June 24, 2019 The 16th Episode (Movie Review)
How many views is your life worth? In the brand new Horror offering The 16th Episode, three YouTubers travel to Morocco and end up battling unseen forces in an effort to save for their lives. Gravitas Ventures delivers the terror to select North American theaters, On Demand, and Digital on Friday, June 28, 2019.
Permanent Residents is a YouTube channel that visits countries across the globe, immersing its creators in the culture and providing viewers with an authentic feel for what it means to be a local. With their viewership down and ‘only’ 1.2 million views on their latest upload, the team—host Helen (Rebecca Ramon: The Violet Blaze Chronicles short 2018), audio engineer Einar (Einar Kuusk: The Most Beautiful Day short 2015, Chasing Ponies 2016), and videographer Mark (Cody Heuer: Proximity 2016, The Shoe 2017)—are travelling to the legendary city of Casablanca to film new content.
At their Airbnb, they meet the quirky Mrs. Frangier (Rosine Young: Les liaisons dangereuses TV movie 1980, Exes 2006), who warns them to avoid the strange, gated basement of the house—a snafu with the electric, you see—but soon goes on her merry way. Intrigued by her curious nature but anxious to explore their new surroundings, the threesome head out into the city’s streets where a series of chance encounters leads to a wedding invitation from local guide Tareek (Abdellatif Chawki).
In the following days, however, things begin to spiral out of control. When one of the team grows ill, vomits blood, and then begins to speak in an ancient Arabic dialect, it quickly becomes apparent that something is very, very wrong. Pretty soon the trio will have to face the fact that they are trapped in a situation that they cannot control, one that is quickly spiraling towards catastrophe. With their lives on the line, will this be their most popular episode yet?
Clocking in at 93 minutes, The 16th Episode—previously known as Little Horror Movie—was written and directed by the talented Jérôme Cohen-Olivar (Kandisha 2008, The Midnight Orchestra 2015). An elevated Found Footage offering, it blends the handheld camera work characteristic of the sub-genre with traditional cinematography (thanks to Cinematographer Adil Ayoub) to author a film that aims to be Found Footage and yet provides a more well-rounded experience. For purists, it will not qualify as Found Footage; for the rest of us, it works and elevates the experience.
As for the film’s script, well, it is entertaining. There’s a self-deprecation here that certainly makes it difficult to take anything too seriously, or to fault any of the film’s little misgivings. (Okay, so the exorcism is ridiculous, but clearly it’s meant to be!) Although, admittedly, there is a lack of attention to detail, particularly when subtitles are utilized in scenes where the actors whisper and/or speak languages aside from English (French and Arabic being the main two). Typos litter these subtitles, which does not exactly ruin the movie-going experience, sure, but it shows a lack of attention that is just plain sloppy.
That said, The 16th Episode pulls everything together and, despite its flaws, it provides a pleasurable experience and much of this is thanks to the chemistry of its cast. As Helen, Ramon is sadly not given a lot to work with, as far as character development. In fact, as viewers, we never quite come to love or hate her; she simply exists as the center of this tale. For much of the film, she is soaked in blood and fluctuating between demonic and catatonic. While the sound effects utilized to make her seem even more evil are the standard for possession films, she still manages to give a performance that certainly has some unnerving moments. And speaking of unnerving, Young is absolutely divine, and shines, as the kooky Mrs. Frangier.
However, Kuusk and Heuer carry the bulk of the film, their characters perfect foils that play off one another brilliantly. Kuusk’s Einar is the skeptical audio tech who arrives in the ancient city and immediately senses bad vibes. He’s so tense that he has a miniature breakdown during a sketchy cab ride, and as the chaos unfolds he is continually the voice of reason. Heuer’s Mark is the antithesis of this: the jovial videographer whose dream is to make the “ultimate Found Footage Horror flick.” (Oh, the irony!) With his beloved camera in hand, he cracks jokes throughout their entire excursion—no matter how bad the situation gets. Oh, and he enjoys a feisty old lady! Together, the pair work wonderfully to anchor the story and propel the action forward.
So, is The 16th Episode horrifying? Well, no, it’s not, though it’s certainly good at building tension. Though the film starts out strong in its first act, it does wane as it progresses, relying heavily on the anxiety built by ominous dark spaces and shadows. In this sense, there are moments where it is similar to 2012’s Chernobyl Diaries, another Horror offering that believes that what you don’t see is often scarier than what you do. Let’s just be honest: for this film it works far better than the aforementioned.
Demonic possession and Found Footage films are a dime a dozen, sure, but there’s something about The 16th Episode that culls all of this together and creates a unique experience. Filming on location in Morocco certainly did not hurt, neither does the film’s international cast and sense of universal culture with its fluid use of languages; it’s smart, it’s modern, and it elevates the overall experience. Though the movie is certainly not without flaws, it’s an excellent little offering that, if watched with the lights out, will certainly keep you checking over your shoulders frequently. Creepy and cultured, Cryptic Rock give The 16th Episode 4 of 5 stars.