But this is a found footage film, so what do we mean by there’s “no plainly identified viewer of the film itself”? We don’t know who the intended viewer is, but there must be one, right?
Mockingbird opens with a prominent violation of a big cultural taboo; a child is shot, point blank, squarely framed. Fiction or not, the sensibilities of some viewers would compel them to turn the film off right there. If that view could be examined dispassionately, though, would we be able to identify a modern fear of violence against children that has, itself, become culturally pervasive? Would we be surprised if, in their objections to the scene, those viewers claimed it was too ‘realistic’? We won’t go into modern crime statistics here, but, by and large, violence in the United States has been on the decline for the last several decades; thus, the shock of Mockingbird’s opening, as well as its ultimate twist, hinges not so much on the actual, material threats of violence we face day-to-day–or not–so much as on the cultivation and manipulability of fear. The rest of the film, in fact–being framed by the opening ‘execution’–is largely an exercise in how perceptual manipulation can put a victim at a disadvantage that is, at once, phantasmagoric and yet as effective as any material bonds. More pointedly, Mockingbird plays with the ways that access to information can make available or foreclose against various outcomes. For the viewer who cannot stomach the opening, this experimenting is affected right off, as they stop watching the film.
For the viewer who keeps watching, though, certain outcomes phase in and out of possibility with the progression of the plot, which, in turn, brings further challenges to the maintenance of the suspension of disbelief. Recognizability–an issue for found footage narratives in general–is made all the more prominent here through the arrangement of character introductions. The Family is portrayed by actors Audrey Marie Anderson and Todd Stashwick– between them, they have appeared in such popular titles as Castle, The Walking Dead, Grey’s Anatomy, and Heroes, and both are now featured in live-action DC Universe television shows. While not necessarily recognizable by name, we are familiar with these faces–they have crossed our vision at points prior to our assuming the disbelief requested by this film–and even scant familiarity can then demand further adjustment of suspension of disbelief as we begin watching them here.
But these two are introduced less than five minutes into the run-time, so it’s no big deal. It is though, perhaps, indicative of a need for films of the genre to introduce recognizable actors early on, for Anderson’s and Stashwick’s aren’t the only familiar faces we come to see. Leonard, ‘The Clown’, lives with his mother, played by Lee Garlington: Garlington has been acting since the early 1980’s, and has appeared in such cultural touchstones as Hill Street Blues, Family Ties, Murphy Brown, Field of Dreams, Roseanne, Home Improvement, Friends, Touched by an Angel, and Desperate Housewives. Such recognizability is not, in itself, a problem for the narrative; rather, it is the fact that Garlington doesn’t actually appear until almost 18 minutes into the runtime and her introduction is an overly-dramatized face-revealing turn which, by itself, makes the moment into something overtly theatrical.
Meanwhile, once we’re introduced to both The Family and The Woman, the narrative intercuts between them for no apparent reason other than the customs of conventional storytelling–customs we can reasonably assume a group of adolescent, sociopathic, amateur filmmakers with no definitive audience wouldn’t be too terribly concerned with. Though clear communication of the plot is essential to any narrative’s effectiveness, of course, the attention paid to Mockingbird’s artistic delivery again only serves to remind us of those questions of purpose and viewership.
But, if there is no intended audience, no one meant to discover the footage, no one for it to be specifically delivered to, no indicator that it has even been seen by anyone outside who stands inside the world of the story but outside the events directly, should Mockingbird be considered found footage to begin with? Once Leonard has shaved his beard off, we cut to a title card in red; “Let’s Play a Game”. If there is no version of the film itself, complete as we see it, that materially exists anywhere in the narrative realm, who could this imperative be aimed at besides us, the material viewers? Yet, if perhaps if the story’s progression is not so constricted by the narrative demands of found footage as we’d initially assume, there are likewise more options for reckoning the dynamics of the presentation. A mid-narrative shot even validates this possibility somewhat, as we’re given a rather dramatic angle of Beth lying on the floor, looking at the camera, up-close, with some mixture of heartbreak and other sad emotions; a melodramatic moment of self-reflection over her recently-ended relationship. This and other scenes are sufficiently dramaticized that we can question whether the arrangement might be a call-out to the real difference between our own, mundane world and a narrative realm that is only ever fantastical anyway. This scrutiny of verisimilitude is not to criticize, but rather to attempt to feel out the dynamics of the narrative realm as it stands; if the narrative is overtly valuing a certain type of drama, an understanding of that priority could then help us make sense of other creative decisions and what those choices might indicate for the nature of the overall presentation. The film is rendered no more or less a narrative fiction despite the initial verisimilitude created through scene-setting; as we saw in earlier complications over the suspension of disbelief, the reality of narrative found footage is never substantial enough to definitively render it as anything but the fiction it is. While, for some, the preternatural ingenuity of the perpetrators plagues the suspension of disbelief, none of those achievements, none of the steps in the grand plan, are particularly difficult to imagine. And imagining oneself doing all these things, especially with the help of similarly-empowered friends, could be just the sort of ego-massage we would expect an adolescent to provide himself.
 Great time for a polite note, then: A handful of the films I have or will review here concern violence against children. Aside from Megan is Missing (reviewed previously), potential examples include Exhibit A (2007), Amber Alert (2012), and Unfriended (2014). Although the ‘kids’ in Unfriended are actually a bunch of obnoxious teenagers. It gets gory, so you might want to stop back for that entry! }:)
 This could mean the refinement of one of our earlier distinctions of the found footage genre: Verisimilitude is defined not by the relationship of the film to material reality, but by how well the film approximates popular concepts of reality, so often determined through discourse and media.
 Not ‘dramatized’; there’s an important difference.