Editor Note: Tom Leven has new entry for his series entitled Tom’s “Prime” Time Reviews, noting that Prime is in quotes which means these are Amazon Prime shows he is reviewing. Some may be Amazon originals and some may be something that Amazon bought and is running for Prime Viewers.
Let’s see what Tom has to say about his selection this time.
Take it away Tom:
The Gracefield Incident
I made my first movie in eighth grade. As a result, basically every credit was mine. And you bet I put every credit in that scroll that I could (the “scroll” being my VHS camera pointed at a computer CRT monitor with green letters while I clandestinely tapped the down-arrow key).
So when I see a movie has been directed, written, and edited by one person who is also the star, I get a little apprehensive about the likely quality of the film, such as is the case with The Gracefield Incident.
I was right to be apprehensive.
Take that tremendous scene in Signs where Joaquin Phoenix sees the alien on video for the first time, stretch it out to an hour and a half, and throw it in a blender with Blair Witch Project. Therein you will find The Gracefield Incident. Another title could have been Walk Around in the Dark Woods and Scream Characters’ Names. A Lot.
The Gracefield Incident is a found-footage film, which I have nothing against, though some viewers are tired of the trope. The movie starts out with a pretty successful bang. Nothing horror fans haven’t seen before, but still well-executed. This bang is used to set up a key element of the found-footage aspect: one of the characters literally implants a small camera in his eye socket. Nifty, but it doesn’t aid the story. It comes off as an excuse to be “different” in an overly saturated genre.
Once the film gets underway, the cast of fairly realistic characters goes to a . . . wait for it . . .
Cabin in the woods.
This is only my second review and already we have two cabins in two woods! C’mon, guys.
Three couples go off for relaxing weekend at said cabin, see a meteor zoom past, and of course, the guys must go looking for it. I buy that part, because boys are stupid; but one must really, really, really suspend their disbelief to accept the physics of what happens next. You gotta see it to believe (or, rather, disbelieve) it. Standard-issue horror fans will roll their eyes at the entire premise.
After recovering a meteorite, the couples are set upon by creatures that . . .
Well, I’m not quite sure, actually. These aliens, the villains in the film, are simply not well-motivated. They seem to be mostly interested in helping the characters shoot a bad movie. Motivation is at last “revealed” in the final minutes of the movie, but when it comes, it’s not a surprise, nor original, nor does it explain why they behaved the way the did the past 90 minutes. The way the action unfolds the aliens do everything but pursue their goal. The writer is making them run around doing things that make no contextual sense; they are puppets being forced to participate in “clever” camera shots and jump scares rather than having them be single-minded in their Want and then writing the story around it. The logic of their situation falls apart pretty early on, but I’ll admit those jump-scares that are indeed well shot. (They’re just badly motivated.)
Between those jumps, viewers are given interminable ventures into a dark forest and characters screaming one another’s names, over and over again. That’s not to say the performances are bad; the characters are decently likeable and are, more or less, behaving in a realistic manner. In terms of the writing, I found the very last scene to be sort of cute—perhaps even redemptive of the entire movie. It’s the kind of thing Ratthe didn’t have to include, but did, and I appreciated it. But I don’t know if I can recommend sitting through an hour and a half of running through a dark forest to get there.
The visual effects, what little we see of them, are actually impressive, considering what I assume is a fairly restricted budget. That was nice to see. To further make a mess of things, however, big whopping chunks of the film have very weird ADR (voice dubbing). It’s as though the actors’ voices are not quite synced up with the visuals, which often makes the dialogue look just a half-second behind the actor’s mouth movement. More interesting perhaps is the fact that we often don’t even see the characters’ mouths. It’s as if the filmmakers knew the ADR was going to be a problem and studiously avoided showing people speaking. They frequently leave most dialogue just beyond the frame. It happens enough that it’s noticeable, and then distracting.
For fans of the sub-genre of found footage, there are myriad better options that are in fact unsettling, and some even scary (I think The Houses October Built falls into this category). Unfortunately, this is not one of them. There is no true tension in the film. The jump scares are well executed, and the rare visual effects are worth admiring, but taken as a whole, The Gracefield Incident is tough one to recommend.
Ultimately, Gracefield may have been more effective as a short film than as a full-length feature. (This appears to be Ratthe’s freshman feature after some short films; that would explain a lot of the repetitive pacing.) This film seems inspired by Blair Witch (of course), but lacks the same punch. There is even a nod, whether intentional or otherwise, to the notorious Heather Donahue extreme close-up shot of her crying. I hope it was accidental, but it’s hard to say.
In conclusion, one quick question, movie-makers: If it’s “found footage,” why is there a movie score and who edited the movie? Something to think about.
Director: Mathieu Ratthe
Writer: Mathieu Ratthe
Stars: Mathieu Ratthe, Victor Andres Turgeon-Trelles, Kimberly Laferriere
As of this writing:
Amazon Prime: 3/5
My rating: 2/5
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