’re lost!” subplot that immediately gets resolved. The three walk around the tree and seemingly nothing has changed. Only it has. Apparently. There’s nothing really for the audience to see or understand that they are in a different dimension. They just keep walking down this nice path and saying, “We’re going in circles!” Now, that doesn’t say different dimension to me. That just says kids these days need to learn how to use maps and compasses.
Of course a lot of this will sound exactly like another very familiar plot. The Blair Witch Project changed found-footage movies forever. But its success has made a lot of storytellers a bit lazy. Not every found-footage movie needs to hit the same beats: we’re in the woods, creepy objects are found in the woods, we’re lost, we panic.
Eventually, Cali (another one of the vloggers) walks around the tree and vanishes. It’s obvious from the get-go that she’s gone around the other way, and YET – this stumps the last two creators FOR AGES! I spotted it right away and my brain had been checked out for ages at that point.
And yet, we still keep spiralling and end up with a rather baffling ending. It’s a bit otherworldly (finally), but with so little of that throughout the film it just doesn’t make any sense. There weren’t very many hints that they were in another world. Show people going backwards! Little things the vloggers left behind that are not “quite right”. Get creative with no budget!
There is definitely a seed of a good idea here. I think if developed more, it might be something more. But creative lore doesn’t necessarily make things interesting to watch.
I rarely get this annoyed by films (I usually allow myself to turn off something I don’t like), but I just wasn’t having it this week. It probably didn’t help that Plex’s constant barrage of ads made me want to pull my hair out. Nothing makes a slow movie feel slower like having to watch the same moneylending ad four times in a row.