What I'm Watching: Dead Still
Hey, something recent!
I really love the idea of 'evil camera' movies and stories. There is just so much about the terminology and lore behind film, photography, and cameras, that just SO immediately lend themselves to supernatural stories.
Sure, we all know the "souls trapped by cameras" stuff, but even beyond that, there's a lot of good stuff to work with. The title of this movie is a good example, of people trying to remain 'dead still' to get clear photographs taken with long exposures.
So when I saw Syfy Channek had an evil camera movie on last night, starring genre faves Ben Browder and Ray Wise, well...sure, I'll tune in to that!
Sadly...the movie was just not that great.
Which, sure, you could say, "But Jason, Syfy!" and you would not be wrong. However, when it's not an evil nature movie, or some mockbuster from The Asylum, they generally tend to have some decent offerings in the horror and scifi genres. I was hopeful.
Outside of the previously mentioned two actors, the rest of the cast is pretty wince-worthy. There's a few other decent performances, but for the large part, yeah, not so much.
The plot has it's moments, and there's decent ideas buried in there, but the execution is decidedly lacking. There just felt like so many missed opportunities.
Take for example the "Negative World" inside the evil camera. Now, that idea SOUNDS great, right? A world of negatives where the souls are trapped and twisted and such, right? You could do some cool visuals there. Now, literally inverting the colour palette to make it a TRUE 'negative' of the actual image could be a bit much for an extended trip, but there must have been SOMEthing they could've done besides what we got.
Because a typical labrynthine corridor system with catacomb overtones that looked like leftover set pieces from Hellraiser or classic Doctor Who? Yeah, just didn't work for me. It wasn't BAD, but I get intrigued by the ideas, and then get your typical basement from everywhere else.
The kid playing Ben's son wasn't bad, but making him mute for most of the movie was largely unnecessary. When his text to speech app on his tablet began saying "He's in here with us!" to dad, once the CAMERA had sucked him in, made me want to see Ben spend the next 20 minutes trying to figure out how the iPad was haunted. I'm only mostly kidding.
The plot also suffered from some clarity issues in the storytelling. Once the people that Ben was taking pictures of began dying, the movie kept flashing to someone performing arcane spells and rituals as their bodies were mangled and melted and such. It was later revealed that the person was a descendant of someone that Ben's great grandfather (Ray Wise) had tormented for his photographs, and another member of their family had been the one that cursed Ray and the camera.
They um, kinda then failed to explain just WHAT she was doing with all the magic and such that sure looked like she was responsible for the deaths. If you're going to make someone SEEM like they're the bad guy, and then swap it so nope! She's on Ben's side! you kinda need to explain that thing, and why she's not evil. I get that she *wasn't* and she was trying to stop the camera, but they dropped the ball on just what she WAS doing, and that's kinda important to the narrative, yes? Did I miss something?
Also, the final sacrifice really seemed tacked on, and also not explained at ALL. Aside to say, "In order to be free, a great sacrifice must be made!" But...why? Aside from narrative stakes? But that's for OUR benefit. What's the story logic to it? Just saying, "A sacrifice MUST be made!" doesn't make it so, and just felt like they wanted there to be a sacrifice and emotional "No, don't! You must go!" moment.
And finally, the very last moment of Wise's spirit still kicking around, DESPITE THE SACRFICE and everything else they did to stop him, was really out of nowhere, made zero sense, completely invalidated the entire climax they had fought so hard to do and force that sacrifice on the plot, as just one final "Mwahahaha!" moment to 'gotcha' the audience. It was an unnecessary twist and just really crapped all over a climax that was already shakey. It doesn't even really work as a pyrrhic victory, since in the end no one wins.
Now, there are some highlights to the movie. The effects are pretty great. There aren't many, but every death is pretty damned memorable and/or gruesome, I was impressed there. Ben Browser is always a pleasure to watch, and Ray Wise as an evil crazy madman photographer? Heck, evil crazy Ray Wise is almost worth the price of admission to ANY movie, no matter HOW bad, and this movie isn't *terrible* so there's at least the joy of watching him chew scenery right up to the very end.
The story has its moments, and the ideas are sound, the execution just never quite delivered on the promises they wanted to give the audience. I could tell this movie WANTED to be something more, wanted to do certain things, but they never managed to get there
It's not quite worthwhile JUST for Ben and Ray Wise, but I can't outright say run away from this thing entirely. Give it a shot if you're a fan of theirs, and you might get some enjoyment here and there, but otherwise, stay away.
Someone really needs to make a good supernatural camera movie.