The Documentary (Movie Review)

Initially released in 2014, it took until August 22nd of 2017 for The Documentary to obtain distribution across a range of digital platforms from Amazon Prime to Xbox Live. Thanks to the folks at Terror Films, The Documentary, from Writer/Director Walter Moise (The Door-To-Door Method 2013, Counter-Clockwise 2016) sees the light of day, but was it worth the wait? 

The Documentary still.

The Documentary is about a director known only as D (Aaron Bowden: Roommates 2013, Counter-Clockwise 2016) collecting footage for a Documentary he is making about conquering fear, and after auditioning a range of women, finds his star in Sandra Novak (Tristin Rupp: Heroine Legends 2012, Distortion 2015). Unfortunately for Novak, D has darker plans in mind for her and her boyfriend Jason Farmer (Jake Miller: Fear the Walking Dead series, Roommates 2013). The film is presented as an edited assembly of footage gathered by D of Novak and Farmer, as well as some unlucky victims along the way, split into three ‘phases’- essentially the beginning, middle, and end.

The whole film is from D’s perspective. It is his footage from his cameras, and the audience is pulled along to watch how it all pans out. This is achieved largely through handheld camera shots as he stalks Novak and Farmer, or from hidden cameras he puts up in their homes when no one is around. Being fair, this is used to good effect as its shaky, murky quality makes a nice contrast to D’s professional Documentary setup during the interviews (a stalker is not exactly going to follow their prey with a tripod and lighting rig after all). But with all these different cameras being used in many ways means there is a lot of editing going on.

Quick cuts, jump cuts, and transitions abound. D even managed to get the right angles to avoid getting his face on camera in some scenes, or blurs it out when it cannot be helped. It does get inventive in places too, as scenes switch from the hidden cameras to one looking over D’s shoulder as he watches the footage on his desktop, occasionally holding up a prop (e.g. Novak’s house keys that she is searching for on screen). The pacing of the editing is uneven, zipping quickly sometimes, dragging slowly for others, but overall it is an alright showing from the film editor…who is also Walter Moise.

The Documentary still.

But while he is responsible for the cuts, it is Co-Producer Richard Cabrera who worked on the few visual effects that pop up through the film, like the screen going photo-negative, or a big letter D in gothic font appearing whenever D’s name is mentioned. This may refer to Death Note (Araki, 2006) and its mysterious character L, who also used a gothic font for his signature. Whether that is the case, or if the audience gets it or not, it does get annoying over time. There are also seemingly random images spliced in as either unsubtle symbolism (D spraying cockroaches with insecticide, or watching a cheetah hunting on TV) or to appear creepy in general (Bosch-esque paintings). Still, this is better than the occasional stretch of nothing like D going through a hardware store or doing something ghastly in the Californian wilderness. The latter should be horrifying and unsettling, but instead it drags on to a long dirge of ambient music – beeps and bells to a long, dark tone. It sounds foreboding enough at first, but it wears out its welcome quickly.

All this in mind, there are some glimmers of gold. There is the occasional splash of classical music as D plays with sound editing. The script is inoffensive and has some convincing banter, though some of D’s monologues come off less like Patrick Bateman of 2000’s American Psycho and more like an edgy teenager. The acting is also alright, with Rupp’s Novak standing out as the best of the main 3 characters, reliably demonstrating fear and anguish in her physical performance as well as through the lines she is given. Miller’s Jason Farmer is also okay in portraying the worried boyfriend pulled into D’s mess, and the chemistry between him and Rupp is also okay. This leaves Bowden’s D as the default bronze medal winner, though the moments he loses his cool come off better than his otherwise monotone performance, though this could be intentional in portraying him as the emotionless villain of the piece.

Not so surprisingly, The Documentary is at its best when things are happening on screen, but the pace drags so often that it feels like it takes longer than it does for dialogue or action to happen. It does manage to get creepy with its camera work, editing and flashes of violence, but it is unlikely to scare the audience. It will not make them think twice before going to bed, or check their room for hidden cameras, but it may give them an aversion to photo-negative filters and gothic-style font.

The Documentary still.

Ultimately, viewers may be better off watching Michael Powell’s 1960 Peeping Tom if they are after a film with a similar plot, as The Documentary misses the mark. For these reasons, CrypticRock gives this film 1.5 out of 5 stars.

Terror Films

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