The Dispatches Review – Found Footage Series – Mockingbird (2014) – Part 4 of 6

THE ANTAGONIST

In reality, a film like Mockingbird takes a lot of people to make; in the suspension of our disbelief, though, we could readily accept it as the work of a single, knowledgeable, well-equipped creator.  If we can swallow psychopathic Mary Sues in The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007), The Last Horror Movie (2003), and the Head Case series (2007-13), an industrious villain is not, in itself, enough to break believability[1].  Viewers could become uncomfortable, though, with the idea that these adolescents hold a mastery of seemingly every skill required of the plan, from environmental manipulation to video editing.   For Beth and the couple, the viewing of the tape is followed immediately by the seizing of the house electricity and phones, incessant ringing of doorbells and knocking on the doors and windows, and cackling from without[2].  As Tom and Emmy make a panicked run through their home, the camera is shaken around so much as to be disorienting–so much so that, when the shaking stops, we find that a cut has occurred and we are now following Beth.  This is a high-quality transition that is smooth enough to actually be conspicuous for its skill; with the same stroke in which the viewer is made to admire the editing of the ‘found footage’, so its status as such–as the product of, ostensibly, an immature amateur–is disrupted by an overly-sophisticated editing maneuver.

But the camera, as an instrument, is only the most prevalent manifestation of the fuller power the antagonist possesses, which extends far past the physical.  None of the children is seen to take up a weapon, but they masterfully manipulate the perceptions of their victims through attention to effective, cohesive messaging.  It still takes a few of them to pull it off, though, and filmmaking has a long history of personality conflicts sinking collaborations.  The situation of the found footage horror film–of, really, almost any found ‘footage’ fiction of any medium–occasions its own unique twist, though; in almost no case are the intentions of the contextual editor and the real-world producers of the film-as-fiction identical.  Nor should they be expected to be, as the material situation for one is, for the other, a fiction the final shape of which–the ‘truth’ of which–is not set until the work of editing is itself complete[3].   The real-world content creators (often including a studio presence) retain power over the shape of the narrative; yet, even a seemingly reasonable assumption of material authority–the authority of materiality over narrative–is problematized by contextual adversaries who conceal and otherwise manage their own appearances and representations ever from within the action.  In Mockingbird, there is no plainly-identifiable intended viewer, so we are left to wonder if the in-world editor is even bothering to take the job so far as the real-world filmmakers who have, indeed, delivered a completed product to their intended audience.  Regardless of who is victimizing the victims, though, or their intentions with the footage, what sense would it make for anyone intelligent enough to arrange all the elements so perfectly to compromise their achievement by revealing their identity to the camera at the last moment?  Boastful, no matter what, but also a major strategic error unless, perhaps, there is no actual possibility of the footage ever being contextually viewed by anyone other than its creator.

On its face, being in front of a camera often constitutes an instance of Hegelian recognition–ironically, the occasion of others recognizing the self as an individual possessing sovereignty over himself–and the nature of motion picture filming means that interpersonal relationships–Hegelian negotiations of power and position between various subjects–can be identified and explored right within the frame; cinematic narrative is, among other things, largely a chronicle of how Hegelian dynamics play out, how fulfillment of Hegelian recognition is determined through conflict.  Mockingbird reaches its climax, the victims are disposed of, and the perspective itself shifts as one of the children, still unseen, unknown to us for what he is, takes up the camera.  The presentation is now fully Killer’s Camera, but it’s not a complete shift, considering how the same hand that now holds the camera has already wielded it  so effectively from afar.  The physical retrieving of the camera is but the completion, the material validation, of a grand power inversion–an up-ending of who recognizes whom as being in control.

The children might be said to reveal themselves, then, for the same reason they rely on classical music in their repertoire of terror: both inclusions represent and reinforce the victory of a superior intellect.  The Killer’s Camera conceit is manifested differently in Mockingbird than, for instance, in The Poughkeepsie Tapes according to this reason.  Given the evident, consistent control the antagonist of that film maintains over his own presence and influence, there is no need for him to  reveal himself to the frame; he might especially not need to if he, himself, is the only intended viewer[4].  In Mockingbird, by contrast, the absence of the reveal would be a denial of the ownership of the event, the forcible assumption of authority that motivates the ‘game’ in the first place; in so visually, bluntly, and rather unexpectedly subverting expectations, these children not only assert their intellectual superiority over their contextual victims, but over we, the viewers, who would have expected–and, more importantly, accepted–almost anyone else as the culprit.

the children are the future

The children are our future.  Teach them well.  Let them lead the way.

TOMORROW:  The Dispatches Review continues with the next part of our Mockingbird analysis!


[1] Even in our descriptions here, we have referred to the antagonist according to an assumed singularity of character (and, by linguistic necessity, a gender).  Yet, having elsewhere also acknowledged the juvenile group of psychopaths for who they are, it feels, still, somehow disingenuous to refer to them in the plural.  So, for sake of consistency within this analysis–and for other reasons yet to be explored–we will continue to refer to the antagonist in the (masculine) singular at various points.

[2] The viewer might be clued into the villains’ multiplicity here.  Since both terrorization scenes are delivered at once, intercut with one another, the viewer would have to decide whether the attacks were happening at different times or perpetrated by different people.  The second option becomes the better choice once we notice that the laughing adolescent voices at the two sites are of different genders.

[3] And, of course, once the project of making the film is complete, it is conveyed to the viewer, who determines their own sense of its truth.

[4] He isn’t, but we’ll save the importance of that distinction for a direct examination of that film.

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