The Dispatches Review – Found Footage Series – Mockingbird (2014) – Part 3 of 6


The question of who holds the camera so often concerns authority–or, perhaps, responsibility.  The camera itself, might stand as a good phallic symbol, but it is not a good ‘old’ phallic symbol.  Instead, here and elsewhere, the camera conveys the possession of power as it is relevant to the modern age of communications, one in which phallic power may be effected both directly and remotely, all at once.

City Of London General View Cityscape, London, United Kingdom, Architect Unknown

Don’t worry.  It’s only a story.


In what we’re calling a ‘Killer’s Camera’ piece, the antagonist shoots all or some significant part of the film or is somehow directly responsible for such a portion of the footage’s production.  The investment of antagonistic phallic power can even be rearranged from what we are presented with in Mockingbird, yet come to the same end.  In Megan is Missing, for example, the antagonist manipulates several forms of communication, but he only assumes the camera directly at the same time he kidnaps Amy, the heroine in search of her friend.  From that point, the camera’s focus on Amy is maintained, but the situation of the killer possessing the camera–and the girls, and our own attentions–means that the contextual motivations for continuing to shoot are recast entirely.  The shift to the Killer’s Camera perspective there constitutes a shift in the identity of the film itself.[1]

But a consideration of the Killer’s Camera in Mockingbird must really begin with a recognition of the Killer’s Title Cards.


It lives!!!

Just after the antagonist’s authority is displayed in visceral terms in the opening, we come to the second interstitial card card.  ‘The Family’ is just that; the card refers to them not individually, nor even by surname.  They are, by the reckoning of whoever has edited the film in-world, nothing more or less.  And, while we might incidentally come to notice Tom and Emmy’s names, the card could just as easily prompt us to think of them as ‘The Father’ and ‘The Mother’.  This hints that the characters’ meaningfulness, at least to the antagonist, stems not from their own individual identities–nor even from the particular profile of this family–but from a more abstract recognition of the authority of family as a social institution.  The situation challenges Tom specifically, whose traditional phallic authority–as ‘The Father’–begins slipping away even as he himself discovers and opens the package that initiates the assault on his household.  Tom makes subsequent  movements to defend his own–eventually, he even finds himself with a weapon and a vehicle, two formidable symbols of empowerment–but his most effective exertion still lies in revealing the very truth that so starkly undercuts his power: the fact of the transmitter.  That he is with his wife–she who physically provides the family for the father figure to enact his authority over–means that he is provided an object to reveal that truth to.  But even that act lacks any potential to change the situation, as Emmy is likewise divested of her authority.  And if such knowledge cannot effect change, its only remaining purpose is to reinforce impotence.

Eventually, the antagonist makes further contact in the form of a videotape.  As we watch along with Tom, Emmy, and Beth, we notice that we’ve seen some of this before; the opening scene of the boy in the bathroom–what we saw ‘firsthand’ in the opening–cuts to the expected demands to keep filming and not contact anyone, followed by requisitely-intimidating (read: ‘creepy’) shots of the respective parties at home, asleep in their beds.  The font used in these videos is the same as that used in the title cards of the film as it is presented to us, which sets up a complicated reckoning: we, as the viewers, are put in the position of experiencing something akin to what the victims are themselves experiencing, but how far is that empathy meant to go?  We are being asked to extend our suspension of disbelief, our understanding of the world of the narrative and our own materiality as distinct from one another, but can we really do so to the point that we would become concerned that we were ourselves at risk?


Suspending disbelief is one thing.  Torturing it is something else…


What we start to discern, then, is the real problem the film presents us with, perhaps the problem of found footage fiction generally: all the ways that this world has been constructed to approximate our own, including the use of the cameras themselves, versus all the ways it seems to manipulate or outright violate that valuing of verisimilitude.   Our own experience with the film begins with the same scene as the tapes Tom, Emmy, and Beth are given; but, where we can maintain a distance from a narrative in which we do not ourselves appear, they are, instead, presented with footage of themselves, of their own spaces being invaded, of the antagonist taking on an intimate physical proximity.  Being the material  viewers we are, we cannot put ourselves in the same situation, nor be put there by the filmmakers, but a filmmaker familiar enough with his medium can spin this disadvantaging distance through the chain of delivery–the promise of some party for whom the footage is intended.  For, that chain promises to give the viewer–in the act of viewing–a place within the narrative world, if not directly within the narrative’s frame.  Removal from the action makes the viewer’s analogue a more realizable and comfortable position for a viewer, as it is assumed that the character in that position remains essentially unaffected by the plot in order to receive and view its outcome–exactly as we, ourselves, are doing.  The major conceptual hurdle of Mockingbird, then, is that, if there is an analogue to the viewer to be had, the only ones we can so identify are the victims themselves, whose fates we cannot and do not wish to share.  But neither do they fully experience what we experience, nor even what each other does in the respective viewings, as neither of the films delivered to the victims entirely resemble each other.  And, if there is a difference in the media product, there is a difference in the audience’s experience of it.  Some portion of Mockingbird criticism might stem from how the filmmakers thus put the viewer in such a discomfiting position; not for the film’s controversial dealings with modern moral sensibilities, but for the plot’s untenable relationship with the occasion of the viewer’s viewing–all that is demanded in suspending disbelief.

[1] This process stands in relief to what we can imagine is a much more unified narrative-as-fiction–a traditional, 3rd-person presentation, immune to the direct, conscious intentions of any particular character. By an interesting implication, then, it would seem that found footage, especially of a kind in which ownership of the camera changes, should be uniquely resistant to auteurship built on a consistency of filming style.


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