According to the filmmakers, Nome, Alaska has a disproportionate number of disappearances every year, to the point where the FBI makes more visits than they do to Anchorage, a city with many times the population of Nome. Of course, according to the filmmakers, everything you see in this movie is real and is backed up with “archival” footage.
It isn’t until she puts them under hypnosis that the excrement hits the air conditioner. The terror of her patients becomes so insistent that they literally break their own backs to get away from the trauma of their repressed memories.
Abbey has some trauma of her own. Her husband Will, also a psychologist, passed away recently. Abbey believes he was murdered by an intruder who stabbed him in the heart, although Sheriff August (Patton) is just as adamant that he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Which one is right? Would you believe…both of them? More to the point, would you believe either of them?
After one of her patients (Johnson) becomes so traumatized by her sessions that he visits an unthinkable tragedy on his family, August begins to regard Abbey with the stink-eye, thinking she may be somehow planting some kind of post-hypnotic suggestion in her patients. He really doesn’t have a motive, but he does have the ability to bellow quite a bit.
Abbey has also been seeing a therapist of her own, Dr. Campos (Koteas) who is at first skeptical about her claims until he sees things that defy explanation, like patients levitating off of beds which, sadly, are missing from the videotape due to unexplainable distortion. When a deputy witnesses a bright light coming from the sky to bathe Abbey’s home and her daughter Ashley (McKenna-Bruce) disappears shortly thereafter, Abbey really comes under scrutiny. Nobody believes it could possibly be alien abduction – nobody except Abbey, Dr. Campos and linguist Awolowa Odusami (Kae-Kazim) who identifies strange gibberish on the tapes as Sumerian, the most ancient language on Earth and one even today that we have trouble translating properly.
The movie is presented as “found footage” i.e. documentary footage that has been discovered by researchers or whatever. This format has been very successful in the horror genre of late, initiated by The Blair Witch Project and continuing with Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity. It can be very effective in creating an atmosphere in which the jeopardy seems real.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers chose to proclaim this footage as genuine a bit too loudly. It didn’t take long for enterprising researchers to discover that the characters and events are all cut from whole cloth. Now, normally I wouldn’t mind – it is a movie after all – but don’t present it as a documentary when it’s clearly not. The movie would have been far more effective had it not pressed it’s claims to be real and instead just allow you to sit back and immerse yourself in the footage, as Paranormal Activity did, rather than conduct an inner debate as to the veracity of the film’s claims.
I’m wondering why on earth director Osunsanmi decided to go with name actors like Jovovich, Koteas and Patton to re-enact scenes that they’re showing “archival” footage of, nearly word for word on split screen. It’s unnecessary and annoying. Osunsanmi was trying to have his cake and eat it too – he would have been better served either to simply make a movie with the star power, or preferably, with the “archival footage” which was far more effective than the “re-enactments.”
Jovovich is a solid action star, but she played the grieving Abbey with a lack of passion which is certainly a way to go. She winds up with a curiously detached feeling, as if you could open up a zipper on the actress’ back and discover that inside is only air. It made it hard to truly develop an emotional link to the character.
The suspense was well done and while I do like the premise, it eventually bogs down in its own conceit and comes off like Whitley Streiber was given a digital cam and sent off into the Maryland woods in search of the Blair Witch. I’m not saying that this is a bad movie – it has its moments and some of the footage is well-crafted – but it could have been better had the director not tried to have it both ways. Sometimes, simple is better.
WHY RENT THIS: The suspense aspect is very well done, and some of the scares quite effective. Jovovich is an outstanding lead actress who doesn’t get the props she deserves, and Koteas does a good job of channeling Christopher Meloni in his role.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The outing of the “real” footage takes away some of the film’s effectiveness which remains a catch-22.
FAMILY VALUES: Some of the images are exceedingly disturbing. There is also some rough language and implied sexuality, but definitely this is not for those who might be given to nightmares.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although Nome is 51% aboriginal in population, none of the characters in this movie appear to be of that ethnic background.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $47.7M on an unreported budget; I’m thinking that the movie probably broke even or made money.
FINAL RATING: 6/10
TOMORROW: Six Days of Darkness concludes with a horror classic.
Actress Milla Jovovich (you can tell she’s an actress; she says so at the very beginning of the film) plays Abbey Tyler, a psychologist (who is also “played” by English actress Charlotte Milchard) who has noticed several of her patients who have difficulty sleeping have eerily similar stories; they all awaken at about 3am with an owl staring at them, an image that fills them with inexplicable terror.