Dispatches Review – Found Footage Series – Hardcore Henry (2015)

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This awesome Mondo poster for Hardcore Henry was created by Cesaer Moreno for a screening earlier this year.  Visit IGN for more information on that event and Moreno’s work!

 

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Death has a name.  It’s ‘Pinky’.

Illya Naishuller’s Hardcore Henry (2015) opened to praise at a few festivals, but hasn’t yet seen similar success in wide release.  Such difficulty in finding an audience could be telling of the sort of work it tries to be–the way it tells its story–versus what is desired and accepted within the current cinematic market.  And, since comparisons of Hardcore Henry’s ‘gimmick’, its subjective lens, to 2005’s Doom were bound to proliferate as soon as the film was announced, we won’t run shy of that earlier feature here, either.  In fact, though promotional materials for Doom (including its own poster) touted the subjective camera perspective, less than a quarter of that film’s story is shot from that angle.  The difference in Hardcore Henry’s gimmick–what might initially make it seem more gimmicky than Doom–is that its entire run time employs the subjective camera perspective.  This is, of course,the same sort of angle employed in most scenes of most found footage fiction.

But the presence of a subjective camera within the scene of the fiction does not make a piece found footage fiction.  Strictly speaking, any camera that exists within the reality of any scene it is recording is subjective; the subjective camera holds the potential for being wielded by any character who can reach it.  But that accessibility is quite often a technicality: does the inmate in a prison film necessarily have the same access to the security camera that might capture him for a few scenes as the student documentarian in the midst of investigation?  Usually, that doomed kid’s camcorder footage, made at least in part by himself, will be discovered, processed for an end, and delivered to an in-narrative viewer.  The inmate, though, has no reasonable expectation of ever gaining control over that security camera, to the point that he might not even recognize its presence even as we are viewing him through it.

Thus, even though we are addressing Hardcore Henry as part of a series on found footage fiction, it, like others we have studied, does not necessarily hold an uncontested place as found footage.  For, while Hardcore Henry presents its narrative via a subjective camera, is that perspective meaningfully functional to the delivery of the narrative?  Is there anything inherent to the tale that makes it important that we are seeing it in first rather than third person?  Do any of the participants on-screen at all recognize that someone, somewhere, somehow might view the footage they are all contributing to?  Only Aken, the antagonist, ever displays any ability to control the broadcasting of the chronicle, but he never shows any actual intention to distribute it, perhaps because doing so would render any in-narrative viewer witness to a large-scale, very well funded criminal organization.  So, answering to Hardcore Henry’s place as a bonafide found footage film is a rather different prospect than when we earlier asked such questions about films like  The Conspiracy or even Megan is Missing; there, whether by the antagonist, the protagonist, or someone else who still exists in that world, the camera is being physically held, pointed, wielded.  And, implicit in the act of a character wielding the camera is that prop’s subsequent potential to help further the plot, resolve it, complicate it, or reshape it in some other way, but to nevertheless be held within and subject to it.  The viewing angle on a scene may shift, but the subjective camera itself does not ever simply to phase into an objective state.

Hardcore Henry allows us to see the action through the hero’s eyes–accomplished by having the various actors who portray[1] Henry wear a body camera (on their heads, I presume; an obvious detail to point out, but it will become important later).  There is a flashback, presented and expanded on a few times over the course of the film, but that footage is also shot in first person[2].  However, in a scene from early in the second half of the film, we find out that Henry’s bionic eyes, the eyes through which we are witnessing the events, are also transmitting live to the antagonist.  Were this a found footage film, we could take this opportunity to question its chain of delivery and who the intended audience is; it makes sense that, as Aken’s experimentation has enabled Henry to serve as a recorder, so he would have live access to whatever Henry sees.  But our viewing is not live, so should we ask if and for what reason this footage might have been archived, in-narrative, for later view?  Apparently not, as no part of the rest of the film seems to be at all concerned with answering that question; we might say that Hardcore Henry isn’t found footage because it never takes the time to consider itself as found footage.

However, Hardcore Henry’s footage is not not the sort of thing that could end up on the YouTube of its world if someone with access decided to go public[3], and, in that sense, it is relatable enough to both archival videos and independent, digitally-distributed found footage fiction creations.  But the ability to capture the action is secondary to the function of Henry’s eyes as enabling him to, of course, navigate the action.  Rather than the film being in some way made for our viewing–a contextual, in-narrative intention of most all actual found footage tales, regardless of what they’re chronicling or what they come to chronicle–we are more strictly ‘along for the ride’ here.  Might we then begin to consider this ‘passive subjective’ style to constitute a broader sub-genre, which found footage, faux documentary, and fake news broadcast might all fit within?  Or, which some sub-genres might fit into, while others don’t?  Or, might the style be something different still?  Somehow tangential to these other forms, rather than encompassing them?  It becomes difficult to say, in part because the consistent subjective camera makes Hardcore Henry surprisingly unique among big-studio cinema.  Consider that, while the comparison to Doom is obvious, that film, itself, was a decade old at the time of Hardcore Henry’s release.

This, then, is where we begin to question what Hardcore Henry actually is and what it might actually be trying to do, rather than simply assuming it to be derivative of specific other films and games.  Earlier, we noted that Hardcore Henry’s consistent use of a subjective camera makes it seem more gimmicky than Doom.  However, Doom, being the cinematic adaptation of a well-known video game franchise, included its subjectively-shot content explicitly to gain the favor of that franchise’s fans.  Hardcore Henry, on the other hand, did not enjoy any pre-existing videogame basis to build from–thereby rendering it, and its relationship with fps gaming, something different.  For, though not having a root in any specific fps title, Hardcore Henry is clearly informed by a host of fps sensibilities that both tie into and extend past its shooting aesthetic (pun intended).  While Doom attempts to translate a single franchise from one medium to another, Hardcore Henry takes on a broader job that might have worked better if it had been tried before that prior, more pointed attempt; the film endeavors to represent the dynamics and sensibilities–in short, the culture of narration–of first person shooters, altogether, as constituting an entire type of narrative experience.  This is, perhaps, because first-person shooters seem like they should be more amenable to traditional cinema than, say, a puzzle game or side-scrolling fighting game[4].  On the other hand, the producers of Hardcore Henry might have chosen to model their film on fps dynamics because the ‘camera’ and pacing of that type of game is, as we have seen, so immediately relatable to (if not so simply resembling) the more tested perspective of the found footage film.[5]

At any rate, Hardcore Henry offers a metanarrative, but not one so overtly displayed through the plot conceit of the subjective camera’s prominence as it would be in found footage fiction.  Instead, the story’s deliberate, consistent filming approach implies the content creators’ considerations–and subsequent rejection–of other presentation options.  Rather than making the characters (and, practically-speaking, the film itself) explicitly aware of the creation of the media product, Hardcore Henry offers metacognitive complications through the restrictions of its subjective presentation; the single camera unyieldingly shoots from Henry’s perspective, thereby limiting (though not eliminating) the fungibility of time and space which is ubiquitous to objectively-shot stories.  Meanwhile, the film’s composition–not only the camera orientation, but several plot tropes–evokes the sort of cutscene and gameplay experiences that we might expect from any modern fps.

As such, while the camera orientation of Hardcore Henry is, itself, hardly original, it is nevertheless novel; the makers of Doom were only confident enough to assume the subjective perspective for the final 25 minutes of their production.  Hardcore Henry, removed by a decade, was developed with a historical perspective on that earlier critical failure, and so, in light of the project’s continuance, we are compelled to wonder if ‘the gimmick’ might not be more adequately referred to as ‘the experiment’.  For, there is something at once familiar, alienating, and engaging in seeing Sharlto Copley’s live-action performance of Jimmy, standing right before us[6]looking very much like what we would see if we were facing, say, a non-playable character in Call of Duty or Wolfenstein[7].  One reason mounting the camera on or near the actor’s head becomes important, then–besides the obvious plot sensibility–is that doing so provides the viewer with an angle on another standing body that matches the sort of foreshortened renderings we have come to expect not so much in real life as in modern, well-developed first person shooters[8].

So, what we’d previously identified as a benefit of the found footage camera–namely, its physical independence from the characters–comes to hold that form back from transgressing customary media boundaries the way Hardcore Henry does.  For, even if the found footage camera does occasionally give us views resembling what we would see in gaming, that reminiscence is both fragmentary and fleeting, as the found footage plot gets to those shots for disparate reasons: generally, the characters (and, subsequently, the camera) of found footage fiction are more focused on chronicling (and surviving) the plot than actively contributing to it the way Henry does.  It’s hard to aim a camera and a gun at the same time, after all, so it’s convenient to the telling of Henry’s own story that he doesn’t have to make that choice.

Having the camera placed in Henry’s eyes, though, does more than just free up his other gun hand[9]; as the narrative kicks off from Henry’s perspective, we can assume that we’re going to see all the action from that same perspective, which we do.  But, unlike found footage fiction, those characters who address the camera directly in Hardcore Henry aren’t just addressing a camera, nor do they do so with any anticipation of catharsis[10].  Rather, Hardcore Henry’s camera, as it exists in the narrative itself, has a human identity physically wrapped around it–Henry’s own–and, even though he (tellingly) doesn’t have the capacity to verbally respond when spoken to, it is clearly understood that the characters who are addressing the camera are engaging him directly, as an individual, in discourse that, itself, reinforces his sense of personhood and valuation within his immediate community–despite that most of the members of that immediate community are trying to kill him.  The found footage camera is, by contrast, a pure receiver of whatever the wielder wishes to express or train it on; the only time that we might see a character come into conflict with the found footage camera directly, for instance, is if it were to stop working, to violate its primary function as a recorder of the events.

Henry, meanwhile, is recognized for his personhood, his viability in participating in human communication, even when he’s being lied to.  Henry’s ‘wife’, Estelle, for instance, turns out to have a pretty big secret; given a found footage version of the same story, where there existed an independent, wieldable camera, she might very well take the opportunity to go off somewhere and confess to the impartial, unresponsive lens in the typical moment of found footage catharsis, thereby making the viewer aware of a plot twist that Henry would still not be privy to.  But such is not the case here; since the camera is embedded in Henry, confessing to it would be confessing to him.  Yet, if she cannot speak to Henry about certain things, it can only be because she recognizes his status as a thinking, acting individual, capable of intelligent, personalized responses–human capacities still quite beyond those of any mechanical recording device.

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Recognition?  Being??  IT’S HEGEL OUTTA NOWHERE!!!

 


[1] ‘Play’?  ‘Stand in for’?  The nature of the protagonist as unseen–and the fact that, because of that, several actors fill the role–complicates word choice here.

[2] The flashback sequence presents an interesting and problematic re-positioning of the viewer, whose position with respect to the narrative isn’t terribly clear to begin with.  Regardless of whatever other things we might or might not say about the role we play as we view the footage Henry is recording, who must we be if we are privy to his actual memories?  We might be able to gloss this with something about how Sharlto Copley’s Jimmy was able to ‘detect and remove a memory block’ so that, by narrative logic, all Henry’s memories are thus rendered ‘watchable’ without any further moral implications or scientific/medical conundrums.  But meh.

[3] Of course, assuming that all of the footage we’re seeing is actually being recorded in-narrative and that those recordings would still be accessible after the antagonist’s death.  We must also assume that the footage hasn’t already been edited, in-narrative, for entertainment rather than archival purposes.  A tough prospect, as, while Hardcore Henry includes some ambient music, it also has an overt soundtrack that, among other things, provides pacing for the action scenes.

[4] Not that cinematic adaptations of such types haven’t also been attempted–see such diverse examples as Battleship (2012) or the Mortal Kombat series (1995-present)–but they don’t tend to try to emulate the gaming experience itself.  Even 2003’s House of the Dead, released two years before Doom and also based on a popular first-person shooter, does not attempt to take on a subjective angle in any noteworthy way.

[5] A notable early example of a subjective camera piece: Robert Montgomery’s 1947 adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s Lady in the Lake.  There, the vast majority of the film is told in first person, from the point of view of Philip Marlowe.  The film wasn’t critically successful, however, and few subsequent examples of the subjective technique, especially as used in studio films, are to be found.

[6] I’ve just noticed the use of the collective pronoun here; Copley is not merely standing before the protagonist, but before us, the viewers who are seeing the action through Henry’s eyes, regardless of how well or poorly we might project ourselves into his position otherwise.  My own word choice here thus betrays that the camera angle conceit is, to whatever degree, successful.

[7] Especially in that old-school British soldier’s uniform!

[8] Compare Hardcore Henry’s game-informed angles to the aforementioned Lady in the Lake; there, the screen direction tends to hold the actors at a greater distance from the subjective camera, perhaps precisely in order to prevent that same unflattering foreshortening that the customs of mid-20th C. studio filmmaking would have viewed dimly.

[9] Notice the fancy grammatical maneuver required here: how many cameras are there? As previously noted, the film was shot with a single camera at a time–one angle on all the action–and that image is all the viewer sees.  However, even as we follow along with Henry, there are a number of points at which the view is split and distorted; in those scenes, Henry’s eyes are not looking in the same direction.  at the same time.  Such effects are accomplished with basic shooting and editing work that involves two cameras; however, the rest of the film, shot on a single camera at a time, is nevertheless meant to represent the image Henry captures in the two cameras in his two eyes.  Thus, there aren’t as many cameras involved in the real shooting of the scenes as there are within the narrative as it’s happening.  The respective worlds, that of the story and that of its production as fiction, distinguish themselves from one another even in the most immediate of ways, in the very telling of the tale.

[10] No room here, for, say, the sorts of tearful confessions common to major found footage fiction pieces such as The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield.

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Random Theory: Present Im/Perfect

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NOTE: This article includes minor spoilers for episodes of 11.22.63, The Man in the High Castle, and (in a footnote) the Quantum Leap episode ‘Lee Harvey Oswald’.  You can see the first season of The Man in the High Castle, in its entirety, on Amazon; 11.22.63 is currently airing weekly on Hulu, where you can also view the entire run of Quantum Leap (1989-93).

 

So, I’m currently watching The Man in the High Castle and 11.22.63, two television series based on historical fiction novels.  The Man in the High Castle (1963) is one of the higher-profile pieces in Philip K. Dick’s canon, while 11.22.63 is one of Stephen King’s more recent books, published in 2011. I’m a fan of both authors, but I’ve not read either work before, so I’m coming into these plots fresh, as a viewer[1].  The bulk of each story takes place in the early 1960’s, though 11.22.63 opens in the present.  Both are science fiction tales, but their plots turn on dissimilar (though not necessarily unrelated) conceits.  The Man in the High Castle is an alternate history[2] with an infusion of multi-dimensionality, while 11.22.63 is a time travel tale whose functional approach to alternate dimensions is, as yet, unclear.  The ethos of 11.22.63’s plot, however, suggests that we take the timeline of the moment, whatever shape it may be in, as the sole extant dimension–the only possibility that matters.

Philip K. Dick's other cannon

Philip K. Dick’s other cannon

It’s especially neat to be able to watch the two together, then; using their respective conceits as the means by which to express ideological orientations, both shows position themselves in some proximity to ‘the world as we know it’.  As narratives, as not real the way we are real, neither story can really disrupt our material existence except by its influence on our discourse[3].  Yet, there are characters in each story who are written to recognize and understand our material reality[4] as, at the very least, identical to some realm they might be able to access for themselves.  In other words, there is some significant way (differently in each story) that our own America [5] is narrativized (and this is the important part) without significant fictionalization.

Both plots are about changing the world–or rather, changing the positions of their characters in respect to our own world, which could be said to stand between the two as a kind of ‘control’ reality.  They take dissimilar approaches to different events, but each conceives of our material world with respect to a past that went ‘wrong’ and needs be ‘adjusted.’  The most meaningful difference, then, lies in ideology: how each views that narrative simulacrum of our world that it can recognize–whether it views us as we actually exist as approaching an ideal, or, rather, as in woeful need of revision.[6]

Ideologically, then, The Man in the High Castle presents its own realm as inferior to ours, and we are moved to agree: the Axis won WWII and Germany and Japan co-occupy the US, while the Reich is shown to control much of the rest of Europe and, quite likely, the World.  In what we’ve seen in the first season, there is no means presented by which this outcome can be ‘undone’, but there is the tease of an escape from it: a number of filmstrips circulate through the free Underground, featuring footage of alternate outcomes of the war, the most prominent so far being that of the Allied victory.  This specific piece of footage is, for us, of course, historical: it need not be synthesized for the fiction of the narrative, but can rather be culled from our own material records[7].  Pieces of footage from other realities also surface–one featuring the Russians as the chief victors of the war, another in which the Germans won even more thoroughly–but our own material realm (or its filmstrip re-presentation) is only made that much better of an option, given how it compares with those moribund outcomes.

But, if The Man in the High Castle sets our world as ‘correct’, as having ‘worked out’ in ways its own history didn’t, 11.22.63 claims that we inhabit the vestiges of a historical mistake nonetheless–a state of being that is, itself, ethically insufficient to the moral standards it itself sets.  If The Man in the High Castle could then be said to ideologically (not narratively) ‘end’ at our own world, it is from that same position that 11.22.63 opens and begins its retreat.   To that show’s point: what would our world look like if JFK hadn’t been assassinated and, so we’re lead to assume, the Vietnam War had not been escalated by the Johnson Administration?  Regardless of how 11.22.63 might use its conceit of time travel as a means to change its own reality, and regardless of how successful that effort proves to be, its opening is still rooted to that nexus of a fictionalized ‘real’ Earth that we’ve already identified as the ideal of The Man in the High Castle–the only significant difference being that, once we pick that realistic realm back up at the beginning of the King story, it’s several decades later and we’ve (still) won the war, but Kennedy has also (still) been killed.  But, then, they’re realistic decades, on an Earth that has matched its development to our own, that we can logically, sensibly, in detail, chart from the end of one story to the beginning of another without need of any other interstitial fictions to make it all sensible[8].  It is the world we know because it’s the description of the world we live in.

We could likewise argue that the sci-fi devices of each narrative mean that their renderings of our own world need not even be different from our own world itself, at least in terms of numbers.  It can be inferred that, by whatever means, all of the filmstrips of The Man in the High Castle that have been circulated through that realm have come into it from outside of it, from the worlds depicted firsthand in the films themselves: though Nazi America might have a view into the ideal realm, there is no way to make contact with it, touch that world (this world) back.  So, for us, since we don’t so far have enough detail of that ideal reality to know better, all that’s left is to assume its sustained verisimilitude with our own history.

Meanwhile, as far as 11.22.63 goes, the exigency of time travel fiction means that almost anyone in such a story can be unmade entirely, especially characters who are complete inventions of the narrative.  In fact, in the historical record of a fictionalized Earth, The Allies can always eventually be made to win the war and JFK can always, over and over again, eventually be killed in Dallas; each of these narratives could respectively be made to render–as its primary reality, based on the success or failure of the schemes of each story–worlds so insignificant in their differences from one another or our own history that it might become problematic to know when we’ve stopped telling the story of one fiction or another and started telling our own actual history. Even if such a state of verisimilitude doesn’t stand as the final outcome for any of the timelines concerned[9], even if the representation of our own state of being is not the final achievement of either of the narratives, the fact is that, for whatever period of those narratives that the situation does exist in which fiction could only point to reality as the best description of itself, the definition of reality as not-fiction is made commensurately murky.

Wait! What? Why the hell is this here?

Wait! What? Why the hell is this shot from Tristan + Isolde (2006) here?  And why does it feel like we just broke something?


[1] My experience in consuming these stories is going to be fundamentally different from someone who works it in the ‘right’ order, who reads the books before watching the shows.  For instance: Jake Epping will never not look like James Franco for me, from before I was even introduced to the character by name.  Juliana Frink will never not have been Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos).  These are only the most superficial differences from how a reader might have initially encountered these stories–how the medium shapes our experience of the narrative–but they’re enough to at least show that such experience does make a difference.

[2] Dick’s novel is regarded as one of those whose existence prompted the consideration of ‘alternate history’ as a science fiction subgenre in the first place.

[3] Which does, in fact, lead to all sorts of potential material developments: more books, more shows, more media products, as well as both ‘official’ merchandising and all the events and artisanal products of fandoms.  But all of this, still, with the discursive, conversational, even-if-only-implicit understanding of the narrative-as-narrative, as not, itself, fully materializable as itself; not fully possible as anything other than media.

[4] History as it has turned out for us in the material world; what has lead to the current material moment.

[5] And, presumably, the rest of Earth, Space, and everything else.

[6] Don Bellisario’s Quantum Leap provides a great example of a similar problem all by itself; though the plot takes viewers across several decades of American history, whether the objective is to make the narrative realm more or less like our own material world is consistently unclear, since we have precious few views into that show’s ‘now’ or ‘future’.  The best hint we have is, rather ironically, the two-part storyline ‘Lee Harvey Oswald’; the series’ protagonist, time traveler Dr. Sam Beckett, leaps into the life of Oswald at several different points in order to stop the Kennedy assassination.  Unable to prevent the assassination as Oswald, though, Sam finally leaps into a nearby Secret Service agent (real-life Agent Clint Hill) who was running behind the President’s car as it passed through Dealy Plaza on the day of the assassination (11/22/63).  Sam is, again, unable to save JFK, but Al, his holographic partner from the future, eventually informs Sam that he did manage to save Jackie Kennedy, who had been killed in their original, fictionalized, ideologically-unacceptable timeline.

[7] At least, in part.  There are likely to be additions and other edits to any ‘original’ footage, but such is Hollywood.

[8] King, among many others, especially in science fiction/fantasy/horror, has collected several of his tales within a unified narrative realm, with The Dark Tower series standing as that world’s unofficial center.  That realm also includes The Stand, an apocalyptic piece first published in 1978 and set contemporaneously with its writing.  Though, again, I’ve not read the text-version of 11.22.63, the television adaptation indicates that the ‘modern-day’ portions are, indeed, set in the 21st C., well after The Stand’s armageddon happens in its own timeline.  Of course, this does not resolutely prove that the two realms are separate (nor how separate), but it offers the suggestion of a meaningful distinctiveness.  At least, until some considerable gesture is made to change this status, either on King’s part or in some substantial way within the larger conversations about his work.

[9] The two shows as well as our own, material, linear progression, most neatly and easily assessed in the immense, growing, chaotic tidal wave of our persisting human discourse, as a whole.  What?  You thought I wasn’t going to get to Hegel?

Wut up?

Wut up?

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

FILM AS FANTASY (FULFILLMENT)

So, if Mockingbird is somehow an empowerment fantasy, what are we supposed to do with it?  Assuming that filmmakers Bertino and Esmail have presented us with a pure fantasy, worked out in detail, in what narrative context does the fantasy itself exist?  For while what we’re given is rather blunt, the continued untenability of the plan indicates that the fantasy world might ever be the only way for these feelings of resentment of authority to be fully expressed–implying that the ‘imaginer’ exists in a world unseen within the frame, but whose limitations and social sensibilities might stand closer to our own.  Nor do the children really even do much with the considerable power they claim for themselves; despite their superior skills at communications manipulation, their ambitions are rather small-scale, with no significant indicators that The Family, The Woman, or The Clown are part of any still-grander plot.  The film sets the endeavor as, essentially, a cheap thrill killing, so how much more diminished does it become in its increasing removal from material efficacy?  For, the workability of the plan means that it is far more successful and satisfying the deeper it is set within fantasy.  The antagonist–or, rather, the protagonist of an elaborate train of thought–is, in the setting of his own mind, always already omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent with respect to the plot he is inventing.

The Clown could prove problematic to the idea of the film as an actual fantasy, though.  The Family and The Woman are, themselves, not identified as particularly important, but might still be taken as symbolically essential.  Depending on the reality of the imaginer’s situation, Tom and Emmy might represent his own parents to whatever degree, while Beth, a young woman with yet-unrealized potential for motherhood, could stand as a teacher or caretaker.  But what would an adolescent empowerment fantasy need with such a guileless man-child as Leonard?  He doesn’t even cross paths with the others except to meet his own end–he presents in himself no real or symbolic challenge to be overcome, except, perhaps, the threat of wasted potential.

Any scant power Leonard wields stems not at all from himself, but from the situation of the game; rather than terrorizing this victim with death threats in an enclosed space, the children assign him to run around town, performing stunts in public not as a means to survive, but to win the game’s mythical prize.  At one point, he is told to sing a song in a crowded women’s’ room in order to retrieve the next clue; later he is told to do jumping jacks in the rain, all while still being filmed by the provided, live-feed camera[1].  These are demeaning tasks, but more on par with a reality television show than a well-organized multiple-murder plot.  While he is, perhaps, necessary in executing key steps in the game, he is otherwise treated largely as a joke–the manifestation of a victim that the antagonist is empowered not just to kill, but to bully.  In a Hegelian sense, Leonard serves as a far more willing and malleable slave to the antagonist’s master than The Family and The Woman do, even though all are disposed of in like fashion.  Ironic, then, that the force which ultimately kills Leonard is the same one that stirs him to uncharacteristically meaningful action.  The rest of the clown iconography, of negligible intimidative power to begin with, is invoked by and kept under the strict control of the villains to the end.  The fullest expression of Leonard’s incompetence, in fact, comes in the final scene, when he quite literally brings a cake to a gunfight and is by no means spared in the expected carnage.

BEFORE THE BEGINNING

As The Family’s story opens, we’re given an ambiguous shot.  As with Beth and Leonard, the camera is delivered while it is already filming–but, here, we’re given an extra few seconds before the delivery, as the unseen antagonist starts the recording[2], closes the box, walks up to the front porch, and rings the bell.  We don’t get this extra piece with the beginning of either Alexandra’s or Leonard’s stories, but we can deduce that, since those cameras are likewise running as they’re discovered, comparable footage must exist in that narrative world somewhere.  An identifiable piece of the footage for both of those subplots is thus rendered contextually extant but materially inaccessible.  Certainly, there is a lot that a single camera–or even a group of cameras–would not capture during any occasion of filming, but what is missing here is meaningfully distinct from other common cuts.

These two missing lengths of film each possess a dual existence, a reality within the realm of the story and within our own world–or, more accurately, they have analogous complexions that point up how the situations of the narrative and the material production are likewise constructed.  If we could wind Tom and Emmy’s recording back further than what we’re given, so that we could see, perhaps, everything from the moment the camera is actually turned on, what we’d be shown would depend on whether we were considering that camera as a tool in the real world or a device of the narrative.  What could be represented diverges as we move into the past, even as it unifies in the present; what we eventually come to is what we actually see–in that first storyline, it’s the trees, the camera being covered, blackness, then the box being opened and the plot progressing.  But if the footage were to be wound back within the narrative, we might see the culprits, caught unaware, as they begin to enact their grand plan.  On the other hand, were we to wind the footage back within the reality of the production, we would instead see film crew and actors readying their equipment and themselves.  We can see neither, though, and that situation would match well with the idea that the plot is entirely imagined, intangible in any realm–thereby obviating the question of footage that is just as thoroughly immaterial.

phenomenology_of_cthulhu

DAMNIT, HEGEL! I KNEW IT!!!


[1] Leonard might know that the camera has a transmitter–he might even care–but it doesn’t matter because he is independently ineffectual.  His behavior shows that, in order to do anything of note, Leonard must be led to it.

[2] Strictly speaking, we don’t get the visuals from the absolute beginning of the recording.  Instead, the audio fades up behind the main title card, which then cuts to an unfocused shot of trees just before the camera is sealed up.

The Dispatches Review – Found Footage Series – Atrocious (2014) – Part 5 of 6

THE VIEWER

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?

mockbird_cheshire

You tell me.  Okay, I will.

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?[1]  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[2].   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[3].

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[4] 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.

Francisdolarhydemanhunter

‘If one does as God does enough times, one becomes as God is.’  With some fun tattoos and a liberal attitude toward pantyhose, you can become kinky, too.


[1] 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! }:)

[2] 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.

[3] See: Face-Revealing Turn at TvTropes.com

[4] Not ‘dramatized’; there’s an important difference.

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.

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

THE KILLER’S CAMERA

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.

Once_Upon_a_Time_II

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?

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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.

The Dispatches Review – Found Footage Series – Mockingbird (2014) – Part 2 of 6

So what is required in effectively, convincingly setting the Mockingbird narrative in 1995?  As Beth (“The Woman”) takes the camera out of the box at the beginning of her plotline, she starts panning around her apartment, giving the viewer closeups of various knickknacks; though the world we’re viewing is over two decades old, much of the set-dressing consists of items and fashions that wouldn’t seem out-of-place today.  No big HD televisions to be found, nor is anyone pulling out a cellphone or researching horror movie escape options on YouTube–while the tightly-contained nature of the narrative means that greater-scale differences, such as shots of era-specific cars running along the roads, are inconspicuously avoided.

For as much as the efficacy of suspension of disbelief is ever at issue in a found footage film, though, the Mockingbird filmmakers’ attention to detail in set-dressing is seemingly undercut by a surprising editorial addition.  Options for the inclusion of a soundtrack would seem limited in found footage fiction; while there might be perfectly acceptable moments of ambient music–a character has turned on a record or the film is set in a mall, etc.–the addition of non-contextualized audio can become disruptive not just to the suspension of disbelief, but to the narrative identity of the footage as found.   Consider how so many found footage films start as something that was, from the protagonists’ perspectives, never supposed to become ‘found footage’ at all: a pair of girls chatting after school (Megan is Missing), amateur paranormal detectives looking for fun and glory more than danger (Atrocious/The Blair Witch Project), or a group of friends celebrating a birthday (Cloverfield).  Even once the plot turns and the ultimate role of the footage as chronicle of a tragedy is realized, contextual considerations are still at issue: each piece of footage becomes evidence, and when is evidence ever scored?  Mockingbird’s opening card, however, is backed by a single, heavy musical chord; assuming that some intended viewer can start to be sussed out, who must that viewer be for such an overt motion toward entertainment to be appropriate?  Who, in the world of the narrative, must have processed the footage for what audience, and what creative priority informed the inclusion of effect music?  Though, with films like Cloverfield and Blair Witch, the editor’s sympathies tend to lie with the protagonists–the victims–what we have in Mockingbird is more akin to The Poughkeepsie Tapes in the intent of its creation; from the top, in its very initiation, the filming is meant to chronicle an episode of suffering.

Accordingly, from before the beginning of the film, Mockingbird’s antagonist controls the development of the narrative events; we can confirm the ‘Killer’s Camera’ situation quite early, as the antagonist is seen to take his first victim while still holding the recording device, just after touring the house.  But answering the question of who holds the camera so early only points up the implications of the question, itself.  In a given found footage film, the producer of the material tends to be either a protagonist or an antagonist.  Narratively, there is little call for someone not directly involved with the events to take up their chronicling–even the act of wielding the camera in the first place can position a previously-unaligned character on one side of the conflict, usually as a victim.  Protagonists, especially those who start with complete control of the camera, will often introduce themselves overtly, sometimes even while looking fully into the lens.  They are concerned only with the current occasion of filming, oblivious to the complications that will change that purpose as the situation unfolds.  Cloverfield (2008) goes further than most in this regard: a going-away party means that many of the first several people we see don’t just directly identify themselves, but they provide context for the interpersonal drama to be explored before the backdrop of the larger-scale disaster.[1]  Mockingbird’s first camera-user, on the other hand, is dead silent; rather than polyphonous discourse, Mockingbird gives us only calm, quiet footage of a largely-unpeopled interior space.  The camera is angled with experimental drama in some shots, while others focus on interesting pieces of setting–all of it indicating that, while the wielder is, perhaps, in an unfamiliar location, he is nevertheless in confident control.  By contrast, having been caught off-guard by the appearances of their respective cameras, Tom, Emmy, and Beth don’t make such clear and decisive moves at self-identification as Cloverfield’s party-goers, but neither do they actively conceal themselves.

Physical possession of the camera in Mockingbird–in found footage fiction plots, often–does not necessarily mean that that physical wielder is empowered. Here, the main usefulness of the camera is as one-way communication from the victims to the antagonist.   Given the placement of the events in the mid-90s, the period-appropriate camera is thus established as an instrument the purpose of which–as opposed to modern cell phone cameras–is singular,  the capabilities of which are limited in ways that only serve to put the victims at a greater disadvantage.  All the more ironic, then, that, in each of their introductions, the victims so willingly embrace the technology; they might not all make time for direct identification, but they aim the camera at little else but themselves and each other.  Eventually, after the nature of the ‘game’ becomes clear to the players, the full extent of the antagonist’s advantage is made clear even as Tom exercises one of the last vestiges of phallic power he retains, the authority of knowledge; he identifies that the camera he and Emmy are using is equipped with a wireless transmitter.  The dynamic of communication between the antagonist and protagonist thus proves something other than what it seemed at first, then, as the antagonist doesn’t need to wait to collect the videocamera to be able to observe the progress of the scheme.

Transmitters or not, though, the presentation itself is still strictly reliant on the technology,  which means that some important practical restrictions on the plot are maintained.  The cinematic run-time is set at 81 minutes; presuming cuts, though, the length of the fiction within its own narrative realm can run substantially longer, and the story seems to go on for the better part of an evening.  It’s no profound point that suspension of disbelief would have us assume a degree of verisimilitude with reality, but we can add some gravity to the arrangement: anyone who will not survive the tale has, at most, only the length of an ever-depleting camera battery in which to live.

Of course, none of this is of great concern to the antagonist–of a character class that makes it through horror much more reliably than villains of other genres.  But the antagonist presents the situation as a game, and a game generally requires the communication of rules or expectations.  Indeed, before his execution scene in the opening, the young boy asserts that he followed the rules he’d been given; he never stopped filming and he never told anyone about the situation.

Jack

But aren’t there, like, a bunch of other rules, too?  Should we even be talking about this?

Though this first ‘victim’’s true identity is eventually revealed as something other than a victim, the issue of communication remains a valid one: the protagonists are initially provided with little more than the camera itself.  We can assume, then, that more communication is coming, but how will those orders be delivered? That the message begun by the appearance of the camera itself is incomplete alludes to the ultimate degree of control the antagonist holds over the story; he hasn’t delivered the rules yet because he doesn’t have to.  Really, he never has to, except insofar as he desires the story to follow a particular path to the victims’ ruin.  By contrast, the position of the characters as participants in an event is emergent, but not voluntary[2].  They begin to see that they are being made subjects of media–subject to media–but they will come to full comprehension only when they realize how little control they have over those interactions.  In noting the transmitter, Tom takes a step toward that recognition–but does knowledge of such a situation necessarily help in overcoming it?

Tyler Durden triumphant

Sure.  That totally seems like a possibility…

Come back tomorrow for part 3 of the Dispatches Review of Mockingbird!


[1] Also, unlike more realistic examples, Cloverfield’s nemesis never shows potential to notice the camera, nor even comprehend its function.

[2] With the exception of Leonard, ‘The Clown’.  But more on him later.