THE UPPER FOOTAGE works out to be a horror film, but more in the psychological and moral sense. A dark, unrelenting look into the world of the young and the privileged, and how their personalities are reflected through a morass of the illness of “affluenza” and today’s pervasive, twisted obsession with social media notoriety. One thing is absolutely certain: the acting, shooting and direction is unsettlingly well-done. There is never one minute’s doubt that what you are seeing is actual footage of the documented fateful evening’s events, or the crime that is ultimately perpetrated.
Another sure thing: there will be no middle-of-the-road reaction to the dead-on depiction of spoiled little rich kids, getting themselves deeper and deeper into what becomes an abyss from which they cannot escape…not without everyone’s lives being changed forever, not for better, as the old song goes.
And characterization is one of several points to consider, when examining this film as the latest effort to try and capture the mantle of “the ‘BLAIR WITCH PROJECT’ for millennials.”
Love it or hate it, ‘WITCH’ was the film that popularized the “found-footage” horror genre, and became the ‘apex’ by which all films in this category have since been measured.
One predominant point to look at with UPPER is the cinematography. With similar films, like CLOVERFIELD, one flaw in the aspect of the camerawork is that a “found-footage” film can’t look too ‘cinematic.’ It distracts too much from the “you-are-there” urgency, if you have to wonder if a shot you’re seeing was done somehow with a Steadicam…which some guy with a camcorder wouldn’t have access to, while running for his life. Another pitfall: shots that are too erratic, either with the extreme variables in lighting, or the deadly “shaky-cam” effect that so many people complained about with both BLAIR WITCH and CLOVERFIELD. Completely realistic and expected when the camera person, once again, is running for their lives with the equipment. Watching it back, however, is a totally different experience, and one that certain viewers can find annoying, nauseating, or both. Yet another to mention: static shots – scenes where the camera is set down or dropped in one place, so that the audience has a very realistic POV as to what that looks like. Not necessarily engaging or entertaining, however, if the camera’s pointing toward a wall, the ground, or one fixed object for what seems like an intolerable amount of time.
UPPER tries hard to walk the tightrope between these different aspects, and though it achieves a measure of success, the filmmakers at some point made the choice between maintaining a sense of realism, versus keeping the audience engaged, and though I commend them on choosing the the former instead of the latter, it definitely is going to hurt them with a considerable part of the audience demographic. Establishing realistic parameters is where this movie excels – but in the process, it turns off those viewers who are not just experienced, but have even been somewhat jaded by everyday examples of what raw, real “found-footage” looks like. Watching evil, rich celebutards doing bad things is still shocking, but pales by comparison to being able to access clips of real beheadings and hangings on YouTube.
Which brings us back to characterization once again. Johnny Depp, in his film, THE LIBERTINE, introduces his character by including a line that is an unforgettable caveat: “You will not like me.” UPPER kind of does the same thing with its opening, showing stills and text describing the parties involved. You already get a sense that depending on what you bring to this film, in terms of your own everyday experiences and philosophies, you will either love or love to hate the people you are about to spend about ninety minutes of your time with. And if you’re anything like me, the second truly applies.
And unless you can view the film and what it depicts with a certain level of detachment – kind of like a sociologist observing a strange, newly-discovered native tribe for a filmed study, THE UPPER FOOTAGE is going to be a far-from-pleasant experience for you, and one that many may not be able to stay with. Granted – the subject matter the film presents is NOT supposed to be pleasant or even entertaining. It SHOULD be unsettling to watch. But a film that offers no one to really root for or empathize with, had damn well better have something else going for it – smashing performances, dazzling effects, a story arc for at least one character that brings them over – even a little – from the dark side to the light, or vice versa. UPPER, unfortunately, has few to none of these things to offer a horror movie fan in search of what they would consider to be a “good horror film.”
Which is not to say that the performances aren’t effective. I can’t emphasize enough that if you didn’t know this was a film in advance, you would swear that this was actual, raw footage of the kind that media tabloids like TMZ and EXTRA are notorious for uncovering in their many celebrity “exposes”, (in fact, several of the infotainment shows are given shout-outs at the very beginning, to give it that additional touch of realism.)
Even those who aren’t students of pop culture and electronic journalism, won’t have to be psychic to know that the combination of these progeny of the 1%, mixing with an evening of unchecked drugs and booze will not lead to a happy ending. Though the climax has been described as ‘heart-stopping’ and ‘terrifying’, sadly, those with sharper deductive skills will have sussed out the ending well before it even arrives.
Overall, THE UPPER FOOTAGE gets four stars for effort, but only about two for actual execution. A curio that will attract lookie-loos and those completists who are obsessed with seeing everything “found-footage” related. But there have been better, and there will be better entries into the field.
Check out the trailer for THE UPPER FOOTAGE: